You are on page 1of 13

Planning a

Class
Session
A
Guide
for
New
Teachers

Office of Instructional Development, UCLA


Originally prepared by
DianeM.Enerson
Teresa A. I. Dawson-Munoz
R. Neill Johnson
Kathryn M. Plank

Instructional Development Program


The Pennsylvania State University
401 Grange Building
University Park. PA 16802-6074

©1995

Reproduced and adapted for UCLA by kind permission of CELT (the Center for Excellence in Learning
and Teaching formally known as the Instructional Development Program), at the Pennsylvania State
University by

Teresa Dawson-Munoz

The Office of Instructional Development


60PowellLibrary/Box 951515
UCLA Los Angeles, CA 90095-1515

Acknowledgements: This workbook was developed in 1995 with my colleagues at the then Instructional
Development Program, The Pennsylvania State University. I am deeply grateful to them for permission to
use it at UCLA. In adapting the workbook for the UCLA audience in 1998, I have tried to remain as true
as possible to the booklet's original concept and design.
Planning a Class Session 1

What do I need to do to prepare for class?

How can I be sure I reach my students?

What's the best way to organize information I feel is important?

How can I get the students involved in the material?

How can I make sure they understand it?

What problems am I likely to encounter?

What can I do about it?

Entering a classroom without planning what you want to accomplish is like heading
cross country without a map. You can do it, but it is rarely a very efficient way to
travel. Faculty do indeed report that they enjoy teaching most when they are well
prepared, although the vast majority of them begin their teaching careers without a
clear idea of how to plan a class session effectively. Accordingly, the following
groups of questions were designed to help you prepare for the class sessions you will
teach. As you proceed through the following pages, keep in mind that certain kinds
of information and strategies are fundamental to all successful teaching plans. The
questions that follow are offered only as an aid to locating and identifying the
information that will be most useful in your own planning process.
Planning a Class Session 2
The Big Picture
A bird' s-eye-view of the terrain you are about to cover is always helpful. Subsequent planning activities
will depend to a considerable extent on how systematically you address three basic questions—What do
your students already know? What do you want your students to learn? Why is it important for them to
learn it?

What do your students already know?

One of the most useful things you can do before you begin thinking about specific activities for a
particular class is to reflect on who your students are and what they can reasonably be expected to know
and do. For example, if you are scheduled to teach English 4, a course designed for students who did
not meet the University's minimum criteria for freshman composition, asking them to analyze the
symbolism in Ulysses is probably unreasonable, especially as a first assignment. Conversely, if you are
teaching a 400-level course in statistics, it is doubtful that your students will need to review basic
arithmetic or algebra.

What misconceptions about the course material may be common? How deeply rooted will these
misconceptions be? What will be the stumbling blocks to student mastery of the material? Your
reflections on these questions at this point need not be extensive or elaborate. However, even a few
minutes reflecting about who your students are and what they know will bring focus to the rest of your
planning activities.

What do you want your students to learn?

Not all topics and activities in a particular subject are of equal importance. Nor are all chapters in the
textbook of equal value. Therefore, when planning a particular class session, you need to think about
what it is that you want the students to walk away with at the end of that session. Trying to cover too
much is a far more common error than trying to cover too little. Be selective. Keep it simple. Resist the
temptation to cram everything you know about a subject into a single class session. It probably took you
far more than 50 minutes to learn what you know, and there is no reason to believe that your students
will learn it any faster. If you can't organize all the material you want to cover under 2-3 major points or
objectives per class session, go back and start pruning.

Why is it important for them to learn it?

