For the first time, I’ll be teaching two different subjects (biology and environmental science). Do you have any suggestions for how to organize my unit plans, lesson plans, and other resources?
—Don, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
I’m not an organized person by nature. So when I taught four different courses in two different labs, I had to force myself to create a system to coordinate four sets of resources and documents and archive them from one year to the next. It was a struggle, but eventually I was able to use my time to revisit and revise lessons rather than recreating them.
My colleagues used to call me the binder queen of unit plans (I’ve since progressed to electronic files). My school had a written curriculum for each course. Rather than storing the curriculum tome in the file cabinet, I took it apart and put each unit plan in a separate binder. I also inserted my lesson plans for that unit as well as copies of the assessments, handouts, and other notes.
For lesson plans, the best thing I ever did was to get rid of the spiral “Plan Book” with its 2×3 inch block for each class period. There wasn’t enough room to record the plan for an entire lesson, other than a cryptic “pp. 52-56 #1-5″ or “Algae Lab” which was not much help the following year.
Does your school have an official lesson plan format? If you’re using a framework such as Understanding by Design or 5E, there may be sample lesson plans posted on the project’s website. If you don’t have a suggested template (and there are schools that don’t require teachers to have written plans) here are some features I would include (keeping in mind that a lesson may span several class periods):
- Lesson title and dates
- The unit goals (or themes, essential questions, big ideas) supported by the lesson
- Lesson objectives
- Materials needed (web resources, supplemental texts, technology, PowerPoints, handouts, assessments, lab materials, notebooks, office supplies)
- Introduction to activate prior knowledge (e.g., an advance organizer; warm-up activity; recap of previous lesson; Know, Want To Know, Learned, or KWL, chart; an interesting anecdote or story)
- Description of the lesson content (concepts, discussions, lab investigations, cooperative learning activities, informal assessments, vocabulary, opportunities for practice or application)
- Lesson assessment (quiz, group presentation, lab report, notebook entry)
- Homework related to the lesson objectives
- Closure or bell-ringer
- Adaptations for students with special needs or extensions for students beyond the basic objectives
Annotate the lesson and unit plan, either on the document or with a sticky note. Reflect on what went well as well as what did not work (and what you did to fix it). Describe in detail any modifications to activities or assessments. Correct any typos or other errors right away.
A colleague suggests color coding course materials and finding a clip art logo for each course (e.g., a microscope for biology, a tree for ecology). Put this in the upper right hand corner of any printed page and use it as you sort through the papers on your desk.
Ask your technology coordinator if your school already has any online organizational tools and take advantage of the organizational features on your computer. You can color code the folders and files on your computer or change the folder icon to your course logo. Have a folder for each course and a subfolder for each unit. With an electronic system you can archive PowerPoints, photos, podcasts, and video clips as well as hard copies of lessons, handouts, and assessments.
In addition to backups on the school’s server, invest in a flash drive, and backup to both regularly. Flash drives are especially helpful if you use different computers at home and in school. As an alternative, you could store your files in a file sharing site, such as Google Docs, which would enable you to access and edit the files from any computer. Files stored there also maintain a version history, so you can go back to earlier versions of lessons as needed.
In addition to electronic files, I still like the concept of binders, where I can flip through an entire unit or workshop without opening lots of files. Once a binder queen, always a binder queen!
Creating a system is time-consuming at first, and you’ll modify it as you discover what works best for you. This investment will pay off the next time you teach the courses. Good luck!