The ultimate checklist for a perfect lesson

Can we build it?


Image credit: 'Checklist' by Stuart Chalmers. CC Licensed on Flickr

Firstly – what the hell was I thinking submitting that title? I’m not sure there’s such as a thing as a perfect lesson, but I am interested in trying to close the gap between the ‘showstopper’ lessons and the regular, run of the mill ones.

In this year’s Reith Lectures, Dr Atul Gawande spoke about the impact that checklists have had on improving outcomes in surgery. He’s well worth a listen to, and it got me thinking about whether it was an approach that we could use in teaching.

Now, I have an inbuilt suspicious of checklists in education, especially when they’re used for monitoring other people or reducing ideas (like AfL) to observation tick-lists. None the less, the thoughts been rattling around in my head for a while and I thought it might make a good topic for tonight – we can try and harness the staffrm hive mind to produce something we could try out.

I’m going to kick off with two, and then you can let me know in the comments and on Twitter firstly if you think I’m right, and secondly what else should be on our list.

Check 1 - We’re doing this so that…

I picked this up from one of the excellent Teachmeet Clevedon events that Mark Anderson used to organise and were always worth the drive from Swansea. I know this was fairly well established at Clevedon, and I can’t actually remember who I first heard it from, but the idea was to append any lesson objectives with the phrase ‘so that...’ and finish the sentence. If you can’t complete the sentence, or the completed sentence is, at best, a bit woolly you go back to the drawing board.

EDIT: Thanks to Mark for pointing out that credit for this needs to go to Zoe Elder - See here for more

Check 2 – What will they spend their time thinking about?

“Memory is the residue of thought”.

This quote was my biggest take away from Daniel Willingham’s’ excellent ‘Why don’t students like school’. His point is that what is retained in memory is the thing that the person spent longest thinking about. He gives the example of lessons where students can spend more time thinking about the animations in the PowerPoints they’re making than the content. It’s one I know I’ve been guilty of in the past – you design a lesson you know is going to hook and engage the students, but they’re hooked and engaged by something other than the main topic of the lesson.

So there’s my first two. Hopefully they serve as antidotes to the temptation to just dive in and pick up any shiny new teaching idea that we come across. But what else should be on this checklist. Simple things that will help make every lesson a good one.


