How to Make Teacher Planning Work for You


Planning is a necessity of being a teacher. Here are some of my teacher organization ideas on how I try to make planning simplified and I share my lesson plan organization systems.

You can jump right to seeing how I organize my lesson planning below but if you aren’t feeling that teacher planning is actually working for you – then we can take a look at improving on that.

I’m all about figuring out ways to work smarter in the classroom. {wink}

How to Make Teacher Planning Work For You

It’s time for a change – when teacher planning isn’t working for you

Perhaps you’re here because, right now, lesson planning isn’t really working for you. It’s the reverse.

You’re working for it.

It’s ridiculously all-consuming or you feel like a slave to your lesson plan book and you get lost looking for direction, inspiration and ideas online.

Outside of your first year or two of teaching – it’s not supposed to feel this way.

There are ways to make planning work for you and give you more time and help you be excited about your plans since you can see the connection over time and growth of your students as a result of your successful planning.

Narrow it down

When it comes to figuring out how to make teacher planning work for you – first identify where your pain point(s) lie.

What annoys you the most about planning?

{Ahem… other than the simple fact you have to do it. I’ve been there. I get it. But once again, it’s part of the job… so let’s move onto what we can improve and get to work in our favor.}

If you can narrow down to what’s frustrating you the most about planning than you’ll be able to start thinking about a solution.

Do any of these strike you as how you’d describe your lesson planning sessions?

If so, I hope I help break it down for you a bit and help you find a simple solution to try.

Learning to do lesson plans differently than before will be like learning a new habit – it’ll take time.

Give yourself grace when it doesn’t change overnight but be determined to keep improving.

How to plan

So, now that we’ve identified that planning isn’t currently working for you and are figuring out what it is that is getting in the way most – we can focus on turning that around.

Let me share that there are 3 main components, in my opinion, to lesson planning. Get these and teacher planning can start to really propel you forward each week.

If I want to plan smartly then I’ve got to:

  • know the standards
  • know where I want to take my kinders next
  • keep my planning under control

Remember, it’s my belief that planning should be designed to work for you, not the other way around. My life philosophy is that if something isn’t working for you – change it!

1. Know the standards

When you sit down to plan, knowing your standards (whatever they are for your school/district/state) is huge! You’ve got to know what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

When lesson planning isn’t based on standards

If you are finding that many of your lessons aren’t turning out to be standards-based (or building blocks to help master a standard) frustration can often set in.

Don’t worry!

Start to learn the standards for your grade level and keep them near you during your planning sessions. A list works great – nothing fancy needed. Or if it’s a list of the “big ideas” that you need to cover this report card period, that’ll work too.

If you have your standards broken down by quarters this is better than an entire year’s worth. You now have less standards to think through and look at – leaving you feeling less overwhelmed and better able to focus on what has to be taught now.

Get an example of our standards broken down by quarter.

I will let you know that I was crazy frustrated when I was following our school’s math curriculum. Lesson planning didn’t take super long but the lessons were pretty dumb.

And I mean that.

The pacing was all wrong for my class or didn’t line up with what we’d be grading for report cards. Many lessons were loosely based around the standards but didn’t meet my students needs to really dig in and learn the standards. Just silliness.

So, I ditched it.

Yep.  I threw it in the trash. {Well, actually I hid the consumable parts under a classroom sink until the year was over and then I recycled that bad boy when no one was looking}

When I really focused on what standards my kinders needed and taught those I saw growth and I felt more satisfied with my teaching and my lesson planning. Both were more fruitful that way.

Get to know the standards and what time of the year you need to be hitting them hard (and when you have the groundwork to lay leading up to them if your class isn’t ready).

And of course, I will acknowledge that there are plenty of times in a year we plan lessons that aren’t standards-based. Gotta find time to make those Christmas parent gifts for example. {wink}

2. Know where you’re going

Teaching each class is a year-long gig. Lesson planning is easier and quicker if you know where you want your students to end up.

When lesson planning is disconnected

To know where you want your students next is key in lesson planning because you can plan exactly what they need to get there. You’ll be able to plan the repetitions, in-depth explorations, time needed to really teach and for them to learn.

How to Make Teacher Planning Work for You

If you’re finding that your lesson planning is disconnected – it may be because you’re not really focused on where you want to take your students.

