5 steps to backwards plan like a pro!

Who doesn’t want the confidence of a whole year’s worth of lesson plans aligned to your course objectives? Or at least a solid roadmap of where you’re leading your students? 

Never have to worry about “fitting in” all your essential lessons. Know from the beginning of the year that you are set up for success. 

The best route for all this and more is backwards planning! It doesn’t have to be a daunting task, we promise 🙂

Get started with these 5 simple steps: 

Step 1: Start with your course objective(s)

Brainstorm on the essential outcome(s) for your class/course.   These can be state standards, course outcomes/objectives, etc. 

Try to narrow it down to 3 or less (no more than 5) of the most essential skills/lessons you want your students to leave your class possessing. Don’t stress about the exact number, just whittle it down to the absolutely necessary items.

If you have 40 course objectives, your course map will naturally be all over the place. You’re not saying those other things aren’t important, but perhaps they are building blocks to get you to those essential outcomes.


Step 2: Brainstorm essential skills/topics

Which brings us to: What skills are necessary to reach those outcome(s)? List them all.

Don’t waste time with what skills they “should” come in with. Do a baseline test to determine what skills they have and which ones they still need.

There’s not much point in lamenting about what skills may be lacking. Just review it or teach it. If these skills or concepts are essential to your course outcomes, covering them will be well worth your time.

If it helps to have a list of things you want them to have, make that a separate list.

If you have extra time (or if students come in with lots of the necessary foundational skills you can always sprinkle those skills and/or lessons in.

Basic Ui 774

Step 3: Work backwards

Think about how long it would take to cover each of the essential skills and/or content lessons you listed. Be generous. Be extra generous.

Educators tend to be an optimistic bunch. We think we can fly through our amazing, curated lesson in 10 minutes, but on that full moon Friday it might take us 45. That’s okay. Leave some extra wiggle room for yourself and your students. It will more than pay off in the end.

If your list can’t be completed in the time you have, review if all those are essential, “need to know” items. Eliminate a couple from your list and re-brainstorm your timeline.

Now, think about which skills build on others. What is the end result? Work back from there with the skill needed before that and so on.

If that’s not really how your brain works, you can also start at the beginning. Which skills/lessons are essential to building a strong foundation in your class?

Keep adding skill on top of skill until you’ve covered all your course objectives. Keep returning back to that list to guide your planning.

If it remains your focus while planning then all your lessons will be aligned to your course objectives and/or standards.

It’s okay to have blank areas in your calendar. These are great places for reviews, assembly days, sub days, and some of your “nice to know” or fun lessons. But only add them in after you’ve put in all the essential skills and left buffer days for the weird circumstances we’ve all encountered/heard about.

school supplies1-01

Step 4: Baseline testing – know where to start

Your baseline test doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Determine what you’d like to know about your students when they arrive at you.

Do your best to make sure it is assessing what you truly want to know. For example, if you want to assess their writing skills, but have a challenging reading passage attached it could give misleading data for those students who struggle with reading comprehension but are strong writers.

Try to chunk it into separate skills. It’s totally fine to give multiple little mini-assessments.

Also, do your best to make them short and effective assessments. If your baseline takes two weeks to complete, it could skew the data for students with attention issues or who fatigue easily.

Boil it down to the necessary basics. What are you hoping your students are bringing to the table?

Create or find an appropriate assessment to find out their strengths and the areas you want to address and support throughout your class. We have tons of fun and comprehensive baseline assessments if you’re looking for some to download or just some inspiration 🙂

eezy 18

Step 5: Smooth sailing – minor adjustments

Use your baseline data to make any needed adjustments to your year plans. I also super recommend adding some extra padding at the beginning of the year for syllabus, classroom procedures, schedule changes, and general beginning of the school year weirdness.

With such a solid plan, you are equipped to make any adjustments on the fly as needed.

Got a new student in the middle of the semester? No stress, you’ve got extra padded time in your calendar to review class procedures and rules with everyone (I mean, it never hurts, right?)

The best part is, with such a solid course plan, you can focus on what’s most important: building positive relationships with your students and taking care of yourself.

Here are some useful planning forms to use

Leave the first comment