3 Key Questions to Ask When Planning Lessons Based on Learning Standards

Planning lessons based on learning standardsIt seems like everyone has an opinion about the Common Core. Regardless of your personal views, if you work in a state that has adopted the standards (or other learning standards), it’s your responsibility to teach them. Since I’m so new to teaching, I’ve never taught a lesson that was not based on the Common Core. But it still took me some time to get used to designing lessons around a standard.

Here are some questions I ask always ask myself when I sit down to develop a lesson plan:

What is the expected student outcome?

One thing I really like about the Common Core is that the standards are explicit about what students are expected to know and do. After identifying the standard(s) a lesson will be based on, it’s important to make sure you understand the expected student outcome so you can develop assessments and design instruction to help students meet their goal. This sounds simple enough, but the standards can be easy to misread if you don’t pay attention to the language.

For example, while designing a fifth-grade lesson aimed at helping students understand the five different structures of an informational text, I realized I had misread the standard and was essentially developing a lesson that would be more appropriate for the fourth grade. The fifth-grade standard emphasizes that students should be comparing and contrasting the structure of multiple informational texts, while the fourth-grade standard requires students to describe the structure of one text. The difference seems subtle, but it’s a big one.

What did students learn before?

The Common Core and most other state standards are organized into topic strands with standards that build on one another as students go up in grade level. For example, the first writing standard for each grade revolves around an opinion or argument. But while first-graders are expected to state an opinion and supply a reason for their opinion, fifth-graders are expected to support those reasons with relevant facts and details.

Looking closely at what students should have mastered in the years before can give you an idea of their background knowledge and help you to narrow the focus of your own lesson. When introducing new concepts and skills, you want to reflect back on what students have learned to access their prior knowledge without reteaching skills and concepts they’ve already been taught in previous years.

When implementing my lesson on informational texts, I began by breaking students into five groups and asking each to write down everything they knew about one of the five informational text structures. After five minutes, each group reported out to the class. Students were reminded of what they had learned the previous year, and we were able to build upon this knowledge with higher-level activities.

What will students learn later?

On top of taking into account what students have learned in previous years, it’s also important to examine the standards for future grade levels to make sure you’re not covering too much. While briefly previewing a concept or skill is not a terrible thing, you don’t want to overwhelm students with too much information and prevent them from achieving their grade-level goals.

For example, although the Common Core fifth-grade mathematics standards include working with exponents, they specify that exponents will only be used to denote powers of 10. Students at this grade level are not expected to use exponents to denote any other numbers and will learn to do so in subsequent years.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.