Wondering where to start with your lesson planning? Start with the standards
The standards are like the skeleton of teachers' full-year-curriculum body. They hold us up, and we need them to survive. Sounds dramatic, I know, but standards really secure and connect student learning throughout the year.
Look through all of the ELA standards listed for your state at the grade level you teach (most states still use the Common Core or some version of the Common Core State Standards. In New York, we've moved on to the very similar Next Generation ELA Standards). Start by mapping out the standards for the whole year, then by individual units, then by lesson. At the individual lesson level, frame your lessons with 1-3 target standards.
Here’s how I do it in ELA (moving from big yearlong plans to small level lessons):
1. Start with writing.
The standards delineate four major writing pieces students will be responsible for mastering during each school year: informational, argument, research, and narrative writing. In my 7th grade ELA classroom, we work to master them in that order. Informational writing works as a solid foundation for argumentative writing which prepares kids to dig deeper into research, and we end the year by telling our own stories.
2. Tie in informational and literary texts.
Along with the writing standards, decide on focus reading standards that students will master within the unit of study.
Your students can master all of the reading standards by connecting the writing standards to informational and literary texts. Write about the books you are reading. Use the texts you're reading as mentors for student writing. In other words, students can work on mastering the writing standards by writing about their reading or by using their reading as a mentor text for writing--a win, win!
Here's an example: In my 7th grade ELA classroom, we start the year reading informational articles about life in South Sudan and the Second Sudanese Civil War. We target several of the major reading informational texts standards through these articles. Then, we read the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, which takes place in Sudan. Students practice citing text based evidence and analyzing the text as we read. For our summative assessment, students write an informative essay about the methods that led to Salva’s survival.
The informational texts we read at the start of our study work as mentor texts. We master the informative writing standards when we develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples from our novel.
3. Frame individual lessons with 1-3 standards.
The lessons that make up each unit usually focus on building students’ mastery of 1-3 standards. These standards work to frame each lesson.
Start the lesson with a standards based bell ringer. The first time students are practicing the standard, work to break down academic vocabulary and make sure students actually understand the skill they're going to master. As students practice mastering the standard day by day, increase to higher level thinking bell ringers.
The heart of each lesson is the teaching, modeling, and applying of the skills required to master each standard. Mastery of standards might take the entire school year as lessons build in complexity, but the key is that students are getting stronger within each lesson.
End lessons with a standards based exit ticket, a think pair share, or a simple reflection.
4. Remember that skills spiral.
Your students will work on mastering citing text based evidence all year long. They will work on introducing, developing, organizing, and concluding their writing all year long. There are very few (if any) one-and-done skills, and many of the standards should be measured in different contexts for a more accurate measure and a deeper level of students’ understanding. As you plan, understand that many of the target standards for one unit will repeat throughout other units as well.
Starting with the standards will not only help your students to achieve mastery, but it will also help focus your lessons. Each lesson, each unit, and the entire school year will be focused and goal oriented freeing up the mental space to get creative and have fun! A structured plan is not boring. In fact, structure gives you more time and cognitive energy to enjoy your students!
Try starting with the standards, and be sure to reach out along the way with any questions. I'd love to hear how standards based lessons are going in your classroom!