An Overview of the Year
Getting ready to teach, really ready, is like preparing for a year-long trip. If you start your school year by planning one week at a time, you are like the rider galloping on a horse into a forest: you know you could dodge those trees for a while, but you also know that at some point, you’re going to get scratched up or knocked off! It’s better to slow down, look ahead and plan your course.
As SOON as you know for sure what you are going to teach, the first thing you need to do is map out your curriculum for the year. That plan will guide you and make planning MUCH SIMPLER for the entire year. Teachers in your school who don't have this map will ask you how you did it!
Here is an example of what that annual planning calendar will look like as you begin to add the important things to it (instructions to follow):
Using the calendar above, I know:
- I have 19 teaching days where I will be in class for Math. I will have to divide up my units and lessons to fit into that number of days.
- We will have a holiday on the 5th, so no plans for that day at all.
- The 14th will be interrupted by picture day, so that day is probably a going to be a little rocky, but I will plan for activities and practice of the skills we have been doing so that I can get in as much class time as possible.
- On the 16th, we have the end of the first 3 weeks in this six-week grading period example. That means that I will have to have all of my grades in for the first three weeks that day.
- I also know that I will have a substitute on the 20th, so my planning must take that into account—I have to adjust my teaching and provide detailed lesson plans for the substitute.
You will need two things:
- Official School Calendar for the current year (check your district’s website)
- A calendar with expandable room to add entries—I built my own using the Microsoft Word insert table function, but you can use a planner, a favorite annual calendar you got for Christmas, or a freebie from the internet. Anything that has plenty of room for adding entries will do. Here is the link to the Annual Planning Calendar in my Free Resources.
Start by entering all the important dates from the official calendar onto your calendar: things like holidays, days off, conference days, training dates, early release days, etc. Work through the entire school year.
Now add your grading periods. You can simply note the dates of the beginnings and ends of grading periods, or you could do that AND fill the cells a certain color for each period. Also record what days that grades close and when progress reports and reports cards go home.
Next type in your standing meetings such as library days, rotating classes (PE, Art, Music, for example, if in elementary), PTO, faculty meetings, planning meetings, Professional Learning Community meetings, etc.
Now write in exceptional days such as picture day or pep rallies if you have anything like that.
Your calendar should be filling up by now! All year long, any time anything comes up, always post it on THIS calendar so that you can use it for planning lessons to fit into the days you actually have school. I save it to my desktop. Save it where it is accessible to you when you need it. Be sure to back it up. This file is GOLDEN!
Lesson Plans—How to Know What You Will Teach
Let’s say you know you are going to teach Reading to 6th grade, but what EXACTLY are you going to teach them? What do they already know? What do they need to be able to do by the end of the year? You need the road map!
Effective instruction depends on knowing where STUDENTS have been and where you are TAKING THEM. Remember the galloping horse I mentioned above?
Many Texas districts use TEKSResourcesystem.net as their map. Other states use Common Core (CC). Some districts write their own. If you go to the Texas system, just sign in as a guest until your district gives you a log in.
A handy tool is the Vertical Alignment Document for Texas. Here’s where to find the lists for TEXAS and for Common Core (CC). To find out what to teach, first familiarize yourself with what your students should have mastered the year before.
Read the skills for the subject in the grade before yours.
Next, read those for your course. If you are responsible for preparing your students for testing, take the time to highlight the tested elements.
Annual Lesson Planning Is the Foundation to Great Teaching
Your district may have a plan for what order the topics/skills are taught—the Curriculum Map.
For those, I suggest looking it up on their district website. If you can’t find it there, consult the principal or assistant principal at your school. Tell them you would like a copy of their curriculum map for your course.
In districts where teacher autonomy rules, you may be on your own to determine the order of instruction. If that is the case, talk to the other teachers in your grade level or use the TEXAS plan to help you—no sense in reinventing the wheel, right?
build your Pacing Calendar
The next step is to chart your lessons on the annual calendar. Developing your pacing calendar is the process of assigning the days for teaching your content.