Rachel Jones Rachel Jones @rlj1981 3 weeks ago
Nice post - I think the 'so that' thing came from Zoe Elder and agree it is brilliant. As for memory, I like:
Aeschylus: “Memory is the mother of all wisdom. ”
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 3 weeks ago
Its all about the purpose - the first one I love - if we all thought that way before we did anything it would make our focus so much better... and we would keep our eye on the reason we are there in the first place... the second - so so key to making sure they are engaged.. what are they thinking about also dictates the direction our lessons need to go in... brilliant post - a great way to think for us all... thank you!! :)
Leah Sharp Leah Sharp @leahmoo 3 weeks ago
It's always good to aim high and creating a checklist for the perfect lesson is certainly that! A great start!
Drew Thomson Drew Thomson @mrthomson 3 weeks ago
Such a lot that could be said. I'm going to restrict myself to one thing that I think is vital: smart routines and effective teacher behaviours. Getting students on board is important as once they have signed up to you and what you are professing, you have them in the palm of your hands. Then the magic can happen!
Alex Bellars Alex Bellars @alexbellars 3 weeks ago
"...yet" is another small, powerful word to add to the kit
Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 3 weeks ago
I really like the first one as it means both you and the Students (if shared with the students) know and hopefully understand the purpose of what you are teaching. I often wonder if I am writing objectives for the sake of writing them rather then having a true purpose.
Candida Gould Candida Gould @candidagould 3 weeks ago
It's also all wrapped up in the closing statement: 'Simple things that will help make every lesson a good one.' That's what we need to aim for.
Candida Gould Candida Gould @candidagould 3 weeks ago
It's also all wrapped up in the closing statement: 'Simple things that will help make every lesson a good one.' That's what we need to aim for.
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
I like the ideas here, but still worry that the focus upon the lesson misses the point of great teaching, which is consistently sorted lessons day in day out and the mundane activity of chasing detentions, marking, planning and researching.
Ben Ward Ben Ward @mrbenward 3 weeks ago
The idea of a checklist to become a prompt sheet for planning and developing practice - could be really powerful in helping trainees and NQTs to focus on the most important things when planning and not getting sidetracked with less important elements. Nice post!
Linda Doyle Linda Doyle @mrsdoyle 3 weeks ago
I'd add, to know your subject!
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 3 weeks ago
Really important that we ask intelligent questions about our teaching, and the learning that should be taking place as a result of our teaching, I think.
Jo Baker Jo Baker @jobaker 3 weeks ago
I've found the perfect lessons are always ones where I am positive and smiling. Teachers can create atmosphere. The buzz needs to be there. Yet is a word Which is so powerful. Great planning, consistent work also very important. As is a love for what you are doing.
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
I would add to the checklist 'do I know my students?' Such a simple thing, but often overlooked.
Nina Elliott Nina Elliott @senoraelliott 3 weeks ago
agree with Alex - the ...'not yet' mentality so powerful - also making explicit where the lesson fits in to their wider learning / future life experiences - I hate attending CPD unless I see the point of it!
Tim Taylor Tim Taylor @timtaylor 3 weeks ago
I know it’s for all the right reasons but I’m against checklists for teaching lessons.
Mark Peters Mark Peters @mrp 3 weeks ago
I like the 'so that' idea. I tried it out a while back but it's not something I do regularly. Wpuld spare me the occasional 'but Sir, why are we doing this?' comment too!
Stephen Lockyer Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer 3 weeks ago
For tasks - what is the primary task students will be doing in an activity? If it is glueing, cutting or something else, this is learning admin, not learning itself.
Jennifer Hart Jennifer Hart @jenniferhart 3 weeks ago
I like the idea of a checklist to aid planning. There are so many aspects in a lesson it's always useful to have a reminder. The wizz / bang can come later once the bedrock has been included.
Zebedee Friedman Zebedee Friedman @zebfriedman 3 weeks ago
That gap between what we would
Like our lessons to be like and the reality interests me... The great training you go to, the lovely resource, the ideas you talk about with colleagues and still that gap between what you want it to be and what it actually is...
Freya Odell Freya Odell @fod3 3 weeks ago
I agree with the importance of routines to engender confidence and security which can then allow students to feel comfortable and try things out. Great teaching often comes from a bit of spontaneity and laughter - it is the pure joy that comes from learning something new together.
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 3 weeks ago
What about: "What difference do I want this to make?" I use that when I'm involved in staff training at the moment.
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
Or 'how hard do I want them to work?'
Alex Bellars Alex Bellars @alexbellars 3 weeks ago
The willingness to ditch the plan if necessary
Hannah Tyreman Hannah Tyreman @hannahtyreman 3 weeks ago
I love the 'We're doing this so that'...This is an instant takeaway for me! I've been liking this recently: What is your why? Having purpose to all we and our learners do (a purpose that everyone is aware of) is vital for success...maybe? That's what I'm starting to think anyway!
Ben Sutcliffe Ben Sutcliffe @sutcliffeb 3 weeks ago
Love the first point. I am trying to teach using teaching sequences linked to set of objectives so that I can see where the children are getting stuck in their understanding.
Abigail Mann Abigail Mann @abster 3 weeks ago
Nice post, I really like the first one too. I think it's a good idea to have a little learning journey. I recently read some of David Didau's posts. He used to have a slide at the start of each lesson with images that showed the path of the lesson. Useful idea :-)
Danielle Lynch Danielle Lynch @dalynch146 3 weeks ago
You really want the students to say "remember that lesson when..."
Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 3 weeks ago
I agree with Jo Baker, some of my best lessons are ones where I go in excited about what I am doing that lesson. I do believe enthusiasm and excitment are infectious.
Simon Johnson Simon Johnson @clcsimon 3 weeks ago
Great post! Personally, I have found the perfect lessons are those when I have flipped my classroom - allowing me to make more effective use of classroom time!
Drew Thomson Drew Thomson @mrthomson 3 weeks ago
Wholly agree Kimberley - enthusiasm is so important!
Drew Thomson Drew Thomson @mrthomson 3 weeks ago
Wholly agree Kimberley - enthusiasm is so important!
Jo Baker Jo Baker @jobaker 3 weeks ago
Thanks Kim. They certainly are. I always remember training and cod where people are excited. This tonight , no one would listen if everyone was dreary and fed up with it all
R Blaize R Blaize @richardblaize 3 weeks ago
Just scrapped tomorrows objectives and replaced them with 'so...'
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
@davestacey not a criticism directed toward you, more of a question and a concern. To me any checklist has to be dynamic as checklists force the focus to rest upon a limited area of practice if not used with caution :-)
Doug Belshaw Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw 3 weeks ago
I used to find the "we're doing this so that..." really, really important when teaching in tough schools. Kids in more middle-class areas would just suck up anything, pretty much, but providing relevant in History lessons to kids who didn't even register on the 'verbal' part of the CAT test was tough. Lots of role play...

