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Lesson aims, objectives and content

‘Students should ‘leave a classroom at the end of a lesson knowing, understanding and being able to do more than when they came in.’

Lessons are for Learning, Mike Hughes (1997) p13

Topics on this page:

  • What ‘big picture’ to you want to achieve?
  • Defining the lesson aim
  • Identifying the content
  • Lesson objectives
  • Getting objectives right
  • Reading
  • Sharing lesson objectives with students
  • Pre-planning the lesson
  • References

What ‘big picture’ do you want to achieve?

Take time, before you start planning your lesson, to consider where this lesson fits in with the ‘big picture’. What are you setting out to achieve in this scheme of work? In this key stage? In the students’ whole geographical education? Ask yourself, or discuss with you mentor – ‘What is the rationale for teaching this topic to these students at this time?’ You should always be able to justify this rationale to yourself before you begin to plan.

On this webpage planning a single lesson is discussed. Trainee teachers need to get to grips with this. However, a lesson is part of a sequence of learning. Your objectives can rarely be achieved in just a single lesson – it is the lesson sequence that is important for learning. This is discussed in Geography curriculum planning.

It is always important to think through any learning sequence for any topic area and consider  how, exactly, students will learn from it. What assumptions are you making about their thinking processes, their prior knowledge, the need for practice and consolidation – etc? What implications does this have for the sequence and structure of individual lesson elements?

Defining the lesson aim

The aim/s define the overall purpose of the lesson. The aim is a statement setting out what geographical learning you intend students to achieve by the end of the lesson. It could extend over more than one lesson. It must be clearly stated and be precise enough to focus your planning and teaching.

In addition, you might give your lesson a title – this can link the lesson with the scheme of work and/or its geographical context. A title that involves a question can help students to engage with the topic and students can use the title (or the question) as the heading for their work. This helps them to focus on what the lesson (or series of lessons) is about.

Identifying the content

Once you have the aim/s, you will identify what geography is to be taught in the lesson, the content. Identify, from the school’s geography curriculum or scheme of work, the core knowledge (substantive knowledge) you will teach in the lesson. This should be important knowledge for students to learn (i.e. for them to secure in their long-term memory) within the lesson.

It is a good idea to think about information that is both the ‘vocabulary’, the geographical facts, and the ‘grammar’, the ideas, that are to be introduced and explored in the lesson. The knowledge could be e.g. locational knowledge, concepts, processes, skills (see Subject knowledge). The content might need to include specific skills, if these are required for any activities you plan to use. It might also include other aspects of learning, such as for students to express their own views and opinions about the geography topic, or metacognition.

Once you have the lesson content clear, consider the implications it has for teaching the lesson. What prior learning experiences of this content might students have? What is their starting point and what capabilities do you expect the students to bring to the lesson from earlier lessons that you can use? What personal geographies might you be able to draw on? Also consider any aspects of the content that students might find difficult to understand, so you can decide how to focus your teaching strategy on this. Are there any skills involved that are new for them, or that some students might struggle with?

As you write the plan, the subject content should be elaborated in the main text and you should be making links between the geography you want students to learn and the pedagogic strategies you decide to use.

Lesson objectives

Now you must translate the aims and geographical content into achievable lesson objectives. These should be specific for the lesson and set out clearly, but succinctly, what you intend to teach the students to know and understand by the end of the lesson. The objectives should guide everything that happens in the lesson. They are your lesson targets and you should use them to evaluate the success of your teaching.

It can be helpful to think about the objectives in term of the small steps in understanding and/or skills that students need to achieve the aim. If you break the aim into more manageable steps it helps you to plan the learning and sequence this in the lesson.

  • Look at the illustrative plan on a lesson on diversity within Japan on page 43 in Bustin (2017). See how the lesson objectives focus on developing a skill of photo analysis, learning about different elements of diversity and developing evaluation skills.
  • Look at the lesson plan in Figure 3.4 on page 88 in Biddulph et al (2021). See how the teacher has identified through the lesson objectives the knowledge, understanding and synthesis skills they are intending to teach.

Getting objectives right

Writing lesson objectives is not easy. But they are so important for planning good lessons that you must take the time and effort to master writing them. If you cannot get your mind around expressing learning objectives, talk to your geography mentor and to other geography teachers about how they phrase objectives for their lessons.

In other words, spend time exploring ideas about objectives before you start to write them for your own lessons. Above all, get it clear in your mind what you want the students to know or be able to do geographically by the end of the lesson.

