Lesson Plans for College Courses

Recently, a reader asked me how to prepare for weekly lectures. What a great question, surely one all new adjuncts have asked themselves and others. I responded by suggesting he consider a broader question, how to prepare a lesson plan.

Lesson Plans Start with the Course Syllabus

As a college instructor, when was the last time you asked yourself, “What shall I teach next class period?” Quite honestly, if you ever asked yourself that there was a serious problem. Instructors should know what they plan to teach each class period before the first session meets. That is all part of creating a good syllabus.

I have run across a great reference for those who want a simple, practical guide for creating syllabi. I encourage you to check it out.

What is a Lesson Plan?

A lesson plan is a description of what a teacher intends to do in a lesson, a class section, or a full day of instruction. Most guides to constructing lesson plans involve considerable detail, require much time to create, and therefore are of questionable value for the college adjunct. Truth be known, few full time college instructors create detailed lesson plans.

If you are looking for information related to a specific aspect of college teaching, lesson plans for example, a website I recommend is the Teaching Tips Index published by Honolulu Community College (HCC), an affiliate of the University of Hawaii. At first I judged this website to be a competitor to mine. Upon further examination I realized that there is far too much information for busy instructors to assimilate. Furthermore, the information on this site, as good as it generally is, sometimes assumes background knowledge that many adjunct and new full-time faculty members lack. To the credit of HCC, however, they have provided a link to Adjunct Assistance. Thanks, guys!

By referring to Lesson Planning Procedures, an article by an unknown author in the HCC Teaching Tips Index, you can begin to see how involved lesson plans can be. This article identifies three stages for creating a lesson plan with 12 individual steps.

Stage 1: Pre-Lesson Preparation

  1. Goals
  2. Content
  3. Student entry level

Stage 2: Lesson Planning and Implementation

  1. Unit title
  2. Instructional goals
  3. Objectives
  4. Rationale
  5. Content
  6. Instructional procedures
  7. Evaluation procedures
  8. Materials

Stage 3: Post-Lesson Activities

  1. Lesson evaluation and revision

The HCC model for lesson plans is typical of many models I have seen. Some are even more involved. My goal is to help busy adjuncts and all new college instructors effectively create lesson plans and have enough time left over to sleep at night. 😉

Simple and Easy College Lesson Plans

My model for lesson plans is more user-friendly and therefore, in my opinion, more useful for college instructors. It assumes that instructors have well-constructed syllabi, ones that clearly identifiy student learning objectives; materials (e.g. textbook); course content; grading policy; and course schedule. Normally, adjuncts teach courses that have been taught by others and have access to the syllabi of more experienced instructors and other helpful information.

My lesson plan model also assumes that the instructor has distributed the course content reasonably well across the individual class sessions. Many models ignore the course schedule. They consider it to a separate, independent entity. I do not. I believe it is a vital element of a well-written syllabus. Well distributed or not, this is the starting point for creating lesson plans.

Step 1 – Identify What You Should Cover in Your Lesson Plan

Lesson plans for college faculty should address one class period, neither more nor less. The first step in constructing the lesson plan is to list the individual topics that will be covered during that class period. You should try to be specific and create what I will call instructional units.

The second step is to prioritize those instructional units. The tendency for many is to identify more material than can be effectively covered in one class period. Consider an AB C scale. A is for topics you absolutely need to cover in some level of detail. B is for topics that your students better know, but for which you will not devote significant class time. C is for material that is not tied directly to the course learning objectives. It may be interesting, but you should not waste class time unless, you find extra time available at the end of a class period.

What material is absolutely necessary to cover in class? That is for you decide, but here are some considerations. Plan adequate time for topics which:

  • are difficult for many students to understand;
  • will be accessed via tests, homework, assignments, projects, performance, etc.;
  • must be mastered for students to achieve course learning objectives; or
  • involve performance base learning objectives, whether difficult or not.

What exactly is “B” material, the things your student better know? Again, this is for you to decide. Plan time to make sure your students know they will be held responsible for “B” material, and leave contingency time in class to address question that may arise. “B” material is that which students will be held accountable for and which:

  • is verbal knowledge that requires rote memorization;
  • is easily assimilated by most students on their own;
  • is so interesting that it will motivate students; or
  • will not significantly factor into students’ final grades.

What exactly is “C” material? It is the material which:

  • does not relate to course learning objectives;
  • is beyond the scope of the course; or
  • involves some of your favorite anecdotes or jokes which do not help students learn.

There is an exception to the anecdotes and jokes criteria. A few of these, well placed, will help you bond with your students. Humor, when it doesn’t compromise learning and instructor professionalism, is a good thing?

Step 2 – Take Important Factors into Account

There are a variety of issues to consider when creating your lesson plan. Here are my top ten:

  1. Course Learning Objectives;
  2. Difficult Material that must be Covered;
  3. Available Time;
  4. How to organize the class;
  5. Student Learning Styles;
  6. Student Engagement Techniques;
  7. How to Teach versus Tell;
  8. Formative Assessment Strategies;
  9. Summative Assessment Strategies; and
  10. Your Relationship with Students.

Step 3 – Review and Revise the Plan

[More to follow on this topic. Guess you will have to check back later. Sorry. :-(]

Are Lesson Plans Important?

Lesson plans are such an important, and often overlooked, part of being and effective college instructor. And what is an effective college instructor? He or she is one who helps students achieve the course learning objectives.

I will expand on the factors to consider and more in a future article. I promise. 🙂

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Revised November 14, 2011

About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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