Lesson Planning Tips That Help You Do More, Better–in Less Time

A day in the classroom goes by FAST, for a million reasons. Which means that when it comes to student learning, every minute counts. So it’s imperative that we make the most of every one of them.

How do you make the most of your day when there are 10 million things on your plate? Is there any room for fun?

It begins with planning.

In another post, I talked about making sure to meet your kids where they are as you plan so you aren’t spending too much time on the wrong things. This alone is a fantastic time-saver.

Want to know another, even bigger time saver?

Think about connections.

Too often, teachers plan in a silo. One person plans each subject area, and they get as far as sharing the plans with the team but rarely have a chance to truly talk with each other, to see where they could fit their subject areas together to optimize student learning–and streamline the teaching work.

Even more rare is there time to talk about everyone’s student needs. This not only means that teaching is often compartmentalized and disjointed, but it also means the person who planned that subject created lessons that were meant for one group of kids in mind–and it wasn’t yours.

The result?

You end up teaching things harder than you should ever have to.

The topic of departmentalized planning is a topic for a whole other day. That’s not what you came for. You came for this:

Tips for streamlined, big-bang-for-your-buck teaching.

When you plan a literacy unit, you can get major stretch by thinking about weaving skills your kids need throughout the components of balanced literacy. And, more often than not, you can also weave these skills into your content areas. This is one of the things a balanced literacy framework supports so well.

An example:

You teach 2nd grade. Your kids are working on retelling, character traits, and visualizing. Many students also really need to work on solidifying high-frequency words. And their writing! They really need help with forming stronger sentences. Their work is boring and voiceless. Oh–and reading assessments are coming up soon, and you KNOW they’re going to struggle with those darn author’s craft questions.

So much to do, so little time, right? I get it, and I’ve got you.

What NOT to do: print a bunch of packets or worksheets for isolated practice for each skill needed. That will not help. Real learning doesn’t happen in isolation.


Choose a great read aloud, with rich characters. Begin reading this book several times a week or so ahead of your next writing unit, so you can use it as a mentor text later. For now, begin having lots of great discussions with your kids, keeping the different levels of comprehension in mind. Sometimes, practice retelling it. Sometimes, talk about the author’s intent about the lesson. And talk about the specific craft moves the author used that are particularly good.

Major bonus points if the read aloud you chose also supports the work you’re doing in science or social studies. There are books for pretty much every topic under the sun, and many of them are picture books–perfect for the short time you have available. Reading stories about factual events is a fantastic way to build background knowledge, vocabulary, and deeper understanding.

Soooo many things can be taught through read alouds!

And leverage this VERY powerful teaching tool:

Incorporate interactive and/or shared writing. A lot. This component is one of the most powerful, because just about every skill can be taught this way. You might craft a retell together, write an analysis about one of the character’s traits, or a review of the book, making sure to infuse it with voice, using descriptive words and complex sentences. Think of ALLLLLLL the opportunity here to home in on high-frequency words, proper punctuation, spelling/phonics, and stronger grammar. This “we do” work is key for helping kids take on skills for their own, independent practice.

Speaking of shared, the power of shared reading cannot be overstated. Pull out a page or an excerpt your kids either will or already have come across, or a book by a favorite author. Maybe it’s a part of the social studies textbook your district has to use. Or a section of the read aloud you’ve been immersed in. Or a related news article on the topics your class is learning about. Or even a text you’ve written together during shared writing. There is truly no limit! Read these together, study what the author is doing. Have partnerships summarize what was read as you listen in and coach. Think about the bigger messages, the figurative language that paints a picture, the way they describe a character, or the way the author uses specific words that hint at their bias or showcases their writer’s craft moves.

Pull out some interesting words from that book, and do some vocabulary work. (Disclaimer: this is not phonics–as the balanced literacy framework explains, phonics is very necessary–but here I’m talking about vocabulary development only).

See? Endless Connection Opportunity! [And there’s more!]

During writing, bring back that read aloud, and recall the craft moves that the writer used. Did they write an interesting introduction? Words that paint a picture for the reader? Strong character description? Action told bit by bit, rather than a cursory gloss-over? Every one of these things, and a thousand more, can be used as anchors to writing mini lessons to really lift the level of your kids’ writing.

Even math could be incorporated! Have kids retell the steps in a mathematical process, being sure to include transition words between steps. Use shared writing to craft an error analysis response. Enlarge a story problem so everyone can see it, and create a visual that matches what’s being asked. When they answer a story problem, insist that they write answers with proper sentences, complete with capitals and punctuation. Writing expectations certainly don’t stop when “writing time” is over.

I hope you’re seeing how each component of balanced literacy plays a key role in teaching and learning. Weaving together these components with the student learning goals you have in mind leads to deeper learning because you are giving them lots of support and opportunity to truly apply the skills you’re teaching.

This is how learning for transfer happens.

And magically, you will have been so time-efficient with all of this that you’ll have time left for some fun!

What literacy connections do you think you will try this school year? I’d love to hear about it!

Related Posts: Mastering the Mini Lesson, Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later, Are You Inadvertently Causing Your Own Time Frustrations?

Want some help thinking through your lessons for big-bang-for-your-buck teaching? Check out my site and join my private FB group ! Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together!

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