For example, if you are planning for your first unit of math, you will examine the curriculum map and decide how many lessons the unit will take and how many days those lessons will take. For many of us, the number of days that lessons take is a judgment call. You can ask your teammates how long it takes for them or ask in an online such as Teacher2teacher or a group specifically for your grade and subject.
Then you go to the annual teaching calendar you just created and enter those days onto your pacing calendar for each unit you will teach. Then you tackle your next course and so on. Examples follow.
STYLISTIC NOTE: Keep the descriptions SIMPLE. You can add your other subjects BY COLOR-CODING each subject. If that is too cluttered for you, do a SEPARATE calendar for each subject.
This process takes some time, but it will help you stay on track all year long. Whenever anyone—parents, principals, students—asks you what is coming next, you’ll be able to answer with ease.
You will be certain that you teach all the content by year’s end, as well. There will be glitches from time to time, but we’ll deal those issues after we get the school year rolling!
Here’s what that annual pacing calendar might look like:
(Use color-coding and add in other courses if you like. I would.)
In this fictitious example above, we start unit one of a math class on the first of September. Notice that we complete that lesson on the third day.
We just pick up where we left off after the holiday on the fifth.
The next lesson starts on the 7th. It wraps up on the 15th.
On the 20th, we have a sub, but the sub does day three of Lesson three. We review it and go on with day four on the 21st, the day you get back.
We just keep weaving in and out of the days to complete our lessons.
This example shows only one subject, Math.
For October, we have to stop to review for a couple of days and then to give a Curriculum Based Assessment (basically a cumulative test given each grading period). Some tests are locked in by the district or the state, so you just have to work around them. Just put them on the calendar.
Keep working your way through the curriculum, assigning the days to teach the units and lessons until you finish the year. If it looks like you will finish early, that’s fine. It means you can use a day here and there to go back and review more difficult concepts.
The annual planning calendar is not set in stone; you will revise it as you proceed through the year. It is your guide. With it you will know whether you are ahead or behind, what activities might impact your teaching, when you might be able to carve out some extra time for reviews or extension activities--field trips, anyone?
When you create an annual planning calendar for each subject you teach every year, you’ll be a very organized teacher!!
YOUR TURN! Pull out your annual planning calendar and start filling it in. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to map out the year, and you will feel so good!
The password to access this one is
Just click on the image and then enter the password and click on the corresponding image on the Resource page.
Next step--- add Grade Period Planning
Now it’s time to plan for your first grading period. By pre-planning at least a month at a time, you give yourself ample time to study the standards you will teach and collect the materials you need. Great teachers go back and studies the standards and materials before teaching the lessons. That's not just to get you to do it; it's the plain truth!
Basically, you will take the annual pacing calendar and expand it for the grade period. For the purposes of the example to come, we will discuss a six-week period. If you are on a nine-week grading period, consider planning for 4 or 5 weeks in advance.
Here is an example of adding your 6-week plan to your annual calendar (please don't use these plans, I'm not a specialist in math!). Note that I only sketch out the plan so I know what I'm going to teach. Some days even have more detail than others. It's a rough plan:
To develop this six-week plan, all I did was take the pacing calendar and add the details to the days. That’s it. Easy. Nothing elaborate, yet. I have only listed the major objective, the materials I will use and whether I will use small group or whole group. I have included the day I know I will have a sub and what the sub will do. Once it’s time to write my lesson plans that I will use for teaching, I will add much more detail, procedures to teach, small group work, teaching strategies and a place to reflect on how the lesson went. The detailed, daily plans are what you do about two weeks ahead of teaching.
Your turn! Focus only on the first four- six weeks to sketch out lessons you will conduct. Include your major standard (the broad knowledge and skill statement) and a rough idea of what you will do that class period.
NOW you are ready for setting up your classroom because you have an idea of how your class will work for the first six weeks. Yep, coming right along!!!
Related: Lesson Planning 101 takes you into actually planning lessons.