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Ah, teaching. Probably the only profession in which you are expected to write detailed plans, turn them in and then stick to the exactly. As if you could ever plan what 30 five years olds are going to do or say or understand. We aren’t taught to adjust things as we go along, even though all good teachers should. So when the lesson plan goes off the rails…. then what do you do?
We’re going to talk about that.
But first– why is the lesson plan going off the rails? There could be any number of reasons. Maybe the kids weren’t ready for the content, maybe there should have been more review or more practice, maybe they aren’t connecting with the activity, or maybe they just had a fight during recess and it’s just not happening today. Maybe they have a substitute. Or maybe it’s a full moon or a Tuesday. You never know what could make a class go crazy.
I will say, at my school, behavior is usually what is to blame, so I will be writing this from the perspective of the lesson plan going off the rails because of behavior.
Proactive v Reactive
Before we get into what to do in the moment, we need to discuss what to do before you actually have children in front of you.
In teaching (well, really in life), you can either be proactive or reactive. Reactive means that you are RESPONDING to situations– in the teaching world, we often call this putting out fires. Class was late– fire. Kids won’t sit down– fire. Then the phone rings– fire. After that, someone throws an instrument across the room– fire. All of these are little fires, but they take your concentration and through it out the window…. and then the lesson goes off the rails.
Instead, we always want to be PROACTIVE. Proactive means that you put systems in place ahead of time so that when they arise, it is not stressful. You think through and PLAN for what might go wrong. You already have answers to the questions that kids may ask, plans for if they do this or that.
Being proactive means that you decide ahead of time how you will deal with fires, so that when they come up they are no big deal.
An example of being proactive may be that you know if kids play instruments at the wrong time, you take them away (I use Mrs. King’s saying “If you play before I say, I will take your instrument away!”). Then, you tell the students that before they get their instruments. This way, if that happens, you know what you are going to do and the kids know what you are going to do. It’s not surprising to anyone.
What are some ways you can plan to be proactive?
Being Proactive about Lesson Planning
Being proactive while lesson planning will make sure that there is no “lesson plan goes off the rails”. Why not? Because you plan those things ahead of time.
Yes, you plan for what will happen if the plan goes off the rails.
Is your mind blown? It should be.
This is legitamately the secret to my success.
First off, when I lesson plan, I do everything I can to make it ENGAGING. Anne Mileski from The Anacrusic Podcast says, “The best classroom management strategy is a good lesson plan.” Although I do not think this should be your ONLY classroom management strategy, I do agree that this is the starting point.
Quick ways to make things more engaging? Add instruments. Add movement props (scarves, parachute). Add games. Add movement. Add manipulatives. Change the seating– you would be amazed at how much can change when you go from “normal position” to sitting in a circle. Get the kids DOING things– they do not need to be sitting there listening. They need to be doing music as much as possible.
Keep the Pace Up
And most important of all– KEEP THE PACE UP! This year, I really turned up the pace of my lessons, and I have also seen a decrease in behavior issues. Is that the only reason? No. But it makes a difference.
With younger students, we are usually doing about 5-7 activities in 45 minutes. For context, my second grade lesson yesterday went like this:
- Beginning of class routine (you can check that out here)
- Stand and sing A Pizza Hut (It’s really A Ram Sam Sam but with different words) with actions
- Audiate different parts of A Pizza Hut
- Sit and learn the song Acka Backa by rote, using our hands on our “body staff”
- Introduce la and read a few patterns on the board
- Read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?
- Play the game that goes along with the book, which you can read about here.
Another quick fix? Always put the most fun things at the end, so they have something to look forward to.
With the older kids, We have less activities and we spend more time on each one, but there is still a fast pace and no downtime.
Plan for Things to Go Wrong
As you are making your lesson plans, think about places that they lesson could go off the rails (potentially). The better you know your students, the better you will be able to plan for what will go wrong.
For example, I know that often times, moving around the room can be difficult for some classes– so I always start everything in the students’ spots. If they do a good job, them I will allow them to move around the room.
Same goes with transitions– they can be tricky. For example, I like to have everyone get closer in order to read a book. With some classes, however, this is just a bit too much, so I leave them spread out.
Little things like that can make a huge difference.
Make a Back Up Plan
While lesson planning, have a few thoughts about things you can do to change the lesson if it is just plain not working. That might mean extending a part that worked well, going back to a previous activity students were successful with, or even changing to something else entirely.
I have a whole blog post about Back Up Lesson Ideas with a lot of specific ideas for this purpose– but here are a few of my go-to’s:
- Read a book
- Sing a song they know really well
- Pull out a game they know well
- Put on something to watch (not going to lie, there are at least three different Arthur episodes that have saved my life)
- Put on a meditation video (these have been really great lately and are all over YouTube– I especially like Cosmic Yoga Kids)
So there are a few ways that you can be proactive about keeping your lesson on track! These are all things that are done on the front end to ensure your sanity. I know this sounds like a lot, but it will become a routine and will not take up a lot of time.
I always think through these when I am lesson planning, but hardly need to actually use them.
Next time, we will talk all about what to do IN THE MOMENT if the class is off the rails and you need to reel them back in. Make sure you sign up to get notifications about new blog posts here— and you will also get access to the FREE resource library, which has tons to resources you can download and use in your classroom– and not available anywhere else.