Monday, January 9, 2012

Homeschooling: Planning Your Lessons (Part 3)

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

It must have seemed that the third part of the series on where/how to start homeschooling had been forgotten about *smile*. Alhamdulillaah, it was not forgotten. The third, and insha'Allaah, last post in this series is on Lesson Planning. This is a long post, and before we move into this topic I will preface it by saying that some people consider lesson planning to be tedious, time consuming, frustrating, or unimportant. The first three they might be, the last - never.

Lesson planning is a facet of teaching that is essential. With it, a teacher looks ahead to try to anticipate what goals he/she would like to help his/her students master, and he/she plans what type of activities will most effectively accomplish this. It is during this planning stage that a teacher also tries his/her best to anticipate what challenges may hinder students from mastering material in the easiest, most effective manner. If, for example, you have the intention to teach about ocean habitats but you know that 1). You live and teach in an area where there is no ocean and 2). most of your young charges have most likely never seen an ocean before in their short life, then when planning your lesson you will anticipate that you may see a lot of blank/lost looks on the faces of your students if you jump right into the lesson without first pre-teaching some basic information about oceans (for example showing a picture of an ocean).

The process of lesson planning itself is not mind-boggling nor difficult. But it is a process and so, to a large extent, it requires that the teacher adhere to a certain method to help him/her write the most effective lesson plan possible. This means that the information in your lesson plan is logical and relevant to your students.

For those who homeschool, the lesson plan is no less important than for those who teach in a classroom setting. Teachers and parent-teachers both need to know the same basic information when preparing to teach a topic/subject:

 - What do I want my students/child(ren) to know/learn when I am finished teaching this topic?
- What materials will I need to teach this topic effectively and make it fun and interesting at the same time?
- What way will I teach this information? Meaning, how will I teach this topic? What activities will I use to teach this topic?
- How long will the lesson take?
- What activity/assignment will I give my students that will help them practice what they have learned? Will this activity/assignment reinforce what I have taught and show me/demonstrate that yes, alhamdulilaah, they've got it?

Looking at these questions, you will quickly notice that they summarize the basic information contained in a lesson plan. The first question: "What do I want my students/children to know when I am finished teaching this topic?" is your objective. Every lesson plan needs an objective. As a teacher you have to know what your ultimate goal is for your students. For some teachers, the objective is the most difficult part of the lesson plan to write and as a result, it can end up being too general or too vague. Some examples of vague lesson plan objectives are:

* Students will appreciate the Quraan
* Students will begin memorizing ahadith
* Students will understand addition

Why are these lesson plan objectives (not the topics themselves) poor, vague and overall, weak?

They are all of these things because they don't tell us anything specific about the lessons. "Students will understand addition". Yes, but how? What will they do/use that will show they understand addition? What aspect of addition will they understand?What will they do to learn addition in this lesson?

Let's re-write that weak lesson plan objective and make it strong, clear, specific and measurable insha'Allaah.

Stronger objective: By the end of the lesson, using manipulatives, pictures and modeling, students will accurately add single digit numbers up to 5.

Why is this a stronger lesson plan objective? With it, we know that students will understand how to add single digit numbers up to 5. We know that they will learn to do this using manipulatives such as counting blocks, or modeling (i.e. teacher has 2 students stand in front of the class and he/she 'adds' 1 more student and asks children how many students are there all together/in all), and we know that to demonstrate that they have leaned what we intended to teach, the students will add, with accuracy, any of the numbers 0-5 using a worksheet (as an example).

Try this. This is a weak lesson plan objective: "Students will learn to tell time".

Come up with a stronger objective and re-write it insha'Allaah. If you like insha'Allaah, you can share your new/stronger objective with others by leaving a comment.

The next question: "What materials will I need?" is the section of the lesson plan that tells you (or someone filling in for you), as precisely as possible, what you will need to teach your lesson. Will each student need to have a sand tray? Will you need a sock puppet? Will you need the overhead projector? If so, make sure you reserve it early enough so it will be available to you insha'Allaah (and don't forget to make sure you have enough over-head transparencies *smile*). If it is an addition math lesson, how many counters will each student need? 

