Do five-minute lesson plans actually work?

By Mark Richards

The rationale behind 5-minute lesson plans is undoubtably well-intentioned. With the culture in schools so focused on teachers having to provide evidence for what they are doing in the classroom, many school leadership teams have encouraged teachers to produce lengthy lesson plans as ‘evidence’.

With OFSTED making it clear that such detail wasn’t necessary and that inspectors do not even expect to be given lesson plans, the ‘5 minute’ template became popular as an alternative and a kind of ‘halfway house’. It still provided evidence (that school leadership teams still seem to insist on) of teacher planning – but did so in a more manageable and less time-consuming way.

But do five-minute lesson plans actually work?
What is the purpose of lesson planning?    

To answer the question of whether five-minute lesson plans actually work or not, you really also need to get under the skin of another issue: What is the purpose of lesson planning?

The standard five-minute lesson plan template is split into thirds. Typically, two of these look at learning objectives, differentiation and aspects such as Assessment for Learning. The final third is given over for the learning activities that will take place during the lesson.

The problem is that there is a disparity in focus here. It’s true that teachers need to be clear about the objectives and aims of the lesson are. There is no point just randomly choosing a range of activities hoping that they will help students to meet learning objectives. The activities need to be carefully selected for this purpose. However, the problem lies in the fact that teachers are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time on the top two sections – because these are often the things by which teachers are measured when they have their lessons observed.

Herein lies the issue. What is the primary purpose of lesson planning? Is it to create experiences that will enable learners to move to higher levels of understanding? Or is it for a teacher to cover themselves when they are observed?

Where is the reflection and evaluation?

At first glance, the idea of a five-minute lesson plan might appear to be a time-saving and efficient exercise, but the fact that it can be reduced to little more than a tick-box activity is not its only weakness.

Reflection and evaluation are not included on most templates that are readily available. Of course, there is nothing to stop individual teachers or departments to incorporate reflection and evaluation in their own way. However, its absence in the first place should set the alarm bells ringing. Lesson plans should not just be about providing evidence, nor should they just be about the delivery of a lesson. If teachers are to move forward and develop as practitioners and professionals, reflection and evaluation of their own practice is fundamental.

Teachers need to work smarter, not harder. But, cutting corners is never a smart move, and the five-minute lesson plan, well-intentioned as it is, not only places too much emphasis on the wrong aspects, it also misses elements that are vital.

Five-minute lesson plans should not be dismissed entirely but teachers should proceed with caution. Never lose sight of what the purpose of a lesson plan really is – and never forget the importance of review and reflection.

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