Every teacher knows that routines are key to classroom management and moving students forward. But when you’re just starting your career or moving to a new school, it can be difficult to create your own lesson plan structure from scratch.
Ideally, we’d all be able to pop into our colleagues’ classrooms and see how they do it, but this is often impossible. Instead, I thought I would share my own lesson plan structure for the curious!
My Class Setup
My daily “flow” was the same every day, regardless of what I was teaching. In an alternative, Title I school, I think this was key for keeping expectations high and behaviors in check. It also led to less student anxiety because they always knew what to expect from me.
For the sake of providing some context, it’s important to note that my school was on a block schedule. This meant that there were four ninety-minute class periods throughout the day. (Teachers taught three and had one ninety-minute prep. Why don’t more schools do this?!)
So my lesson plan structure is built around a ninety-minute window with my high school English students. However, I think this general structure can be easily adapted to different class lengths.
Lesson Plan Structure: Warm-up
Every one of my classes began with a warm-up. These were almost always grammar because I believe that to truly teach mechanics, you must review them every single day.
(Not interested in grammar warm-ups? How about a Poem of the Week? With these activities, students analyze a different piece of a poem each day to review their understanding of literary terms!)
On Monday, students would walk into the classroom and pick up their warm-up worksheets on the way in. This double-sided worksheet would have their grammar warm-ups for Monday through Friday. Each day, they would complete that day’s task, and then they would turn in the whole sheet on Friday.
The expectation was that they would complete warm-ups for days that they were absent on their own. If they knew they were going to be absent on Friday, I let them try the warm-up and turn in the worksheet early if they wanted.
These warm-ups would be very simple to complete–probably three to five minutes for students who had paid attention in class.
Implementing Warm-ups In Practice
After the bell rang, I would walk into class and go over the warm-up directions in case any students were confused or hadn’t taken the time to read the directions. If there are any literary terms or content we had gone over recently, I also take some time to review that term.
For example, my usual script might go something like this: “Ok, readers and writers! On today’s warm-up, you’re being asked to underline independent clauses. Do you guys remember what an independent clause is?”
Depending on how awake or knowledgeable my students were that day, we would define the term together. If students seemed confused, I might do the first one with them as an example.
Then I would give them another two or three minutes to complete the warm-up as I took attendance or checked some email.
My classroom was equipped with a document camera that I used to project the warm-up to the class. After the given amount of time had passed, I would project the daily warm-up and go over it with my students.
Depending on my students, their anxiety/understanding, and the amount of time the warm-up was taking, I usually did a mix of students sharing their answers and me coaching them through finding them.
By the end of the warm-up, students paying attention should have either confirmed their answer was correct or corrected anything they got wrong. At the end of the week, their warm-ups should be easy points for them, which motivated many students to do them in the first place.
Picking a Warm-up
So what should your warm-up activity be?
I chose to use the Grammar Warm-ups with my senior students because they needed the extra practice. Our district-wide assessments for seniors were grammar-heavy. I also knew that whether students were heading to the military, work, or college, they were going to need basic grammar skills after leaving high school.
But maybe your students need reinforcement elsewhere? I recommend choosing warm-ups based on the skill you most want your students to improve.
For my Creative Writing class, that meant analyzing and reading poetry every day with my Poem of the Week Warm-ups.
But if you believe your students just need to write more often, you could have them journal every day. (Try these Journal Prompts!)
And if your students just need to up their reading volume, you can always start with five to ten minutes of independent reading daily.
Classroom Management Tip
After the bell rang and I walked into the classroom, I always took a moment to see who was on task. Those who had met expectations–begun their warm-ups–always got vocal praise from me.
“Jim, thanks for working on that warm-up right away.”
“Maggie, I’m so excited to see a pencil on your desk today. You look ready to learn!”
“Holy cow, Carmen! You’re almost done?! I thought today’s warm-up was really going to stump you guys!”
It might seem a little elementary, but compliments for simple achievements accomplish two things.
First, it’s an easy way to sprinkle more positive reinforcement into your classroom. When students are challenging, it’s hard to find time to reward behavior instead of just calling out the bad stuff. Building time into my day intentionally to praise students meant my positive to negative reinforcement ratio was more positive.
Secondly, this was a subtle way to point out to the other students that they were not meeting expectations. Often, students will realize their neighbor just earned a compliment and then scramble to get their own worksheet or pencil.
My students hated being called out negatively in front of their peers, but this tactic avoided that while still making it clear who wasn’t meeting expectations.
Lesson Plan Structure: Agenda
After going over the warm-up, I moved into the day’s agenda.
I kept my agendas on a simple Google Slides presentation. When I taught remotely or hybrid, this document was nice because I could share it with my students or post it to my class’s Google Site as well.
Going over the agenda only takes about thirty seconds and since I already had everyone’s attention from reviewing the warm-up, the transition doesn’t take long.
With the agenda still up, I give students directions for moving into the lesson for the day. This might include grabbing their independent reading books, our classroom novel, or pulling out a packet we’ve been working on.
Your agenda is also a great place to share your learning targets. I didn’t always have time to deep dive into the targets with my students (and often they were obvious–we’re learning about semicolons today so I hope you learn how to use a semicolon). But it’s nice to have them posted somewhere in case admin drops by.