The materials sections is just as important as all other sections of the lesson plan. Many lessons go by the way-side because the teacher/parent neglected to foresee what they would need (materials) to teach a topic. They dive into the lesson only to realize that they need a balance scale with various weights (for example). The maddening search begins. In the classroom storage closet, the teacher rumbles around, becoming more frantic and frustrated as he/she tries to find it and this search, no matter how brief, allows students (almost invites them) to get off task. If the search goes on too long, the teacher may, on top of the search, have to deal with classroom behaviour problems. Or the search may leave the classroom as the teacher goes door to other classroom door: "I'm sorry to disturb you. Do you have a scale and the weights for it? No. Okay, sorry to disturb you." Do you see a problem here? Has one question jumped out and screamed to be answered? Yes? The question is: "Who is with the students during this time?" And, what are the students doing while unsupervised? For those who teach in school settings (or parents who have had a child who was bullied), you will recognize this as being one of those times that have been identified as an opportunity for bullying to happen - when no teacher/authority figure is around.

Sometimes, neglecting this part of lesson planning is seen in the most basic way: the teacher leaves the classroom or sends another student out to get copies made because he/she forgot to make sure there were enough copies for each child. So while the teacher is out making copies, again, who is with the children? Or if the teacher sends another student, the teacher tries to pass that empty time with fillers. Just something to occupy the students until the needed copies return.

Even in a homeschooling setting, this section of the lesson plan warrants appropriate attention. It does not matter if you have one or ten children, you do not want to interrupt the lesson to go grab the paintbrushes that you forgot. When you return you will have to spend how much time getting the children re-focused and back on task? Early on, make it a goal to teach your children to respect knowledge and time. Be prepared for your lessons. Plan down to the detail. If you will be doing an activity that requires children to follow simple directions such as colour all of the trees green, make sure all of the colours they will need to complete that activity are present and within reach. Do not make it an option that in the middle of the lesson you tell your child(ren)/students, "Ok, now you need to colour each tree green" and your child says, "I don't have a green crayon!" and you say, "Oh! Ok, well run to your room and grab it. Quickly, quickly!"

The third question asking "what activities will you use to teach the lesson", is the procedure section of a lesson plan. This part should be proceeded by a pre-teaching/activating prior-knowledge session which takes less than 5 minutes. You can see an example of both here insha'Allaah. The procedures section is very important. In this section you will literally go through, step by step, how you will teach the topic. What questions will you ask the students? What will you say to illustrate an example? Will students need to move to another section of the class/house? The procedures section may appear to be almost like an instruction manual and perhaps it is similar. It is step-by-step. It does not need to be very long but it does need to go into enough detail that anyone could step in and teach your lesson.

When thinking about the activities you will use to teach the lesson, you bring to mind your students/child(ren), reminding yourself of their learning styles, attention span, learning disabilities, the cultural diversity of your classroom, etc. If you have a child who dislikes seat work, your activities should be a suitable combination of seat work and movement activities. This does not mean that you never have seat work for this type of child; it means that while training him/her to learn to sit still and focus, you also respect his/her learning style and give him/her the opportunity to learn in the way that he/she learns best. Likewise, if your son absolutely enjoys fire trucks, making his activities centred around fire trucks helps engage him in the activity and when his learning is joyful, insha'Allaah, it will be remembered and mastered with ease.

The next question asking "How much time will the lesson take" is like its companions: important and not to be ignored. If you are wondering why it matters knowing how much time a lesson will take (in a classroom or homeschool), try viewing it from this perspective: if you teach in a school, it makes transitioning very difficult for students when they hear the signal for the next class and the teacher is not done, so the teacher tries to rush to finish, assign any homework, collect any classwork, get students to put their books away, clean up their area, stop talking, and get ready for the next teacher. Are you out of breath? Imagine how this effects your students. Transitioning is an important aspect of children's learning. You can read more about why here. Conversely, if your lesson is too short, you are left trying to figure out what to have the students do now. Assigning them a meaningless task whose only purpose is to fill up the last 15 minutes of class is not an appropriate option. "Free-time" is an even less appropriate option. The children in your care are an amana. You will be asked about them. Your job as a teacher/parent-teacher is also an amana that you will be asked about. Here, we have to remind ourselves to fear Allaah.

If you homeschool, this section of the lesson plan is important to attend to. If your lesson goes too long, your child may loose interest and his/her behaviour may indicate that they've had enough. While his/her behaviour may irritate or frustrate you, the fact remains, you may have overloaded him/her. If it is too short, you have gotten your child excited about this topic and their hunger for knowledge is there but now they may be left needing more or not completely understanding your lesson. Also, if your lessons go too long, your schedule for your home duties can become so disturbed that one or more things doesn't get done (i.e. children calming cleaning up their area and returning materials to their place - and as a result, things get left where they are, or the salat being made calmly and on time) because YOU'VE GOT TO GET DINNER STARTED! Another potential problem that can result from not planning the time/length of your lessons is this: if you always start your homeschooling day with the same subject, one or more subjects may consistently be neglected and one day you may find yourself frightfully behind in that subject.

The next question you will ask yourself is "what will I give my students/children to help them practice what we just learned?" Will it be a hands-on activity that is directly related to what we just learned? Will it be a worksheet? A field-trip?

As an example, if you have just finished teaching about animals that live in the ocean and animals that live on farms and other places, an appropriate follow-up exercise to reinforce learning (and also as an assessment tool that shows you, at a glance, if students understood what you taught), is a sorting exercise. This cross-curricular activity asks students to sort animals into groups based on where they live. Easily, you can see if your students mastered the material by looking at their completed groups. If you see a giraffe in the ocean you see where you may have to review with that particular student.

Your lesson plan will not be as long as this post insha'Allaah but it needs to be concise, relevant, and clear. The more your lesson plans meet these criteria, the more confident you will be when teaching insha'Allaah. You can go to your lesson knowing what direction you want it to take and the ways you will deliver it to make sure it gets there. Of course, sometimes lessons don't go exactly as you had planned but having the lesson plan gives you a framework to keep you focused and on track. If your lesson goes a bit wonky because one of your groups seems really confused and they don't seem to be grasping the lesson and they are letting you know by calling out, there are things you can do to quickly remedy this situation and move on with your lesson as planned. If you have no lesson plan, how do you even know where to begin teaching a topic? How do you know how much of the topic you want to teach? How do you know what aspects of the topic you wish to cover in this 30-40 minute session (if teaching in a school)? And when that group doesn't seem to be understanding the topic, how do you know it is not because your delivery of the information was not clear? And if one of your students calls out, "This is boring!" in the middle of your lesson (ouch!), will you stop and ask yourself if this student's comment, although inappropriate, is true? Without a lesson plan, have you been talking your way through a subject with no real direction? Plan your lesson. Keep your talking to a minimum, especially in the lower grades. Be prepared. Be fun. And be ready to teach.

You may also wish to adopt the habit of making short notes to yourself in the side margin of your lesson plan after the end of each lesson. Note: what went well? what didn't go so well? why? what might you want to change about this lesson plan if you had to teach it again? Nothing long but enough that you grow and learn from the experience. Here is an example:
The lesson plan, along with your curriculum and long range plan, helps you traverse your classroom/homeschooling learning journey. When you don't know where to start, these three things combine to help put you on the right road insha'Allaah. For example, your pre-schooler is just officially entering the world of "structured" learning. What topic(s) do you start with? Return to your curriculum, your long range plan and start there. Pre-schoolers need to know some basic things: their name (first and last), their age, basic fundamentals about their deen, basic colours, shapes, numbers to 10, basic information about books (where is the front of the book, which direction do we turn the pages), etc.

