How Instructors Teach Versus How Instructors Plan

students in classroom

Learning Outcomes

You should always begin by considering what learning outcomes you wish to cover in your class. These will come from your course syllabus. There should be 1 or 2 outcomes that could be reasonably covered within your class time (e.g., 50 minutes or 3 hours)

Assessment & Evaluation

Next consider how the learning outcomes will be met. This is called backwards planning or planning with the end in mind, which basically means you figure out how you will be assessing and evaluating student work in relation to the outcomes. It is like thinking about the ‘end’ first and working backwards to figure out how you will get your students there (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005). You need to consider how your students will demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Relationship between Outcomes and Assessment + Evaluation: These first two steps in planning are linked together often with a double-headed arrow. You may go back and forth considering the outcomes and deciding on different assessments or evaluations. This step may also take a bit longer. It is like planning a trip. You need to find the destination first and then spend a good chunk of time planning how you will get there.


At this step, you have to think carefully about your class (number of students, students with disabilities, age of students, previous knowledge about the topic, social and behavioral characteristics, etc.) and how this will impact your class. It is a step that involves pre-assessing what you know already about your students and taking that into account when you plan the rest of the class.

Content/ Teaching & Learning Strategies

This step involves brainstorming all the content required for your class and narrowing it down to key concepts. Once you have those key concepts, chunk them into 10-15 minute chunks. How you will deliver the content revolves around the teaching and learning strategies you choose (lecture, small group activity, video, discussion, etc).

Pre-Assessment & Resources

After the class has been developed, it is important for you to go back and ensure that all your students are being considered through the teaching and learning strategies chosen. Are student needs being met? At this point, it is also time to list the resources (web site links, books, videos, stories, handouts, etc.) you will need for the class.

Next Steps & Reflections

After the class is over, ensure you jot down notes for next year and reflect for a short time about the class. Changes, deletions, and additions are key things to consider.

Chunking of Content

It is highly unlikely any student can sit for three straight hours and take effective notes while listening to a long lecture-focused class. Human brains do not have the capacity to sustain such concentration, understand and make sense of the content during long classes. We often wonder, as instructors, why students are yawning or not interested once we reach the one hour mark. If you have been a student yourself in such a situation, you will know the challenge of teaching in higher education. 

A simple answer for making your classes more engaging is to chunk your content and activities into 10 to 15 minute segments. Some segments should contain content and some segments should contain activities for applying the content. Your students need to interact with you and their classmates and should have a change of pace in the class.

Here are some suggestions for breaking down your lecture or class into more manageable pieces. It may change the way you teach and how your students learn.

  1. Gather all the content required for your class.
  2. Identify sub-sections or sub-topics within the content: consider where appropriate breaks could occur in terms of delivering the content.
  3. Pare down each sub-topic into points that would cover approximately 10-15 minutes of either lecturing or some form of direct instruction to students.
  4. In a 1 hour class you need about 2-3 sub-topics to fill segments throughout the class; for 3 hour classes you need about 4-5 sub-topics.
  5. Between sub-topic segments, include an activity that involves students applying the content you have just taught. These activities could also be 10-15 minutes long and would allow students to interact with the material by having a chance to stop taking notes and engaging with their peers.
  6. Examples of learning activities: a small group discussion, watching a small video related to the topic, solving sample problems, using clickers or flash cards to vote on answers to questions, engaging in a debate about the topic, students independently answering questions, reading a passage, teaching a peer, etc.
  7. Your class plan should have content interspersed with activities.
  8. Allow time for a break (10-15 minutes) within a 2-hour or 3-hour class.

The biggest challenge for most instructors is choosing and knowing how to implement various learning activities to apply content. As you experiment with this format for your classes, you may wish to adjust how much content and what sorts of activities work best for your students.