Save Time Lesson Planning, a Step-By-Step Guide


One 45 minute lesson can EASILY take 2 hours to plan. This translates to 10 – 30 hours per week of planning, depending upon how many courses you teach. The average teacher gets one period a day for planning, grading, paperwork, bulletin board, communicating with parents… well, you know. Clearly, this is a problem. Help is here.

After MANY years and tears I cracked the code to planning. It can be summed up in one word: creating a SYSTEM. By reflecting upon the course(s) you teach and the basic routine that works best for you and your class you can create a formula for lesson planning. It will become faster and easier.


Having a system in place for lesson planning can be a game-changer. I was introduced to this idea by another social studies teacher. He is the coolest, most chill dude ever, laid back and unflappable.

Paul explained that each and every day his lesson had the same format: a warm-up, followed by a brief lecture/PowerPoint and then the students would engage in some activity that involved analyzing document(s). The lesson would conclude with a discussion and share-out to assess for understanding.

My response to this method: Ewwww, how boring! How can you do the same thing every day?! He assured me that it was not boring at all. The topics, documents and discussions changed every day. After the conversation I dismissed the idea and continued to do things as I had in the past.

Then I was given 3 courses to teach, 2 of which I’d never taught before, so I had no resources for them. It was awful. I was really beside myself trying to keep up, even though I was a veteran teacher.

Something had to change when one day I was so harried I accidentally taught my 4th period global students my 5th period psychology lesson for the day — went through the entire lesson before I realized I had the wrong period! (The funniest part was that NOT ONE student asked me why they were learning psychology!)

Thankfully I was not observed during that lesson; but next time I might not be so lucky!

That’s when I remembered Paul’s “system”. I opted not to use his exact approach but instead created a system of my own.


Step 1Create a student worksheet template (free download I posted on Teachers Pay Teachers). This will include all of the fixed parts to your lesson. Most teachers start with a listed Learning Target or Objective, followed by a warm-up/do-now/whatever you call it. Next is a lecture of some sort.

I try to use a short video most days for my visual learners and to reinforce any new content. After that students will work in groups or individually on an activity. Class wraps up with an exit or conclusion of some sort.

If you don’t usually distribute handouts, students take notes in their notebook, then you can skip this step. I like handouts because it organizes everything, I can modify on them for struggling learners and can choose to collect and grade a couple each week.

All of these components are on your student worksheet template and will drive your planning. You can download my editable worksheet template free and give it a try.

Step 2: Create a list of teaching modalities to keep in your planning folder and access each time you a planning. Here is an example (you can copy and paste them and add your own):

  • document analysis
  • close read
  • quotation analysis
  • compare/contrast
  • controversial statements to justify or debunk
  • gallery walk
  • stations
  • visual (poster, pamphlet, mind map, etc.)
  • journal entries
  • rewrite the end of the story (What if Germany won WW2?)
  • video/film
  • simulation
  • political cartoon analysis
  • audio (music, podcasts)
  • map skills
  • review game

With these 2 documents at your fingertips you’re ready to QUICKLY create a rigorous, engaging lesson with all the bells and whistles.

Step 3: Find your resources for the day. Based on your curriculum you already know what content you want to cover. Look over your modalities and choose which might work well. Do you want to analyze political cartoons? Google is your friend. Search for political cartoons, or whatever you need as the core of your lesson.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Only allot yourself 5-6 minutes to find your resource. This is a rabbit hole that many teachers get lost in.

I had a student-teacher a couple of years ago that came to school looking like death warmed over. He had spent the night lesson planning by toggling between 20 open tabs open and was up until 4:00 in the morning looking for resources! Don’t do this. If, after 5 minutes you can’t find what you’re looking for go to Plan B.

I don’t care that you had a great idea. Write it down and try another day with another lesson. Go immediately to Plan B, which is:

1-Change the modality to something else (if you couldn’t find political cartoons use primary source documents instead).


2- Spend $2 or $3 on Teachers Pay Teachers and purchase the resource, or do a quick search of the freebies.

Step 4: You have now spent about 10 minutes choosing a modality and finding your core resource. Using that resource work backwards to create a do now or bell ringer question.

Suggestion: I almost always create 2 questions, one based on comprehension and one that’s more analytical; students can choose which to answer. This allows for differentiation and student choice. Bring on the observations! (Approximate time – 3-5 minutes)

Step 5: Download a PowerPoint on the topic and redact all but the most relevant slides. No death-by-PowerPoint allowed in your classroom! Seriously this is a thing.:It is the fourth leading cause of mental fatalities in students.  (Approximate time – 5-10 minutes)

Step 6: Formulate an analytical, reflective question as the conclusion of your lesson.

(Example: Based on the primary sources you studied today why do you think that propaganda is more powerful when it speaks to fears OR desires of the people? Explain your answer) (Approximate time – 5 minutes)

Step 7: Copy and paste the warm-up, resources and exit onto your student worksheet template and a lesson plan template. You now have your student handout, PowerPoint and lesson plan completely done!


By following this system of lesson planning you can create a lesson from scratch in under 30 minutes — that’s a whole lot better than 2 hours! After following this system a few times it will become innate habit. It’s like the steps to a dance, at first you have to say everything in your head (4 to the right, 4 to the left, go back, turn — it’s electric!) but after a while your body just does it.


You may be reading this and saying “ewwww” as I did with Paul. Let me state my case as to why planning with a system is effective.

JUSTIFICATION #1 – It takes an integral part of teaching that can easily run wild and reigns it in.

JUSTIFICATION #2 – Utilizing a routine unclutters your mind allowing for more focus. There are so many components that go into a good lesson plan, your brain can quickly go into overdrive and create mental chaos.

Having a system takes many of the elements off your plate so that real, rich work can be accomplished, such as formulating that rich, reflective question for students to discuss.

JUSTIFICATION #3 – Students respond well to routines. Do you remember what it was like in high school? The average student rotates to eight classes a day, each with a different teacher, topic, classroom layout, strategies, etc. He is just getting settled into 1 class and it’s time to run to another. If you, as one of eight teachers, mix it up every day he will be constantly off kilter.

On the other hand, if students know the fundamentals of what’s going to happen in your class it frees up their mental energy to do the challenging work you have planned for them.

JUSTIFICATION #4 – Having a system ensures that your lesson flows cohesively. If you plan from scratch each time you it’s easy to go off on tangents, “Ooh, I want to do this! Ooh, I want to try that! Ooh, look at this photo; I can fit it in somewhere”. If you follow the steps above at the very minimum your lesson will be good enough.

And let’s keep perspective: you’re not going to be amazing each and every day. It would be exhausting for you and your students! Sometimes good enough is good enough.

If you made it all the way to the end of this article I hope you will give this lesson planning method a try. To get started you can download my student worksheet template and edit it to fit your needs.

Let me know if it helps. Also, if you improve upon it please do tell; I love hearing new perspectives!

Now that you’ve got lesson  planning under control it’s time to attack the grading time-suck. You can find tips and tricks here.

Warmest wishes, Joan

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

Recent Posts