When you have consulted those two sources, move to your lesson plans. Again, they do not need to be long but they do need to include the basic information covered in this post. And yes, it was a lot! But...are you ready to give it a try? Great! Download this basic lesson plan template and try it for yourself (this lesson plan may help with the materials, activating prior knowledge, and procedure sections). While you are doing it, note how you feel: frustrated in the beginning? Lost? Confused? More confident about your next lesson? Don't worry, it takes practice and patience but it will make you a more effective teacher insha'Allaah and your students/children will reap the benefits of your well-planned, well-delivered lessons. So do not give up on lesson plans and do not abandon them. Master them!

Happy Lesson Planning!


  1. Bismillaah

    As Salaamu Alaikum

    Sis Umm An- Nu'man why can't you just do my lesson plans for me!!!!! lol

    How long does each subject have to be in a Preschool class?

    Is 10 minutes a lesson too short? If you answered my questions before please forgive me I had to take a lot in- :)

    Also if I have a curriculum and I say in the curriculum for the math portion: students will learn patterns, sorting & matching, positions, numerals and quantities

    How do I make sure I met my goal when lesson planning for each section I just mention in the math portion?

    Did I ask that right??? Sometimes I look at a curriculum and I see Reading: Letter recognition, etc etc like things that a child is suppose to know - but how in a lesson plan do you cover all of that? and how long for each portion? I hope I made sense :)


  2. Waalaikum assaalm wa rahmatullaah,

    Ya ukhti Umm Suhailah, you read *all* of that already!!!!!!!???????'Allaah alayki!

    Tayyib, now we must be serious yes? You have one preschooler yes? For homeschooling, each lesson for a preschooler can be less than 10 minutes insha'Allaah. Depending on the child the time can be longer. That is fine. It depends on the child's interest in the subject.

    For your question: "Also if I have a curriculum and I say in the curriculum for the math portion: students will learn patterns, sorting & matching, positions, numerals and quantities.
    " and for the other questions, if I understand you correctly, the answer is that you break it all up. You do not cover all of it in one lesson plan. You may, for example, spend two - three days teaching sorting, two to three days teaching matching, etc.

    When the curriculum tells you what the child is supposed to learn, remember this is over the course of a 10 month school year. The expectation is that by the end of the school year, students will know how to do all that the curriculum has put forth. It is here that long range planning is invaluable. You take the curriculum, look at the expectations and plan how you will cover it all by the end of the school year. Some subjects are more difficult so you will allot more time for them. Those that are easy, you may only need one lesson to meet that standard. By plotting out your school year, you can see if you will be able to finish or if there are strands/topics you can combine (usually there are many alhamdulillaah).

    Let's do some small lesson planning here together insha'Allaah. If you do a lesson plan for sorting, what will your objective be?

    After we've established your objective, together, we will work through your entire lesson plan insha'Allaah.

    If you'd like sis, download the template from the post, choose a lesson that you plan to teach in the future and we will do the lesson plan together insha'Allaah.

    I'd like for you to experience (hands-on) how you will cover your topic and feel confident that you did it well, and you have satisfied that portion of the curriculum insha'allaah.

    Although I cannot do this for everyone, perhaps our conversations here will help others who may have the same or similar questions that you have.

    Jazakillaahu Khayr

  3. Bismillaah

    Lol yes I read it :) I learned a lot Mashaa'Allaah
    Na'am I download the template. :) I would like to give it a try on a lesson plan for sorting
    Objective: by the end of the lesson students will learn of to sort using themed cards, Computer program and manipulatives
    I hope I did this right :) Baraka'Allaahu'Feekum for ur help and patience

