Building a Plan B into Your Lessons

It happens, all too often.  We spend hours sorting out all the fine details to make a lesson perfect and something goes wrong, and we don’t have time to compensate for it.  Technology fails or ends up unavailable.  None of the copiers are working.  We must double down on students since our buddy teacher had to leave for an emergency.  Half the class is out for a field trip or with the stomach bug that is going around.  A student ends up in ISS/OSS and need their work provided.  A student with a long-term absence due to medical issues or a family emergency but needs to be able to keep up with schoolwork. A global pandemic impacting education and forcing us to adapt to some students learning in brick and mortar while some will be in e-learning situations, and we may be responsible for teaching both. These things can completely throw off our lessons and leave us with a potential lost day of learning for our students.  But learning doesn’t have to be derailed if we take just a bit of extra time to think outside of the box and plan ahead.  Here’s a few ideas to do this.

EMBEDDED TECH ELEMENTS Building in elements into our lessons that are digital work product or completion can be a great way to prepare for alternative scenarios.  We also often use videos from YouTube and other resources to help our students, so having these embedded into a PowerPoint or Google Slides Show can be a great way to have them available for whole class, small group, independent, or distant learning needs. 

STUDENT CREATED WORK PRODUCTS Allowing students to create their own work product can be a great time saver and adaptive method.  Whether it is answering on their own paper, creating a digital product online and submitting digitally, or using resources on hand, like recyclable materials to construct something then take photos or videos with a smart phone and submit.  But some assignments need more guided structure that must be teacher created.  We often create our own resources or have digital items that were shared or acquired digitally, especially these days. If you are like me, you will make many of your consumables customized to the theme of the unit.  Some teachers may have those ‘copies of copies’ resources that have been around and are a good go to, so it may be a good idea to spend some time recreating them as a digital version.  With that said, many items we already use are digital already.  Turning them into a document that can be shared or into another digital tool such as a google form to respond to can help you check for understanding of learning goals. Taking a survey of our students at the beginning of the term can let us know how many prefer tech, how many prefer paper/pencil, or how many are fin either way.  This can help you prepare effectively for those copies you may have to have on hand.

PRERECORDED LESSONS This is a favorite go to of mine I didn’t discover until many years into my teaching career.  Did you know that PowerPoint has a recording feature built into it?  You can run the PowerPoint, record your lesson, and just press play when the class is ready to begin.  For students that are out, you can share it and they won’t miss a thing from the day—I would incorporate a ticket out the door for students to complete to ensure they were on task, whether it was done in the classroom or out of class as make up.  This can be a huge time saver for teaching new skills and ensuring consistency, and having it available for student access after the lesson can be a huge help for those that may not get it the first time—you can post it online with a time note shortcut list for them to find sections they may need to get to quickly if they don’t need the entire lesson.  It can also free you up to circulate the classroom to help those struggling with notetaking strategies or the concept itself, or to keep easily distracted students on task.

LEARNING MENUS Sometimes we have concepts or tasks that can be completed in a variety of ways or various orders.  By giving our students a “menu” to choose from will allow them to have control of their activities, but it can also make it possible to move the week around, should something come up.  This can be done with a menu of learning activities that have a weekly checklist with time allowances in different categories—appetizers (hook activities), side dishes (extension activities for those that learn differently or think outside of the box), the main course (could be one or two things to choose from) and dessert (a way to demonstrate mastery of the concept with a few ideas you give them, or creative control, depending on age or skill level of your students).  This can also allow them to choose learning partners, groups, or independent work, depending on their preference.  If you use this option, I would be sure to make it clear to students that this may not always be an option, but if they handle it well, it could be used often.  This often encourages self-governing to stay on task and behave since students often like control and this can eliminate power struggles within the classroom.

ROTATIONS/CENTERS This is often a go to of mine.  It can work in conjunction with learning menus, as a step building towards them, or as they are.  Most learning maps have students learning several concepts at one time, but it can be challenging to acquire, practice or demonstrate mastery of them individually.  By creating rotations/centers, it will allow for specialized practice, explicit teaching, or support for struggling learners and advanced learners to expand their knowledge.  What I like about this is that I could allow my advanced students to rotate in small groups throughout the week, but could easily become a whole group or independent learning concept if our calendar changed or the class needed adjusted for management in the case of struggling learners or behavioral management issues.

By incorporating these into my lesson plans, I am already ready for the unexpected.  Often, these could result in my being over planned and having additional materials ready to go for future lessons, the following week, review activities or concept assessments, or even emergency plans for myself or for a buddy teacher’s emergency absence.  If I have learned nothing else in my thirteen years of teaching, it’s that things will rarely go according to plan, and are even more likely to fall apart if I planned it as my only option.

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