Lesson Planning

Getting Started with Lesson Planning

  • What are learning objectives?
  • SMART attributes for writing learning objectives
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy – action verbs for lesson planning
  • ABCD method of writing learning objectives
  • Common Core State Standards/IEP goals and objectives
  • Essential Questions
  • Putting it all together

Getting Started >>Lesson Planning

To begin developing your lesson plans for the course you will download the lesson plan template from the teacher education resource page. Below is a picture of the top section of the template which includes the:

  1. Measurable learning objective(s) (MLOs)
  2. Related Common Core Standards (CCSSs)-
  3. Related learner IEP goals/objectives, if applicable- consult with your supervising practitioner.
  4. Essential questions related to the MLO and CCSS- continue reading
lesson plan template

What are learning objectives

Excerpt from Learning Objectives,The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

In education, learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of school year, course, unit, lesson, project, or class period. In many cases, learning objectives are the interim academic goals that teachers establish for students who are working toward meeting more comprehensive learning standards.

Defining learning objective is complicated by the fact that educators use a wide variety of terms for learning objectives, and the terms may or may not be used synonymously from place to place. For example, the terms student learning objectivebenchmarkgrade-level indicatorlearning targetperformance indicator, and learning standard—to name just a few of the more common terms—may refer to specific types of learning objectives in specific educational contexts. Educators also create a wide variety of homegrown terms for learning objectives.

While educators use learning objectives in different ways to achieve a variety of instructional goals, the concept is closely related to learning progressions, or the purposeful sequencing of academic expectations across multiple developmental stages, ages, or grade levels. Learning objectives are a way for teachers to structure, sequence, and plan out learning goals for a specific instructional period, typically for the purpose of moving students toward the achievement of larger, longer-term educational goals such as meeting course learning expectations, performing well on a standardized test, or graduating from high school prepared for college. For these reasons, learning objectives are a central strategy in proficiency-based learning, which refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating understanding of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma (learning objectives that move students progressively toward the achievement of academic standards may be called performance indicators or performance benchmarks, among other terms).

The focus of this chapter will be on lesson or class-period learning objectives. Teachers may also articulate learning objectives for specific lessons that compose a unit, project, or course, or they may determine learning objectives for each day they instruct students (in this case, the term learning target is often used). For example, teachers may write a set of daily learning objectives on the blackboard, or post them to an online course-management system, so that students know what the learning expectations are for a particular class period. In this case, learning objectives move students progressively toward meeting more comprehensive learning goals for a unit.

There are two commonly used formulas for developing MLOs. One is using the SMART attributes and the other is the ABCD method. These two methods are very similar, but one or the other may be more or less helpful to you personally when writing MLOs. We will look at both methods and you can decide which makes the most sense when considering the type of lesson you are planning. 

SMART goals

From Wikimedia Commons

Excerpts from Kolling, D, and Shumway-Pitt, K. (2019). GSC Lesson Planning 101. Retrieved from https://granite.pressbooks.pub/lessonplanning101/SMART goals/objectives

S-Specific: Concise, well-defined statements of what students will know, understand, and be able to do at the end of the lesson.  The objective should state exactly what is to be accomplished by the student and the conditions in place, such as, “Given a topic on American history”,  “Provided with a calculator and a three minute time limit”, or “Independently, following the five-step scientific method”.

Learning outcomes should be simply stated in student-centered terms.  If students are aware of the intended outcome, then they know where their focus should lie.  This clarity helps decrease anxiety about their ability to succeed and helps build intrinsic motivation.

M-Measurable: Learning objectives must be quantifiable.  Measurable objectives state the outcomes that can be assessed in definite and specific ways; the quality or level of performance that will be considered acceptable (mastery level).  The criterion can be expressed by describing the performance standard to be met, such as, “Write a descriptive paragraph that includes a topic sentence, three supporting detail sentences, and a closing sentence.”  When writing mastery level, you often begin with the word “with”, then add description, such as “90% accuracy”, “no errors”, “appropriate punctuation” or “accurate vocabulary”.

A-Attainable:  Learning objectives should be written at the appropriate developmental level for student success.  It is essential that students have the prerequisite knowledge and skills and that the lesson’s time frame supports achievement of the objective.  You can determine the appropriate level of challenge by referring to pre assessment results.  Learning activities should be challenging, yet offer students a realistic chance to master the objective.

R-Relevant:  The skills or knowledge described must be appropriate for the grade level and subject area or an individual’s IEP goals. The process of setting learning objectives begins with knowing the specific standards, benchmarks, and supporting knowledge students in your school or district are required to learn.  Common Core State Standards and curriculum documents are the source for this information.  This is essential to ensure students receive the same important content from teacher to teacher.

T-Time-bound: Time-bound – State when students should be able to demonstrate the skill. In this course the learning objective will be:“by the end of the lesson”.

Start with behavioral verbs (action verbs) that can be observed (either informally or formally) and measured.  Using concrete verbs will help keep your objectives clear and concise. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a list of such verbs and these are categorized according to the level of achievement at which students should be performing.

While verbs above clearly distinguish the action that should be performed, there are verbs to avoid when writing a learning objective. The following verbs are too vague or difficult to measure: appreciate, cover, realize, be aware of, familiarize, study, become acquainted with, gain knowledge of, comprehend, know, learn, understand, learn.

blooms taxonomy


Adapted from Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Writing goals and objectives. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide/writing-goals-and-objectives.shtml this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

ABCD Model of Learning Objectives

  1. Audience: Who will be doing the behavior?
  2. Behavior: What should the learner be able to do? What is the performance?
  3. Condition: Under what conditions do you want the learner to be able to do it?
  4. Degree: How well must the behavior be done? What is the degree of mastery?