Where does the material covered in this session fit in the course as a whole? What is the relationship
between this material and the rest of the course or subsequent professional activities? Examining and
thinking about these relationships can give strength and substance to your planning and consequently to
everything you do in the classroom. Articulating your rationale to the students can help to motivate
learning as well. Obviously, if you can't find something compelling to say about the importance,
significance, or utility of the material at hand, you may want to reexamine the syllabus.
Planning a Class Session 3
Notes
Planning a Class Session 4
Filling in the Details
Once you have a general map for where you are going and your rationale for going there, you can begin
to fill in details of how you are going to get there and what you will take note of along the way. How
extensive and detailed your plan needs to be is largely a matter of personal choice. But for the most part,
it is useful to think of as many relevant details as possible and then select those that will work best. Keep
in mind what your students already know as you are deciding which examples will be the most revealing
for them. For instance, making an analogy between the null hypothesis and the legal imperative of
"presumed innocent until proven guilty" can greatly aid understanding among those who are new to the
study of statistics. But it may not be the first illustration to come to a statistician's mind. In other words,
the details or illustrations you will use in any class may not be the first ones that occur to you. Therefore,
it is generally useful to spend a fair amount of time brainstorming for examples and then selecting those
you expect to work best.

How might you capture your students' interest in today's material?

What important connections will need to be made? How does this material fit into the course as a
whole? Is it consistent with students' previous experiences and expectations? Should you plan to supply
the necessary connections explicitly, or can you justify asking your students to make them
independently? When and how should you help the students connect the information you are providing
with the knowledge and skills they already possess? What activities might you plan to help them make
those connections?

What details and examples will you use to help support the 2-3 important points you have decided are
central to this session?

If your students walk out of this session with only one new idea, skill, or concept, what would you like
it to be? What concrete examples can you use to emphasize your main points? What classroom
activities will best facilitate student learning? Can you think of any examples or activities that draw
directly on your students' previous experiences?

How will the information and activities be sequenced?

Do the major points you want to make fall into any kind of natural order? Will temporal or historical
order help students master the content? Is there some kind of underlying logical structure that you can
use? How can you convey that structure to your students?

What method(s) will help you accomplish these goals?

A good rule of thumb is that lectures are an effective mechanism for conveying information about and
enthusiasm for a field, whereas problem-solving, small group, and discussion sessions are more
effective at changing behavior and developing new skills. Given what you hope to accomplish, which
method is most suited to your current objectives? How easily is this approach implemented with the
size of group that you have? Are there any physical obstacles in the classroom that might impede
implementation of your plan? Will you need more than one approach to accomplish your goals? How
skillful are you with each of these approaches?
Planning a Class Session 5
Notes
Planning a Class Session 6
Gauging Your Progress
Closing on an appropriate note is almost as important as opening on one. There are many different ways
you can bring the session to a logical conclusion. Even a mere summing up of key points will greatly aid
students' retention of the material covered and bring closure to a class. After the class session is over,
make a brief note of where you have been, the obstacles you encountered, and any unexpected moments
of discovery—either your students' or your own. This information will be useful in subsequent planning
for the course. Try asking yourself the following questions as you complete the preliminaries of planning
for class.

What checks of understanding will I include in the class session?

How will I judge successful performance or mastery of this material?

What are possible and reasonable questions I could use to assess


mastery of this material at the end of the unit?

In summary, too many of us have been exposed to teachers who have prepared
too little or possibly not at all. Simply talking off the top of your head can
occasionally be entertaining, but it is rarely good instruction. Planning ahead
for class by asking yourself a few key questions will ultimately provide not
only a more positive learning experience for your students but also a more
positive teaching experience for yourself.
Planning a Class Session 7
Notes
Planning a Class Session 8
Sample Session Plan

Course:______________________________________________ Session Number:____________

1. Session topic(s)

2. Session rationale and goal for students

3. Key instructional elements:

a. context setting introduction

b. instructional methods to be used

c. planned student participation

d. key checks for understanding

e. concluding wrap-up

4. Support materials needed (handouts, visual aids, technology, etc.)


Planning a Class Session 9
Sample Session Plan cont.
5. Content outline

6. Main points to make or questions to ask

1.

2.

3.

7. Test questions arising from session (to be completed immediately after class)

1.

2.

3.
Planning a Class Session 10
Notes
Planning a Class Session 11
Notes