Six tips to help you plan and teach a better sample lesson

Every teacher knows prepping a lesson plan isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you’re prepping for a lesson in front of a new audience —  30 kids you’ve never met and plenty of teachers and staff. Our recruitment team helped me brainstorm six tips to help you plan and execute a great sample lesson.

Tip 1: Plan Extensively

I could write a whole series of articles on planning well, but if you’re at this stage, you probably know the basics. Here’s the kicker: sample lessons are different than normal lessons. You need to plan each little detail in the lesson and account for potential road blocks. What if students already know what a simile is? What if they don’t know how to multiply fractions, but need it for your lesson? These potential roadblocks could blow up in your face if you don’t plan for them.

Consider working off of a strong, objective-aligned planning template, or make your own. Just remember to think through the main parts of a solid lesson:

  • Hook/Anticipatory Set – Get students’ attention. Most teachers start with a quick do now activity, a very quick share of the do now and a quick bit about who they are.
  • Direct instruction – We’re not talking about a twenty or thirty minute “chalk and talk” session. We’re talking about an 8-10 minute (or maybe less) quick and dirty of the concept. Tell them the bare essentials of the concept. Then move on. Don’t blabber. Don’t give a bunch of examples.
  • Guided Practice – Students practice a concept with close supervision. This could be on an overhead or slide, but should slowly release the responsibility of thinking to kids.
  • Independent Practice – Students need time to independently try the concept they just practiced as a whole group.
  • Assessment – This is important. Make sure you have some way to measure whether students mastered the objective. Here at TEAM, some of our teachers use an exit slip. You can too by having students complete it and turn it in at the end of class.

Tip 2: Set Student Behavioral Expectations

Typically, kids are pretty well-behaved when they have a guest teacher. They’re excited just to see someone new! That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try to test you though.

Walking into the classroom with a chart or clear set of expectations is always a good move. It sends a message to kids that you have high expectations for them, even though you’re not their normal teacher.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how we normally do things at TEAM. Laura Mendelsohn, our middle school and non-instructional recruiter adds “We commonly have people say they didn’t know this or that or how we do it at our school. We always tell candidates to treat the classroom as though it is their own. Whatever their usual expectations are is okay with us, even if they aren’t exactly what the kids are used to.”

Whether you bring a chart of expectations or chose to teach your expectations in a different way, don’t skip over verbalizing them to the class at the beginning.  Quickly walk kids through your expectations for their behavior. Then, throughout the lesson, don’t forget about your expectations and don’t let things slide. Always go after 100 percent.

Tip 3: Focus on Your Objectives

When you’re excited to teach new kids in a new place and a job is on the line, it is really easy to let nerves get in the way. It’s also easy to let yourself drift off your lesson plan or your objectives. Be careful when you’re teaching and answering questions that you don’t deviate from your objectives for the day. At the end of your lesson, you’re measuring how well students learned those objectives, not whether students looked like they were paying attention the whole time. This is why the exit slip and independent practice are important to the success of your lesson. Stick with the objective you’ve been given.

Tip 4: Know Where You Can Cut and Run

It’s easy to lose track of time in a lesson. When you’re teaching new kids and aren’t sure how quickly they’re going to master a concept or objective, don’t know where you may have to check for understanding and don’t know where you might get stuck, you should definitely know where you can get back on track.

If you planned well and over-planned, here are some places you can cut to make sure you get through your lesson:

  • Cut an extra example from direct instruction (they’ll probably be ready for practice anyway)
  • Have plenty of guided practice opportunities, but don’t try to use them all.
  • Change the expectation for independent practice. Instead of doing all ten practice problems, have them complete five

Don’t cut:

  • Quick checks for understanding
  • Your assessment at the end
  • Independent practice altogether

Tip 5: Measure and Assess Yourself and Your Kids

OK, so you just planned and delivered a great lesson. Kids were focused and not calling out, and you made it all the way through your plan. Did they master you objective?