  4. Assalaamu Alaikum!
    Jazzakillaah Khaur Ukhtee for such a detailed beneficial post! I am sure it would help teachers and as well as Home educators in a big way! I learnt a lot and this reminded me of my working days in the school : ), I have seen teachers doing all what you have described and I have seen some teachers taking painful efforts to produce a good lesson plan for the year. They eventually succeed producing a better class by the grace of Allaah!
    Also I just want to remind the homeschooling mothers, at first all this would look so frightening and you would feel as if there is a big mountain on your head. But start writing the way you know point form first and think of elaborating later. Everything will fall into place, remember no one is going to make you feel bad or question you as you do not have to report to anyone like in a school, but when you start doing your plans and start teaching you will only want to perfect yourself and add more stuff to make it suitable for your child, as you know that what you are doing is to please Allaah! Later you will enjoy doing lesson plans and you will have a stress free year Insha Allaah!

  5. Jazak Allahu khair uhktee! I learned a lot. Im doing the finish in lesson planning our first weeks of the new curriculum and this will be so helpful to bring more quality into every part of that, insha Allah!

  6. Waalaikum asaslam wa rahmatullaah,

    Umm Suhailah, mumtaz! Your objective is definitely moving in the right direction. I would like to ask you a few questions to help you make it a bit more specific.

    Imagine that sis Umm Sarah *smile*, is going to be the substitute teacher for this lesson that you are planning.

    Your objective as it is now: "Objective: by the end of the lesson students will learn of to sort using themed cards, Computer program and manipulatives ".

    Will sis Umm Sarah know *what* the students will sort? And what attribute will students sort by? (colour, size, etc.)

    Since you have chosen to integrate technology into your lesson, ask this question: Will she know *which* computer program? Can you be a bit more specific to help her get your class through this lesson with ease insha'Allaah?

    What will the students *do* to show you (or the sub) that they know how to sort? Will they sort something (you will need to define what the something is *smile*) into groups? How many groups? 2, 3, or more?

    You're on the right track masha'Allaah...looking forward to seeing your revision insha'Allaah!

  7. Waalaikum assalam wa rahmatullaah

    @Umm Maimoonah: jazakillaahu khayr Umm Maimoonah for the advice to homeschooling parents. Good point, by the grace of Allaah, a good class will emerge when teachers take the time to plan the year, the months and the days of their teaching.

    @Umm Adam: Jazakillaahu khayr dear sis and may Allaah reward you and grant you success! If this post has benefited you in any way then indeed all of the good is from Allaah Alone. Alhamdulillaah.

  8. Bismillaah

    Hehe ok here is my try again lol:

    Objective: by the end of the lesson students will learn of to sort by size using animal themed Montessori cards, powerpoint presentation and manipulative such as different size animals

    In a group of twos students will show that they learn how to sort by size using Montessori themed cards or animal manipulative Inshaa'Allaah.


  9. Sister, what wonderful and professional work - jazakum Allah khair ...

  10. Assalamu aliakum wa rahmatullaah,

    Ahsanti! This is a much stronger objective masha'Allaah. With it, Umm Sara, or any other substitute can walk into your classroom and have a clear picture of where your students are going and how they will get there in this lesson. Do you feel good about this objective dear sis? Does it give you a clear picture of where you want this lesson to go?

    Now, are you ready to move on to your next stage in the lesson plan? *smile*

    What materials will you need to teach this lesson? Will students need sorting mats or will they use bowls? Think of everything you will need to teach this lesson with no interruptions insha'Allaah. Like before, looking forward to seeing your list *smile*.

  11. Assalamu alaikum

    Sis Saba, alhamdulillaah, all of the good is from Allaah Alone. Jazakillaahu khayr for your comment *smile*.

  12. Bismillaah

    Yayyyy glad I did better lol.

    "Do you feel good about this objective dear sis? Does it give you a clear picture of where you want this lesson to go?"

    Na'am I feel better- it gives me clarity as to what direction I am going in Mashaa'Allaah vs. just planning with no objective

    "What materials will you need to teach this lesson?"

