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Planning an engaging lesson

Planning an engaging lesson


Developing a lesson plan will help you define the learning outcomes for a lesson alongside the activities that will help students to meet those outcomes. Lesson plans are important as they can help ensure:

  • There is a coherent framework for teaching
  • You are organised and have all the materials you need
  • There is a sense of direction to the class in including how it links with the syllabus
  • You have catered for a variety of learning styles
  • There is a basis for future planning and improvement

In this section we will cover some of the basics of designing an engaging lesson, including how you develop learning outcomes and the beginning, middle and closing phases of a lesson. Throughout we provide top tips based on the experiences of teachers and early career researchers involved in the EPEE project.

Develop your learning outcomes

Learning outcomes cover what you want students to do/be able to do at the end of the session.

For example, a learning outcome might begin with the following phrases:

  • To understand that…
  • To know how to…
  • To have participated in…
  • To be able to give a reason for…
  • To be able to…
  • To have created…
  • To know where to find information on…
  • To solve…

A helpful way to frame outcomes is to think about Blooms Taxonomy. As shown in the illustration below from left to right we move from basic skills and understanding through to more complex levels of comprehension, such as an ability to evaluate and create.

Example Learning Outcomes from EPEE Project

  • To experience and get excited about investigation skills in science. (EcoSoc session, Key Stage 3 pupils)
  • To try to identify the birds that physical birds wings come from (EcoSoc session, Key Stage 3 pupils)
  • To link shape and size of bird wings to use and purpose (EcoSoc session, Key Stage 3 pupils).
  • To make physical monsters (from play doh) representing the challenges you face in transition to university, and draw a map to where you want to go, and a “toolbox” to overcome obstacles. (A-level Transition to University workshop)
  • To be able to determine valid criteria for evaluating the significance of historical interpretations (A-level students, “argue to think” workshop)
  • To understand the links between written and spoken argument and apply this to writing. (A-level students “argue to think workshop”)
  • To have experienced working in a university laboratory (GCSE students, Additive layer manufacturing workshop)
  • To visit university campus and learn what university is like from undergraduate student ambassadors (yr. 7 and 8 pupils, and parents, University Families day”

Top tips

  • Make sure you know which age group you are teaching before developing the learning outcomes
  • Research the curriculum around your subject
  • Ask someone who has experience of working in schools to review your outcomes. Don’t forget to ensure they know the age range you are targeting!
  • Whilst there is nothing wrong with challenging students, make sure your learning; outcomes are realistic for their level and also the time available
  • Rank your learning outcomes in order of importance, so that if you run out of time you know which are the most important
  • Be specific, it is important to be able to measure if a learning outcome has been met

Once you have your learning outcomes, the next step is to develop the specific activities that you will use to encourage students to understand and apply what they have learnt. A starter activity or question can play an important role in:

  • Capturing the attention of the class
  • Providing information to you about what the class already knows or thinks about the subject
  • Breaking the ice and setting the tone for the lesson

One way to start a lesson is with a ‘thunk’, that is a beguilingly simple-looking question that stops pupils in their tracks and helps them start looking at the world in a whole new light.

For example:

  • Is there more future or more past?
  • Are books ‘over’?
  • Can videogames be art?
  • Can language hurt?
  • What makes a good memory?
  • Should AI have rights?
  • Do we still need experts?
  • Am I a cyborg?

Other examples of starter questions include:

  • What is my job? (with photo of you doing an aspect of your daily job…)
  • Who am I? (with list of clues re: historical figure)
  • Get into groups and set a challenge for each group. (i.e. one group writes why Drama/Theatre is worth subject to study, the other why not)
  • Guess the animal from the bone

At this point it is important to prepare several different ways of exploring the lesson content and including different and varied learning activities. Students should be more active than teachers, a ratio guideline is 80:20. Short engaging tasks will encourage good behaviour and varying the learning activities will enable the class to engage with all learners. Using real-life examples, analogies and visuals can also help to catch the attention of students. As you plan your examples and activities, estimate how much time each exercise will take, ensuring there is enough time for explanation and discussion.

The different types of activities you might like to consider include:

  • Group projects
  • Interactive/creative activities
  • Written pieces/presentations to be presented
  • Visual aids including video, music, multi-media
  • Using artefacts

When deciding on an activity you should reflect on how the activity will help students to understand the topic better.

Top tips

  • Many classes will have different abilities in same group… make sure there are tasks that everyone can do, that some can do, that a couple can do if they have finished everything else.
  • Don’t be put off by low level noise when students are working in groups. Most groups will go on and off topic throughout an exercise. You can circulate to see what they are doing (likewise if you have Ambassadors in the room, ask them to help with this), or you can ask them to face the front and share what they have come up with so far.
  • When planning your session ask yourself what you can do to simplify it if they seem confused? For example, you could develop another ‘starter’ activity, to talk them through your ideas for the session.
  • Make sure the content is relevant to them! Think about the world they inhabit, what new technologies, TV shows, latest crazes. If you can do this, then they will immediately be engaged.
  • Find ways to make the class relevant to learning about what goes on at University. For example, when setting up group work tell them that at University they would normally get a week or so to prepare, often having been put in groups with people you don’t know, and the normal first port of call is the coffee shop for a ‘meeting’!

Throughout the class you will need to employ different strategies for testing student understanding and seeing what they are learning. Rich questioning techniques are a useful strategy to employ here as they help to surface a taxonomy of different levels of understanding within the class. You start with tacit knowledge and firm foundations and then build from there, for example:

  • What are the facts? What do we know?
  • What are the benefits and advantages?
  • What are the risks or disadvantages?
  • What creative new proposals or applications can we imagine?
  • How do we feel about the issue or the new proposals?
  • What might the next steps be?

Top Tips for Checking Understanding

  • Wait, take your time to think before answering
  • Encourage people to consult each other in pairs/small groups before answering
  • Involve a number of people in the answer to a question (i.e. what do you think? Do you agree with that answer?)
  • Use wrong answers to develop understand and trust
  • Chose questions for a purpose
  • Reflect on the quality of your questions (i.e. why does…? What if…? How would you…? Can you explain…?
  • Provide opportunities for pupils to formulate questions

Finally make sure you leave enough time at the end of a session to pull all the learning together. You may choose to ask students to summarize the key points that have been discussed. This is a final chance for discovering what they have learnt, just remember to keep it exciting.

As you develop your lesson plan it is important to consider who your ‘class’ might be. It might be for example:

  • a group of pupils selected specifically for the experience(s) that you are offering (if so, they may not be used to working with each other)
  • an existing class, and work together routinely.

The latter class may be:

  • ‘streamed’ –together in most subjects as have similar attainment scores, targets or perceived ‘ability’
  • ‘set’ –work together in a particular subject because they have similar attainment scores, targets or perceived ‘ability’ in that subject
  • ‘mixed ability’- not been deliberately grouped according to attainment, targets or perceived ‘ability’ (but may not represent the full range of these)

Key groups to think about within your class when you are planning your lesson are:

  • People with special educational needs and disabilities
  • English as an Additional Language
  • Pupil Premium
  • Gifted and Talented
  • Learning preferences
  • Gender
  • Motivation
  • ‘Invisible’ pupils (i.e. under-achieving students who have become increasingly marginalised from the system).