For Example


(Paula Lombardi)


(Paula Lombardi)

Rules of Thumb

The objective should be one sentence long and include  ‘The student will…” or “The learner will…”

The objective contains one action verb (e.g Bloom’s Taxonomy).

The objective should have one content area topic or learning target. This will ensure accurate data collection on the target skill, vs. a multi layered learning objective.

The objective needs to be tied to a Common Core State Standard in either Mathematics or English Language Arts

Paula Lombardi

Behavioral Verbs- Must be observable and measurable.

The key to writing learning objectives is using an action verb to describe the behavior you intend for students to perform. You can use action verbs such as calculate, read, identify, match, explain, translate, and prepare to describe the behavior further. On the other hand, words such as understand, appreciate, internalize, and value are not appropriate when writing learning objectives because they are not measurable or observable. Use these words in your big picture goals/ enduring understandings, but not when writing learning objectives.

Overt behavior: If the behavior is covert or not typically visible when observed, such as the word discriminate, include an indicator behavior to clarify to the student what she or he must be able to do to meet your expectations. For example, if you want your learners to be able to discriminate between good and bad apples, add the observable behavior “sort” to the objective: Be able to discriminate (sort) the good apples from the bad apples.

Some teachers tend to forget to write learning objectives from the students’ perspective. Mager (1997) contends that when you write objectives, you should indicate what the learner is supposed to be able to do and not what you, the teacher, want to accomplish. Also, avoid using fuzzy phrases such as “to understand,” “to appreciate,” “to internalize,” and “to know,” which are not measurable or observable. These types of words can lead to student misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what you want them to do.

Measurable Learning Objectives and Alignment with Content Standards/ IEP Goals and Objectives

It is assumed you have already selected ELA/ or math content standards and your MLOs align with content standards. These can be found on the New Hampshire Department of Education website.

Your case study student will likely have an IEP goal or objective related to your lesson objective. Include this in the lesson plan.

What is an Essential Question?

What are “Essential Questions”? Life of an Educator by Dr. Justin Tarte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a work at justintarte.com.


The best questions serve not only to promote understanding of the content of a unit on a particular topic; they also spark connections and promote transfer of ideas from one setting to others. We call these such questions “essential.”


Tips for using essential questions:
  • Use a reasonable number of questions (two to five) per unit. Make less be more.
  • Frame the questions in “kid language” as needed to make them more accessible. Edit the questions to make them as engaging and provocative as possible for the age group.
  • Ensure that every child understands the questions and sees their value.
  • Design specific exploratory activities and inquiries for each question.
  • Sequence the questions so they naturally lead from one to another.
  • Post the essential questions in the classroom, and encourage students to organize their notes and work around those specific questions.

This work by UAF eCampus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Wiggins and McTighe identify big ideas, essential questions and enduring understandings as critical elements, of course design in Understanding by Design. If a big idea is like a point on the horizon you are steering toward, and enduring understandings are the highlights that you will always remember, essential questions are the engines of inquiry that propel students through your learning experience. They should prompt exploration and open discovery. All content should contribute toward or inform learners as to the evolving complexity of potential responses to these questions. Grant Wiggins characterizes them as “well, essential: important, vital, at the heart of the matter – the essence of the issue.” Essential questions are important because they identify the point of inquiry from which you create actual instructional material and experiences for your students.

As a big idea will unpack into multiple essential questions (usually), so an essential question will itself unpack into multiple smaller questions. The smaller questions are not unimportant, but it is crucial to understand how the smaller questions relate to the Big Idea. For instance:

  • Essential question: What traits and characteristics are collectively used to determine a classification?
  • Non-essential question: How many legs does a spider have?

It may well be the case that non-essential questions can be used to bring about understanding of the essential questions, but they are not the essential thing. Consider another pair:

  • Essential questions: How do history and context determine the definition of “art?”
  • Non-essential question: Is Duchamps “Fountain” art or not?

Now comes the challenging part, where you, the novice teacher must develop these essential questions related to your instruction. Know that developing essential questions are part of the work, school teams do when mapping their curriculum using the Understanding by Design module. Many schools post their work online. Look at models of that have been developed to gain an understanding of how essential questions align with curriculum standards. Ultimately, you will need to be the judge of the quality of material you find online. Check with your supervising practitioner to see if your school has done grade level curriculum mapping. What you find may not find exactly what you are looking for, but you will find models to help you begin developing your own essential questions for your lesson plan.

Essential Questions…for example.

Take a look at the four essential questions at the top page of this document on Kindergarten- Counting and Cardinality.  Continue to review this document and examine the essential questions for Kindergarten, Geometry, Measurement, Number Sense Base Ten, and Algebraic Thinking, The essential questions are found under each heading in the document.

Here is another example of the curriculum mapping and 4th grade mathematics. It is aligned to the CCSS for mathematics and includes enduring understandings, essential questions, and learning targets.

Here is a curriculum map for 7th grade reading standards for literature. Each section begins with essential questions and aligns with content area standards. This one also includes Prior Background Knowledge Required

  • Rule of thumb: One or two essential questions will generally be sufficient in a single lesson plan.

Pulling it all together


SMART image citation: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SMART-goals.png

Measurable learning objectives tables were designed by Paula Lombardi

Lesson Plan template sections- Granite State College School of Education