Teaching is an art, and like all artists, educators need a blueprint to guide their work. A detailed lesson plan is the compass that guides you in meeting your students’ learning objectives, planning activities and managing your time.
But what happens when your lesson doesn’t go to plan? This is something that all teachers face at some point – and usually sooner rather than later. Even with the most thorough preparation, sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expected.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how to adapt when your lesson plan goes wrong, and the benefits of staying flexible. We’ll also explore how a teacher lesson planner can help you stay organised and prepared.
As much as we wish it were, the classroom isn’t an isolated bubble where everything runs perfectly. Reality has a way of throwing us curve balls. There are many reasons why a lesson may not go to plan, such as:
- Unexpected events: Surprise assemblies, fire drills, or impromptu visits from the headteacher could all eat into your valuable teaching time.
- Missing or malfunctioning resources: Whether it’s a misplaced handout or a slow internet connection, not having access to teaching materials can also slow us down.
- Over or underestimating timing: An activity that you thought would engage your students for half an hour gets wrapped up in ten minutes – or, conversely, a quick warm-up activity takes longer than you thought.
- Students struggling with the material: Sometimes, a topic that seems crystal clear in your head can leave your students confused, requiring more guidance than expected.
- Poor engagement: Every class is different. Some activities may inspire some students while boring others, leaving you needing to think on your feet.
These are just a few examples, and you might encounter a different set of challenges. That’s why it’s always worth preparing for the unexpected – e.g. by using your teacher planner effectively.
So, what should you do if your lesson plan goes off the rails? Here’s how you can make the most of the situation.
The first step is to stay calm. It’s easy to panic, especially if you’re new to teaching. However, it’s important to stay focused. Take a moment to breathe and assess the situation, and remember that not every lesson is going to be perfect. A great teacher isn’t someone who never has lessons go wrong: it’s someone who can adapt, and turn those hiccups into opportunities for growth.
Whether your lesson was interrupted by disruptive behaviour or your students simply aren’t engaging, it’s important to regain their focus. A good way to do this is to stop or pause the activity and change the tone of the lesson. For example, perhaps you could initiate a game, announce a pop quiz, or switch from independent study to group work.
Next, think about how you can adapt your lesson plan to overcome whatever problem you’re facing. Maybe you can shorten an activity or skip it altogether. Perhaps there’s a way to explain a concept differently or use an alternative resource.
In some cases, it might be best to scrap the rest of the lesson and switch to a different topic or activity altogether. The key is flexibility – rigidly clinging to your original lesson planner template can sometimes do more harm than good.
Every teaching experience, even the ones that don’t go smoothly, is an opportunity to reflect. Ask yourself: what went wrong, and why? How can you prevent it from happening again, or better manage it if it does?
Perhaps you’ve realised you need to give activities a ‘test run’ to estimate their duration more accurately. Maybe you’ve discovered that certain concepts are harder for your students to grasp, and need to be broken down further. Every time a lesson goes awry, there’s a chance to learn something and improve your future lesson planning.
It’s crucial to build flexibility into your lesson planning. Instead of trying to stick to a rigid schedule, create flexible lesson plans that act as a guide rather than a rulebook. Build in buffer time, and be prepared to steer your lesson in a different direction if needed.
Though it’s tempting to try and save time, e.g. by using a 5-minute lesson planner, you should always have a backup plan in place. This doesn’t have to be a fully fleshed-out lesson plan, but a few ideas of activities or topics that you can switch to if necessary. Knowing you have alternative resources ready can give you peace of mind and help you feel more prepared for whatever the classroom throws your way.
Planners for teachers can be a valuable tool in the lesson planning process, offering a visual representation of your days and weeks at a glance. This allows you to easily keep track of your scheduled activities and necessary teaching resources, and plan for unexpected changes.
Penstripe teacher planners come equipped with a variety of useful content, such as:
- Yearly and termly planners, ideal for preparing for the new term and keeping track of events such as fire drills and OFSTED inspections
- Action planning sections for brainstorming activity ideas
- 5, 6 or 9-period diary layouts for recording your upcoming classes, lesson plans and teaching resources required
- Attendance and assessment registers and teaching timetables
- Meeting records, parents’ evening pages and more
We understand that every teacher is unique, which is why we offer a range of styles, sizes, and formats to suit your individual needs. Head to our online shop to browse our individual teaching planners, or design a bespoke teacher planner for your school.
Olaf Surtees has been with Penstripe for ten years; what he doesn’t know about teacher planners, student planners, and lesson planners isn’t worth knowing! He’s in charge of creating our blog content, helping teachers and administrators with helpful hints and tips, as well as our socials — see the links below to find out more.