Lesson Plan Structure: Content
Because my classes were ninety minutes, I tried to break my classes into two sections about thirty minutes each. This meant fifteen minutes for a warm-up, thirty minutes for our first task, thirty minutes for our second task, and fifteen minutes to close class.
This time breakdown isn’t perfect. When we read longer novels, the breakdown was often forty-five minutes and fifteen minutes. But I tried to avoid doing one single thing for sixty minutes straight. It’s just too long for my students to focus on any one thing.
If we were reading a novel, our first thirty minutes chunk of the class would often be reading. Usually, this involved playing an audiobook. I would stop intermittently to discuss what was happening with the class. They usually had reading questions to fill out as we went to keep them on task.
(Struggling to map out your novel study lessons over the course of a quarter? Here’s my quick way of doing it!)
The second content chunk of the class would often focus on grammar. This might be a thirty-minute lesson on a specific convention topic or just time to work through some practice problems.
(Not sure how to sequence your grammar? I’ve got a guide for that too!)
If we were involved in a longer-term project (like writing an essay or putting together a presentation), one of those chunks would probably be some work time.
Classroom Management Tip
Each chunk of class time for me was about thirty minutes, but even that was a lot of attention for today’s students to sustain. When you can, break that time up even more.
For example, maybe you introduce a comma rule for five minutes and then have students write five sentences using that comma rule. You’re still focusing on commas for the full thirty minutes, but students aren’t just listening to you for thirty minutes straight.
Lesson Plan Structure: Endling Class
The last bit of my lesson plan structure was usually about fifteen minutes. Ten of these were meant for cleaning up.
My students were messy and disorganized. Without specific cleanup time, nothing was going to end up in the right folders and pencils were definitely not going to be returned.
Even at the end of an eighteen-week semester, I always gave directions for cleaning up.
“Alright, everyone. It’s time to clean up. If you didn’t finish your worksheet today, please make sure they get put into your folder. If you did finish, you can go ahead and place them in the turn-in-tray. Don’t forget to return any pens or pencils you may have borrowed. Carlos, I see a pencil on the floor by your foot. Would you mind returning that for me when you put your folder away? Thank you!”
This meant my room was less chaotic, and so were my students. Once students were cleaned up and seated again, I moved into the last five minutes of class.
Closing Activity Options
Our school followed a Capturing Kids Heart Model of classroom management, so we all ended with something we called a “launch.” The idea is to just end your class in a positive way with the class all together.
This could be as simple as a positive aphorism. When one of my colleagues ended class, she always told her students, “You matter.”
I always liked to end with a short video. Sometimes they were five-minute videos that reviewed what we were learning in class. Others were short videos that added background information or shared interesting English facts.
On Friday, I always ended with fun, G-rated cartoon shorts. (Search “animated shorts” on YouTube and there are a plethora of awesome CG videos from amazing art students you can share with your class.)
As my videos played, I could take a moment to verify my attendance, check some emails again, or just take a breath before the next class.
One last amazing option is exit tickets! If you’re using exit tickets to collect data, pass them out as students start cleaning up. I loved using exit tickets to review reading skills and story elements on independent reading days!
Classroom Management Tip
Remember that praising from the warm-ups? Do it again at the end of your class!
Thank students for returning supplies or returning to their seats rather than waiting by the door. Tell students how awesome they were in class today. High-five the students that stayed on task during the day.
Weekly Plan Structure
My class periods generally followed the same structure, but so did my weeks! This made planning every day much easier. Plus, as students got into the routine of my class, they always knew what to expect.
Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday were heavy teaching days. We usually read from a novel and did some grammar work. If they were working on a big assessment, I might teach students how to go about the next step and give them some time to work.
On Wednesday, we always did thirty minutes of independent reading after the warm-up. (For more information on how that worked, check out my post on building a classroom library or this one in which I share the good, bad, and ugly of an independent reading day in my room.)
Our Fridays were shorter days. I still had a warm-up and a closing activity, but we only had about forty-five minutes for content in-between. On these days, I used a computer program our school had purchased to help students bump up their nonfiction reading skills.
The activities assigned on this program could be done without any teacher’s help. The reading was Lexiled and differentiated for students, the program automatically adjusted activities according to their reading skills, and the program gave and graded questions.
Our school really wanted every teacher to use this program, so I did so on Friday. This allowed me to get a jump start on grading or prepping the next week while my students worked.
Find Your Own Independent Work
Not every school has a program like this that they’ve purchased, but you can set some up on your own! Depending on what you’d like your students to work on, you can create a teacher account on Vocabulary.com, NoRedInk, Quill.org, or NewsELA.
You could also make Friday an independent digital day. Sometimes I would give students quizzes via Google Forms–this kept them busy and working while I graded or planned. Then, the Form graded itself, so I didn’t add much grading to my workload.
But you could also reserve Friday for independent WebQuests, research, work time on essays or slideshows, etc.
However you do it, I highly recommend building in independent practice into your classroom week to give yourself a few minutes to grade some papers or put your plans into place for the following week!
This lesson plan structure worked really well for my students and me for years. It’s certainly not the only way to run a class, but if you’re struggling with finding your own routines to put into place, it’s a great place to start!
If you’re still finding your lesson plan style, I have tons of resources for you: