post by Jackie Epler, 2018-19 Associate of The Educator Collaborative
Let Them Teach: Opening Up Your Classroom to Student-Generated Lessons
Although–for many of us–this is just the start of the school year, I am thinking about how each time the end of the school year nears, I make it a point to set aside time for student-generated lesson planning. These weeks are generally crammed with end-of-year activities, and student engagement can wane with summer vacation on the horizon.
When I first introduce this concept, students typically shout out ideas like “A Free Recess Lesson!” or “Extra Gym Lesson!” I always list each and every topic on the board–don’t hesitate to do so, even if they do not match your content area. In fact, sometimes the ideas that least match your content area make for the best lessons.
After recording numerous suggestions, the class and I discuss what goes into creating a lesson. Many students do not know the time and consideration teachers take in planning a lesson, so they are surprised to learn how much time it takes. Students sometimes equate planning a lesson to making a presentation, but after continued discussion, they come to realize that we need to engage all members of our audience and ensure that they not only learn the new content, but are ultimately also able to teach it to others.
I project a student-friendly lesson plan template and walk students through all of its parts. Once the class feels confident with the template, we return to our original ideas. While conferring with their peers, small groups of students condense the list to their top three ideas. We then share these top three lists as a class and create a class-wide top three list. Prior to voting on our final lessons, we talk within our small groups again to justify why the remaining three lessons would be beneficial and meaningful to us. This conversation takes between 5 – 10 minutes. I circulate the room and facilitate in-depth discussions throughout.
Discussion questions include:
- If we use this idea and turn it into a lesson, do we know how everyone in the class learns?
- How can we make this lesson idea appeal to our various interests and needs in this classroom?
- What materials do we need to make this lesson come to life?
- How should we budget our time to make sure we cover all areas of the lesson during this block of time?
Then, it’s time for the final vote.
Rather than me writing the final lesson idea with the class, I pass out lesson plans from lessons I’ve recently taught. I explain that these are mentor lessons they can use to influence our lesson’s construction. Students analyze these mentor lessons and discuss them in their small groups to determine how they would best create our final lesson plan.
Each group of students is then given a blank template in which they begin constructing their own lesson. We spend about 15 – 20 minutes working on the initial draft. I circulate the room and confer with groups throughout this time.
All groups reconvene, and we share our drafts with the class. After listening to all proposals, we decide as a class which aspects of each group’s lesson will make it into our final lesson plan. The remainder of the block is spent creating the lesson plan using the projected template and discussing our thoughts on lesson plan construction. Students love the opportunity to select a topic they are interested in and create the lesson with input from their teacher.
The following day, we execute the lesson. Since the students know what to anticipate, the lesson usually consists of the students simultaneously reflecting on the effectiveness of their lesson plan and engaging in deepened comprehension of the topic. In addition, students are better able to understand the standards that guide our teaching.
So if you are searching for an engaging and meaningful end of the year (or even end of the trimester) idea, try enlisting your students’ help. Their creativity and resourcefulness will amaze you!