If you know the standards and when they should be covered/mastered, that can help you create a plan to work backwards.

For example, if they need to know how to sort by color, shape and size… then you need to plan enough repetitions, activities and lessons to cover that skill. You can’t just throw in a sorting activity  this week and a cute sorting themed activity next week and expect the results you really want.

Plan what you want to teach and give them time to explore. Then give yourselves time to refine and practice more.

Think creatively about how you can use your time in class to get as much practice as needed. Give the tough and meatier standards more time in a small group lesson and use center activities or morning work bins to practice the more simplistic standards that require less teacher intervention.

If lesson planning feels disconnected then try sketching out a “schedule” of how often you want to teach, practice and give them independent practice on a skill.

When I planned my guided math lessons, I used a list of the weeks and plugged in the standards as many times as I felt needed to get my students where they needed to be. I could always tweak the sketched out schedule later if needed.

It was a messy sketch of a schedule for nine weeks worth of math lessons, but it made sitting down to write actual lesson plans super fast. And I didn’t doubt the lessons/topics because I had already seen how they laid into the bigger picture.

So, start with a bigger picture than a week’s worth of lesson plans. Look a little longer term. Sketch out an outline of plan for 3-4 weeks or even for longer. You’ll see that you can make your weeks connect and build upon the weeks before… bringing connection and cohesion to your lesson planning.

This gets easier with practice!

Binder Basics {How to Make a Teacher Planning Binder} KindergartenWorks

And another benefit is you’ll have an easier time plugging in new activities you find on that skill/standard because you’ll know exactly where you want them to go.

When lesson planning is unrealistic

When you constantly find it hard to accomplish what you’ve planned – that makes lesson planning feel like a vicious cycle.

Plan and wind up feeling defeated that you didn’t get to accomplish your plan. Repeat. Blech.

In order to help make your lesson planning fit your time, class and your strengths better – take a quick self-inventory.

Write down as quickly as you can the first 3 things that come to mind as to where things are going wrong when it comes to not completing the lessons you are used to planning.

If behavior management things are creeping in – find a mentor or get a plan to rock your classroom management.

If it’s a matter of not knowing how long things will take – break down your particularly tricky lesson times and see just how much time you really have.

For example, write a list of how many minutes it takes for students to get settled, transition and get materials. Those things are time eaters… but a classroom reality.

Gauge how long you think you should be doing the talking or explaining… and then watch yourself on the clock next time. Was your expectation realistic? Often, I think I can explain something in 5 minutes but I rarely do!

If you’re unsure why what you plan is so unrealistic, then let’s look at the positive and find out how you can apply what’s working to what’s not.

Try writing down 3-5 things that your class can do well this year. Focus on doing those types of things more often to save time and build on their strengths.

Write down 3 things that you are really rockin’ in the classroom lately. Think: what is making you successful and how can you carry that over to other troublesome areas to make that time better too?

3. Keep it under control

To make lesson planning work for you, you’ve really got to keep it under control. Anyone can get too detailed, too lost or simply too unmotivated during lesson planning. It happens to all of us.

Let’s look at some teacher organization systems I use to keep it under control.

If you have a system and a routine helpful if you describe your lesson planning as too time consuming, lacking flow or if your lesson planning is disorganized.

► Get a system in place

If you can create a system for yourself to plan your lessons, then you can knock out half of the difficulties we often face during lesson planning.

What does a system look like? Well, for everyone it’s probably just a little bit different. But there are some basic things you should have in your system.

  1. A place to write it all down.
  2. A place to keep prepped things.
  3. A place to write down things to remember/do/prep.

For the purposes of this post, let me expand on just that first part of the system – having a place to write it all down.

For me, that meant binders would be my go-to organization tool and create my lesson planning system.

Try a teacher planning binder

Binders really work for me. They help me avoid being disorganized and help me maintain flow to my planning.

I like to only have categories that are meaningful to me and binders allow me to keep the top categories within reach. I don’t stuff as much as I can into these binders – they are tools to help me plan lessons effectively.

I generally need these things in my binder:

  • my standards
  • my lessons/topics over the long term
  • my lessons in more detail
  • how students did so I can use that to plan/tweak the next set of lessons

Binders help me maintain a flow in lesson planning.