    Students will need Montessori animal theme cards and different size animal manipulative to complete the lesson
    And the teacher will need a computer, and the powerpoint program for students to view

    Was this list suppose to be in order to complete the objective? Is that too little of a list? I based my list of the seems like I need more?

    Baraka'Allaahu'Feekum for allowing me this opportunity to learn hands on :)

  13. Assalamu alaikum,

    Tayyib, we will look at your new objective and with it we will see if your materials list is on target insha'Allaah.

    Your new objective was: "Objective: by the end of the lesson students will learn of to sort by size using animal themed Montessori cards, powerpoint presentation and manipulative such as different size animals

    In a group of twos students will show that they learn how to sort by size using Montessori themed cards or animal manipulative Inshaa'Allaah."

    The materials you have listed that you (and your students) will need are: "Students will need Montessori animal theme cards and different size animal manipulative to complete the lesson

    And the teacher will need a computer, and the powerpoint program for students to view".

    I would recommend your materials being in a list format. Perhaps it is just the format that has been adopted but it is easier to read and scan through quickly.

    Let me again ask you some questions insha'Allaah:

    1). What will the students sort on (i.e. mats, the table, bowls, etc.)?

    2). In your objective, you mentioned that the students will work in groups of 2 (at the end of the lesson). Does this mean that you will only need 1 set of animal cards for the entire lesson or does each student need her own set for any other part of the lesson?

    3). The same question applies to the manipulatives. Will each student need 3 (or more?) toy animal manipulatives? Or will they share?

    4). You mentioned a PowerPoint presentation. I am guessing that they will sit at the computer to watch this correct?

    5). With this question, I am asking you to think ahead a little bit. You will introduce the lesson with a pre-teaching/activating prior knowledge activity...think about how you will do that and if you will need any materials for this introductory activity (i.e. chalk, whiteboard marker, white board, toys of any sort to illustrate your point, etc.). Include any materials you may need in your list.

    Tayyib....your lesson plan is going along very well masha'Allaah *smile*. Looking forward to seeing if your materials list changes or is modified in any way.

  14. Bismillaah

    Wa Alaiki salaam :)


    Pre-teaching/activating prior knowledge activity:

    a book about different sizes to read at circle time
    and a game students can play about different sizes- after students find another student that is either shorter or taller than him or her to demonstrate different size

    Materials for lesson plan:

    Montessori theme cards- 1 per a team
    Animal manipulatives -1 set per a team
    Children will be at their desk siting in their chairs
    Each group will take turns to view the powerpoint with the teacher

  15. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullaah,

    Please excuse the tardy response. Tayyib, for this section (i.e. materials section), on your lesson plan you may find it helpful to follow this format (or one similar) when listing your materials:

    - a book about different sizes
    (when doing your actual lesson plan, you will want to list the exact name of book, with the author's name as well).

    - sizes game (name the game)

    - Montessori theme cards - 1 per team

    - Animal manipulatives - 1 set per team

    - Sizes Power Point presentation

    Using this format (or one similar) allows you to quickly scan your lesson plan to see and assemble what you need insha'Allaah. As you continue planning your lesson you may find that you come back and add/delete to this list as needed.

    Tayyib, on to the next section insha'Allaah *smile* The procedures section. This section is one of the most detailed. We may rewrite this section several times as we develop our lesson.

    It may help you to actual imagine yourself teaching the lesson, walk through it in your mind. Imagine what might help, hinder or what responses your children may make to certain materials. What will you do to teach this lesson (i.e. what activity/activities). Be specific. The link in the post is a good example of a clear, brief, concise lesson procedure.

    Look forward to seeing it insha'allaah!

  16. Bismillaah

    As salaamu alaiki :)

    I'm sorry Sis Umm An- Nu'man for the late reply. Family life has taken over a little more than I expected :/

    I tried to download the template to complete the next part- but for some reason my computer isn't allowing me to see it ?????? I will try again so that I can use it as a guide Inshaa'Allaah for this next part Baraka'Allaahu'Feekum for your patience :)


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