The Big Picture lesson plan

Bradley Lightbody

Bradley Lightbody is the author of ‘Outstanding teaching and learning 14-19’ and ‘the i-Learning Revolution: a new pedagogy’.

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The reading aloud of formal lesson objectives in the style of, ‘By the end of today’s lesson you will be able to…’ often fails to capture the attention and interest of our pupils or students. Many carry on doodling and treat the objectives as something the teacher is obliged to recite on a par with the formality of taking the register. The Big Picture lesson plan is designed to raise interest levels, promote concentration and draw the students or pupils into full participation.

The key ingredients are large diagrams to capture attention, the use of key questions in place of objectives and a large measure of self-assessment to promote awareness of personal progress. The ‘Big Picture’ lesson plan has a student version and a teacher version. Both versions share the same title page as illustrated.

An A4 page is filled with a large Smartart graphic like the circles diagram. The lesson topic is placed into the centre circle and the key questions, in place of objectives, are placed in the outer circles. When writing your key questions ensure that you reflect the learning hierarchy and move from lower order to higher order questions. Smartart, on your computer task bar, offers a wide range of graphics in different shapes and bright primary colours that may be adopted and all can be cut and pasted into Powerpoint slides or an A4 handout with ease. The title page is completed with the lesson details across the top of the page and below the diagram there is space to capture prior knowledge or recap from a previous lesson.

On the reverse of this A4 title page print the self-assessment table for the students or pupils version and for staff print the blank lesson planning template. The self-assessment table should be completed at the end of the lesson and used to prompt a review dialogue in terms of understanding and learning confidence. The completed tables may also be looked at by Personal Tutors and Learning Assistants as well as the teacher to review and set personal learning targets with considerations of ‘stretch and challenge’ for the more able and targeted support for those finding difficulty. This is a highly significant step in terms of the psychology of learning because once students or pupils gain a self-awareness of their own progress they will be more likely to take action steps to overcome their learning difficulties. Essentially it is all about encouraging effort and actions to improve as a challenge to a ‘fixed mindset’ and to promote metacognition.

For teachers, the ‘Big Picture’ lesson plan offers a visual, fast to complete, template to jot down lesson planning as illustrated. Clearly the number of ‘boxes’ and labels may be changed to suit different teachers’ preferred layouts but keep to one side of A4 and print on the back of the title page. If you are wondering where the timings go then just simply jot the number of minutes against each element and circle as you work across the template.

Within your lesson, if photocopying budgets permit, issue each student with a copy of the student or pupil lesson plan to mirror your Powerpoint slide and take them around the diagram one step at a time to build awareness of what they are going to learn. As you complete each step of the lesson pause to pose the relevant key question and encourage the students or pupils to annotate their handout copy with some brief key notes and by the end of the lesson they will have built up on one side of A4 a neat summary of the key learning points.

If photocopying is an issue then use your white board pens to draw the diagram on the whiteboard and invite the students or pupils to copy into a blank page in their files to create a title page for the lesson. Finally, key questions will not always work better than objectives but more often than not they will with the advantage of a much sharper and clearer focus on learning.

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