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Work Smarter, Not Harder: Lesson Planning Edition

After 19 years in the classroom, I‘ve picked up a few tricks that have saved me from hours reinventing the wheel year after year. The best thing I ever did for myself was complete some upfront work that led to years of little to no prep and planning!

Here are my top three work smarter, not harder tips for easy lesson planning:

1. Save and store reusable worksheets and task cards.

Classrooms don't have a lot of storage space, but keeping photocopies of the materials your students will use year after year is worth it.

Two years ago, I Marie Kondo’d my classroom using Building Book Love’s Clean Classroom Challenge. I did a massive clean out of old papers I had been holding onto forever, practically emptying my one existing filing cabinet. This left space for copies of task cards my students use in revision stations, escape room materials, and room transformation supplies.

When it’s time to implement revision stations, I don’t have to spend hours at the photocopy machine. Instead, I have a large stack of teacher conference and peer conference forms ready to go.

When I’m ready to implement an escape room, I have the clues packed away in inter office envelopes, ready to go.

For the stand by lessons you teach year after year, save what you can to make implementation of different activities more reasonable. Just like clothing, if you find you’re not using something year after year, get rid of it to make room for more valuable materials.

2. Put your lesson plans in a slide show and number them.

This is my biggest “work smarter not harder” tip for planning. As you work through your units, make slide shows/PowerPoints that help guide you and your students through the major steps of their learning.

Start each lesson with standard based learning targets or a bell ringer connected to the lesson. If your school requires objectives or standards displayed for your lessons, this will cover that requirement!

Add slides that guide students‘ learming through the meat of the lesson. Then end with reflection, an exit ticket, or review of the homework for that night.

Number each lesson. Then on a separate document, create a 5x5 table. On your table, record the numbered lessons by giving a brief description and writing the homework for each night.

This 5x5 table becomes your pacing guide. Next year you will thank you! You are designing a pacing guide you can use and adapt for years. Of course you can adjust—every year, I make adaptations for the next year (for example, adding one more day for completing a task).

The best part—your pacing guide becomes something you can share with students, parents, support staff, and administrators. Be sure to add a note that lessons are subject to change based on student need.

3. Add rubrics to your worksheets.

The best thing I ever did for my students and for me was to add rubrics directly to worksheets. For example, my students complete an article of the week assignment each week. At the bottom of their response worksheet, I have a single line rubric to measure their mastery of the standard we’re targeting.

This obviously makes grading easier. The rubric is right there and all I have to do is circle a descriptor. From year to year, I don’t have to think about how I’m going to grade different tasks. The standards based rubric is right on the worksheet, ready to go.


A little extra thinking and preparation this year will help you next year. Next year you will thank you for making teaching life easier!

Want to make your teaching life even easier? Check out my yearlong curriculum for 7th grade ELA. All of the work is done for you!

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