Grace Wetzel, winner of USC's 2009 Outstanding Teaching Assistant award, thinks lesson planning is GREAT! She uses this acronym as she prepares for each class:

R Reading / Content
E Essential Points/Skills
A Agenda
T Top It Off

By following this GREAT planning strategy, you can add structure to the process of lesson planning that pays off!


Start by asking, "What are the goals of the lesson for this day, the week, the semester?" In identifying the goals for the day, consider how they relate to the broader unit and course goals.

Two good ways to focus on the goals are:

  • Write an agenda on board so students know what you plan to do on a given day. They can follow and pace the class along with you.
  • Conclude Class with "Where we’ve been, Where we’re going," prompting the students to see the connections between the current class and the larger course curriculum.

2. Reading / Content

Consider what material the students have read or prepared for class, primarily through out of class assignments or homework prior to the class session. The day’s reading/content will largely determine major points/skills on which to focus.

As the instructor, be sure to:

  • Understand the reading/content
  • Know your focus
  • Use the material students have prepared to target essential points/skills accordingly

3. Essential Points / Skills

What essential points or skills should the students take away from this lesson? These identified skills will build from steps 1 and 2. Think about your goal, your focus of the reading / content and then target the essential points and skills accordingly.

4. Agenda

How can your agenda best communicate these points/build these skills? Successful agendas may include:

  • Quiz (reading check)
  • Lecture that reviews essential points/skills
  • In-class writing or individual work to reflect on points/build skills
  • Activities that actively involve students in applying major points/building skills:
    1. Class discussions
    2. Partner or Group work
    3. Other exciting or interactive activities

5. Top it Off!

Think what you are going to do to make them remember what you covered during this class. It may include something you show the students or something you have them do. You may find a YouTube video, a movie clip, pictures from a magazine --some sort of "hook"-- to kick-off a discussion, illustrate a concept, wrap up an overall thought. Finding parallels in student pop-culture gives the students a way to remember and engage. Active learning strategies that engage students beyond the lecture also "top it off" so students have something unique to remember.