Consider objectives in these categories (but focus and do not try to cover them all!)

  • Facts: e.g., locational knowledge, case study information
  • Understanding of geographical processes, concepts and ideas
  • Geographical skills: e.g., interpreting maps, collecting fieldwork data, GIS
  • Generic skills: e.g., asking questions, communicating, reaching conclusions, collaborating
  • Basic skills: e.g., literacy, numeracy, IT skills
  • Values and ethical dimensions.

Some things to watch out for are:

  • Lesson objectives are not a ‘checklist’ or a ‘to do’ list. They are statements that should encompass the learning you want to be achieved in that lesson.
  • Objectives must not be vague or woolly, they should be precise; they should obviously intend to lead to gains in learning.
  • Objectives should be rooted in challenging expectations. If students can achieve them without effort they are too weak. But objectives must cater for all students, so consider how you will provide scaffolding, where necessary, for students to achieve success.
  • Practice writing appro­priate ‘learning objectives’ for some lessons in your school scheme of work. Concentrate on getting your language to accurately express the learning you are looking for students to achieve. Think about the balance between knowledge and understanding, geographical skills, and other elements.
  • Refer to the table on p 136 in Bustin (2017). It introduces the term learning outcomes and will help you to distinguish between each of these and aims and objectives. Discuss this table with your mentor and tutor. You will see that several different terms can be used and schools will differ. You should be guided by them in the ones you should use so that you are communicating your intentions for lessons clearly.

Sharing lesson objectives with students

In recent years it has become common for teachers to share with students what they are going to learn at the start of a lesson. This practice of sharing so that the learning becomes a joint enterprise is sensible – but it must be a genuine sharing.

Think how you are going to introduce this to students so that they understand. For example, are you going to refer to ‘lesson objectives’ or ‘learning intentions’ or an alternative term that students are familiar with in the school? The way you express learning objectives in your plan is for your purposes and language might not be appropriate or be understood by students – especially if it is something you are spending the whole lesson teaching them about!

Sometimes teachers are seen writing the objectives on the board for students to copy into exercise books, without discussion. Clearly this is not good practice as Ofsted (2011) pointed out:

‘Students often had to copy objectives into their books at the start of the lesson with little thought about what these meant. In many cases, the activity at the start of the lesson had little relevance to the main task; it added little to the students’ learning and used up precious time’

Ofsted, P.26

In some cases, such as lessons that are enquiry-based, it is inappropriate to share with students the intended outcomes in advance. See Planning for geographical enquiry for further information about planning in this context.

Pre-planning the lesson

When you are new to lesson planning, it can be very helpful to have a ‘brainstorm’ stage to pre-plan your lesson. Do this when you have identified your lesson aims, objectives and the key content but before you actually turn to making it into a plan for the lesson. You can brainstorm alone, or with a fellow teacher, or with your mentor. You can then take forward these ideas to sequence them into a structure in your lesson plan.

  • See Biddulph et al (2021) Box 3.5 p 87 for some questions you could use for pre-planning.

During your brainstorm you will focus on:

  • How will I be building students’ geographical understanding? What geographical concepts am I focussing on? What links that can be made between new ideas and the student’s prior learning.
  • Pedagogical choices. How could I teach this content? Is there something that it would help to ‘model’ to the class? What sort of questions will you need to ask students to check their understanding of the content? What visual resource might be helpful to support an explanation? Are the aims and objectives best served by an enquiry or decision making approach?  What sort of tasks could I ask students to undertake? …and many others!

You might realise from this pre-planning stage that you need to do more ‘finding out’. Is your subject knowledge good enough in this topic or do you need to do some research into the content? Are you aware of the sort of misconceptions that might arise? Are you clear exactly what the students know from earlier lessons?

As well as the scheme you could look at some student work from earlier topics might give you a better understanding of their prior understanding. Would it help to observe another teacher’s lesson about this topic to get a feeling for students’ response and where they find things difficult.

Of course, you will not have time to do all this ‘pre-planning’ for every lesson you teach, but it can be very helpful when you are new to planning lessons and need to think widely and deeply about the lesson. As you gain in experience, this thinking should become second nature to you.

References

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021), Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition, Abingdon: Routledge. Chapter 3.
  • Bustin, R. (2017) ‘Teaching a good geography lesson’ in Jones, M. (ed), The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical AssociationChapter 11 pp 134-7.
  • Ofsted (2011) Geography: Learning to make a world of difference. Ofsted Reference no: 090224.