Tip # 11

Maximizing Impact on Learning

Preparing the Lesson

As you know, planning can be done in many ways, but the most powerful planning occurs when teachers work together to develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate about how to challenge students, and work together to evaluate the impact of your planning on student outcomes. Are you planning with others? Have you reached out across the county and the state to other teachers?

Assessing Background Knowledge

Any lesson planning must begin with a deep understanding of what each student already knows and can do. Teachers must also ask how the instruction is aimed at increasing the progress and levels of achievement for each student. Are you using pre-assessment strategies to influence your planning? Check out the strategies below for some ideas to implement.

Image Brainstorm

  • Project an image on the LCD projector or Smartboard and ask students to tell you everything they can about the picture. Choose images that make sense to them and also allow you to connect to the new content and/or concepts students will be learning. Consider using an image of famous artwork to launch a discussion on a new concept.

Picture Books

  • No matter the age, picture books (or graphic novels for older students) work like magic. If there's a concept or skill you are about to introduce, find a children's book that's related in some way. If your students are familiar with the story, it will be easier for them to make connections. Read it aloud, and watch the bells go off.


ABC Brainstorming

  • I love this one. On one sheet of paper, students make a box for every letter of the alphabet and then (they can do it in pairs) brainstorm a word or phrase that starts with each letter. For example, if kids are about to study the history of slavery in the U.S., they may write things like: "Africans" for a, "boat" for b, "chains" for c, etc. You can use this strategy to build academic vocabulary, add words throughout the unit, and allow students to be the experts!

Class Brainstorm Web

After writing a word or phrase in a circle (whiteboard, poster paper), have students write as many words connected to the word that they can think of around it. For example, you might write "photosynthesis" in the center, and kids write plants, green, sun, water, and light. You can use a timer with this activity to create a sense of urgency (which adds to the fun). Keep the web visible throughout upcoming lessons and refer to it as you explore photosynthesis in-depth, even asking students to add words and facts to web.

Graffiti Write/Gallery Walk


  • Place images, graphs, and excerpts from upcoming course content in the middle of a poster paper. This leaves room around the material for students to write.
  • Hang images around the room.
  • Create groups of two to four students.
  • Place one group in front of each poster. Give them a specific amount of time to write observations, what they know, or what they are wondering about the material.
  • One option is to have students rotate from one concept poster to the next.
  • Give each group one poster and sheet of paper to synthesize comments.
  • Review themes of comments.
  • Articulate impact of comments on course design to students during the next class.

Some Considerations

When using background knowledge assessments:

  • Communicate that the assessment is not graded.
  • Do not require students to put their names on the assessment.
  • Use technology. Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, and classroom response systems will quantify some of the data for you and provide graphs that you can then share with students.
  • Take the assessment yourself to confirm the questions make sense.