How about a THIRD one: how will this change how these young people approach the world?
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 3 weeks ago
I can vouch for the MOT its very useful! And Kimberley I agree enthusiasm and excitement really are infectious... maybe it comes down to reminding ourselves of what our purpose is.. why is it we are there... I'd love to ask the kids - in fact tomorrow I just might!!
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
@dajbelshaw like that Doug - the aims of Priory Geography were:
• To stimulate a sense of wonder about places
• To help you to make sense of the complex and sometimes crazy world around you
• To inspire and show you how you can change your world
• To help you to explore your geography
• To give you the skills to make it in the future – whatever your choices are

And we always aimed to allow our students to make a difference in the world.
David Rogers David Rogers @daviderogers 3 weeks ago
Like the so that idea - and would apply it to sequences of lessons also.
Julie Mason Julie Mason @joolsm 3 weeks ago
Going to try 'so that ....' and try to think of a better reason than 'so that you can pass the exam'!
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 3 weeks ago
The aims of Priory Geography could be cross applied to other areas ... I like that! :)
Sam Williams Sam Williams @samwilliams 3 weeks ago
Asking the right questions and giving students time to think.
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 3 weeks ago
@timtaylor Tim - is it less about 'checklists', exactly, and more about just asking the right questions about your lesson (or series of lessons, @daviderogers)?
Vanessa Burns Vanessa Burns @nessalovesshoes 3 weeks ago
Agree with Alex and Nina. The not yet is vital to boost confidence and get them to think they can do it.
Sheli Blackburn Sheli Blackburn @shelibb 3 weeks ago
Up until recently I used 'I can ...' rather than a LO on the basis that all children would be successful by the end of the lesson.
I think pupil participation is key and before each lesson I try to think about how they are going to work harder and talk more than me
Helena Marsh Helena Marsh @helenamarsh 3 weeks ago
Thanks @davestacey I do think that it's important for teachers to have a simple, easy checklist to ingrain important principles into their teaching repertoire. I got the sense from what I've heard about Atul's book that it was about clarifying and itemising basic surgery steps. While this has value in many aspects of teaching, and routines are incredibly important, I do also have a bit of a niggle about MOT style teaching checklists (Sorry @mrlockyer ) While non-negotiables are important, can classrooms become a bit too staid and predictable if we all follow a prescribed formula...? Moving away from MOT-style teaching:
Lorie Dickson Lorie Dickson @splozza 3 weeks ago
Would recommend reading 'What makes great teaching' available on Sutton Trust website.
Stephen Lockyer Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer 3 weeks ago
@helenamarsh Not offended at all - I made it because I kept putting left-handed children on the right side of paired desks, despite being a leftie myself. It's more of an aide memoire than a 'must do,' although four bins in each classroom is bloody obvious, surely?