Top 10 tips for structuring lessons and sequences

There are so many considerations when structuring a lesson or sequence of lessons that sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by decisions, Lori Pereira writes.

While there are vast differences in classroom settings and especially in students, there are some elements in my lesson structures and sequences that are always present.

Designing sequences of lessons

The first three tips/strategies rely on backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Before we begin planning learning experiences for students, we first consider where we want students to end up at the end. “Effective curriculum development following the principles of backward design... helps avoid the twin problems of textbook coverage and activity-orientated teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006, p6).

Tip 1: Identify desired results

The first question we ask ourselves is, ‘What should students know, understand and be able to do at the end of this learning sequence’? Consider the core skills you want them to master, essential questions to explore and key concepts to understand. Carol Ann Tomlinson (2014) said “A fuzzy sense of the essentials results in fuzzy activities, which is turn results in fuzzy student understanding. That’s the barrier to high quality teaching and learning” (p62).

Tip 2: Determine acceptable evidence

We’re now asking ourselves, ‘How will we know whether students have learned those things that were chosen as priorities? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency’? This means we are thinking about assessment. Many teachers find themselves nearing the end of a unit or sequence before making a clear decision about assessment. Deciding at the beginning sharpens our teaching.

Tip 3: Work out what they already know/understand/can do

At this point we’re asking ourselves the question, ‘What have they done or what could I ask them to do that will show me where they already are in relation to this new learning’? If students have recently demonstrated similar skills you may already have data to draw on, otherwise it is beneficial to design a short task that will enable you to elicit this information. In doing so, you are able to focus your lessons appropriately.

Structuring lessons

Tip 4: Learning intentions – shared and visible

The learning intention is a statement which clearly describes what the teacher wants students to know, understand or be able to do as a result of the teaching and learning activities eg, ‘We are learning how to design inquiry questions to form our research’. When learning intentions are visible and referenced, students know where to focus their energies in a lesson and they’re more likely to achieve.

Tip 5: Success criteria – shared and visible

Success criteria reveals to students what it would look like if they met the learning intention. I share the criteria with students at the beginning of a lesson or task and then use it continually throughout the lesson for tracking and feedback.

Example: Learning intention: We are learning how to write an introduction to an essay.

Success criteria: I can write an introduction that has:

  • a hook that is engaging for the reader
  • a statement of contention that clearly responds to the essay question, and
  • a succinct summary of the key points that will be made in the essay.

Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR)

The GRR framework (Fisher & Frey 2008) is always in my mind as I structure lessons. Put simply, in each lesson I work toward having a balance of what I do as a teacher, what students do collaboratively with me and with each other, and what I ask students to do independently.

Tip 6: Explicit teaching and modelling

In preparing for the ‘I do’ section of my lesson, I’m considering ‘What am I asking students to do in this lesson and how can I provide for them a model of success and/or a worked example’? I can be modelling for students the product they’re working towards, the writing style they need to use, or the processes I’m asking them to undertake during the lesson.

Tip 7: Collaborative task – ‘we do’

We can think about this in two ways. Firstly, what can I do with the students to enhance their understanding? And secondly, what can two or more students do collaboratively that will enhance their understanding? Taking the time to add in opportunities for students to work with you and with each other greatly enhances their understanding and troubleshoots many misunderstandings before students begin independent work.

In a Geography lesson where the learning intention was, ‘We will understand that physical features aid or limit connections’, an opportunity for ‘we do’ might be to display some photos of physical features and discuss collaboratively how each aids or limits connections. In this time, the teacher guides the questioning, clarifies understanding and explains key ideas. A second opportunity for ‘we do’ might then be to have students in pairs discuss or research one of three physical features and write a few sentences about the ways in which they aid/limit connection.

Tip 8: Independent work – ‘you do’

If I have sufficiently released responsibility, students should be well equipped to work independently. During phases of independent work, another of my favourite strategies is to gather a small group of students together for a particular purpose. It might be students who need further explanation or it might be students who need pushing ahead.

Tip 9: Feedback (checking in during the lesson) and Tip 10: Feedback (checking in at the end/after the lesson)

Feedback is essential at every step of the learning process to keep our teaching and learning on track. Some feedback strategies are helpful in the immediate lesson for acting upon, others are helpful for collecting evidence to think about after the lesson before planning future lessons. For this reason, tips 9 and 10 are together. We need to take every opportunity during and after lessons to reflect upon current progress and make a better next decision. The research is clear that when we regularly take the time to collect feedback from the students about how they’re progressing with their learning, the quicker the improvement. Leahy and Wiliam (as cited in Hattie, 2012, p143) said “when formative assessment practices are integrated into the minute-to-minute and day-by-day classroom activities of teachers, substantial increases in student achievement – of the order of a 70 to 80% increase in the speed of learning – are possible”.

Feedback strategies

  • Use the Success Criteria for feedback during the lesson.
  • Find ways to select students at random to participate in questioning and class discussion (rather than ‘hands up’).
  • Plan questions in advance. We’re asking ourselves ‘What do I really need to find out from my students at that point in the lesson in order to move forward with the learning’?
  • Exit tickets are a tried and tested method of collecting feedback from students at the end of a class and can be incredibly helpful for planning where to go next.


Frey, N. & Fisher, D. (2013). Gradual release of responsibility instructional framework (Online). Retrieved June 1, 2018 from

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge

Hattie, J. A. C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners (2nd Ed.). Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Tomlinson, C. A. & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction and understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J., Kiernan, L. J., Frost, F., & Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Lori Pereira is a secondary school teacher with 15 years experience. She has been a leading teacher in a number of different curriculum areas, including whole school Curriculum/Teaching and Learning Leader at North Geelong Secondary College. Lori currently teaches part time while also designing and delivering professional learning opportunities for teachers through her business, On the Ground Professional Learning. She also presents professional learning for the Teacher Learning Network. She can be contacted at: or on