Everything I need is generally within my fingertips reach and I can sit, plan out those lessons without getting distracted or side-tracked and get on with my day.

When I first started teaching, I had to do this on weekends in the quiet of my own home. Later on, I could actually use my “planning time” that we are given in school to get it done. I could use that 30 mins. when they were in art class to plan out my math lessons or guided reading lessons for the next set of days or week.

I hope with these examples of my lesson planning binders and tips you can find something that works for you. Templates are available for each – click the specific links to read more and find the details.

Like a master teacher planning binder

I have a planning binder that holds my main schedule for the week, my general lesson plans with weekly standards and where I write down my to-dos for prep and planning times so I don’t forget.

It keeps everything at my fingertips for weekly, quarterly and yearly planning. This is my sanity saver.

How to create a lesson planning system using a binder

Inside of this binder is my planning calendar.

My monthly 2-page printable calendar is by far the biggest backcasting tool I use to help me plan the big picture, then quarters and then by week.

I also write down those meeting dates and scheduled “things” that one {ahem, yes me} might otherwise forget when they are weeks or months out. It always comes second in my main planning binder after my weekly plans.

Guided reading planning binder

The second binder that appeared in my teaching life was my guided reading binder.

I first had to create it out of necessity since my principal at the time required specific data on each student and expected it to be turned in regularly.

Guided Reading Planning Binder Kindergarten

Now, its more flexible and holds only what is important to me.

I am great at jotting down anecdotal notes and glancing down to see my plan in bullet points when meeting a group.

Lesson Plan Template Kindergarten Guided Reading

Currently, I have updated my plans to a more general format (as seen above) that includes a space for me to include all of the Common Core standards for our quarter.

This saves me from having to re-write them every time. Helpful!

Guided math planning binder

Since starting small group guided math, I needed to carry my plans to where I was working with a group in order to remember exactly what goals I specified for a group of kinders.

Guided Math Lesson Planning Binder

Again, I work in bullet points and anecdotal notes. It’s what works for me and keeps me on track.

Same idea with plugging in my quarterly math standards ahead of time in order to have for reference.

See a sample lesson plan that I use following this pattern.

Lesson Planning Template Kindergarten Guided Math

I also can plan long term for math in this binder which helps keep me focused on where we’re going but make changes due to student needs and growth.

► Get a routine in place

If you have a system in place, then you can easily begin to create a routine for lesson planning.

Pick a time

Try to isolate a set time during the week when you will plan out a portion of your lesson plans.

For example, on Tuesdays I had a nice chunk of time to plan – so I used it to plan out my entire next week’s schedule using my main teacher planning binder. I’d start by looking at my calendar. Add special events, time changes, or meetings. I knew that I’d need to have all of my blocks filled in. So I’d work my way through, usually subject by subject. I’d fill in what I wanted to do for our read-aloud times each week before moving on to planning our writing time blocks.

This helped me stay organized and on-task.

Know your limits

I didn’t worry about planning my individual guided reading lessons or math group lessons at the same time as my main weekly schedule. That would be way too much planning for me to do all at once.

I broke it up.

Later in the week I’d use a planning session to plan out my reading lessons in that binder and did the same again later on with my math lessons.

I could easily flip to see standards if needed or flip to see the last lessons with a group to know better where I wanted to take them next. This made my lesson planning have flow (from lesson to lesson) and cohesion over time.

And I didn’t get burned out on planning. I actually had more excitement and direction by planning in chunks.

Use a template

Something that really helped me save time when planning was to use templates.

Having things in a template meant I didn’t have to remember to include them or spend time writing them over and over. That frees you up mentally to plan better and stay focused.

Be sure to include what is most helpful to you in your lesson plan templates and you’ll work way faster!

I hope you can use some of these ideas to help make planning work for you – try to simplify where you can and implement solid organization systems for yourself.

If you like what I do here on KindergartenWorks, then be sure to subscribe today. I look forward to sharing ideas with you weekly.

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  1. Thank you for the help! Being organized is the hardest part for me. But once I have a system then I’m good. I didn’t even k ow where to begin with organizing this info. What a God send you are! Thanks!

  2. Thank you for sharing this — I can’t tell you how much it helps to see what seasoned teachers do to be organized!!!

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