After a sample lesson, you’re going to debrief with the school leaders and hiring managers. The first question they’re going to ask is “how do you think your lesson went?” You want to have a good answer to this question. You also want to root it in data. This is where those exit slips come in handy. In between your sample lesson and debrief, flip through exit tickets or the assessment you gave and quickly calculate how many students mastered your objective.

Tip Six: Be Yourself

Like any interview, the biggest advice I can give you is to be yourself. This is doubly important when we’re talking about kids. They know when you’re putting on a front and so will the adults in the back of the room. We (and every other school doing sample lessons) really just want to meet you, not someone else.

Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments below!


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Michael Alderman

Marketing and Communications Specialist at KIPP New Jersey
Michael is the marketing and communications specialist at KIPP New Jersey. You can contact Michael on Twitter @malderman_.

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  • Tracy

    So, what if your not teaching a full lesson? I’ve been asked to just do a “read-aloud” before, and I feel like that is completely different. Do you still have to plan out a full lesson plan for a 15 minute read aloud?

  • Josette

    Hi Tracy!
    Absolutely, it is VERY possible to plan a 15 minute Read Aloud Lesson. I suggest that you plan to teach one skill (prediction, identify characters, main idea, inferring, or Retell B,M,E etc…) or model 1-2 think-aloud reading strategies (connect personally, visualize, repair and fix-ups of words or comprehension monitoring).

    SET THAT PURPOSE FOR THE READING. You could stop reading 3 minutes early, provide a quick exit slip (depending on the purpose set) like QUICK DRAW! write/draw/label picture of (main character, how you think the story might end, the main idea, the B,M, or E etc… THEN, COLLECT YOUR DATA 😉 Hopefully the observers will give you constructive feedback, THIS is essential for your growth as a teacher.

  • Hey Tracy and Josette,
    I think you’re concern is very valid, and Josette, your exit ticket idea is great.
    I would also add that you should really focus on setting behavioral expectations in a read-aloud setting, just like you would with a full lesson. Just keep it short. Since you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you need to make sure kids are on task the whole time and that starts with setting expectations well in the beginning.

  • I was informed today that teachers are not required to hand in lesson plans! Heard of 1 sch where they only have to hand in objectives!

    • Interesting point. I would say that objectives-based teaching varies from school to school and district to district. At TEAM Schools, all classrooms have a posted objective or aim, a posted criteria for success and plan for the day/class period. All of our teachers have a one-on-one coach who reviews their plans and provides feedback, which helps us control quality in instruction in each of our classrooms.

  • Keisha

    Hi Michael!

    Thank you for this!! This post was very helpful in preparing my demo lesson. I do suggest to focus on a skill during a read aloud and exit ticket is plus. Also setting the behavior exspectat

  • Keisha

    Expectations is also important.

  • Thanks Keisha!
    I’m glad these tips were helpful. What do you think was the hardest part?
    – M

    • Keisha

      Wow, that’s a good question! Honestly hardest part was to ensure I fit my lesson in 25 minutes. Practicing prior I went over by 5-7 minutes. That made me n very nervous going into the demo, because I did not to go over the limit or miss an important part of my lesson.

  • House

    Hi !

    These are all great tips! I am giving a sample lesson for Spanish to 6th graders in a few days and I am suppose to be speaking at least 80% of the time in Spanish which I currently do at my school, however I’m worried that during when I am giving the instruction part, they will not understand everything because they have never met me or are use to the vocabulary I use. Any tips, suggestions?

    • Hi there! I totally understand how that might be concerning. My best advice would be to check for understanding thoroughly throughout your direct instruction. That way, you’ll know if students are with you or not. I would very quickly tell them that you ask them to give you a thumbs up if they understand and a thumbs down if they don’t. Then as you give instructions, use thumbs up/down to make sure they’re following.

      Hope this helps!


  • breanna

    I am supposed to give a 20 min lesson for pre Kindergarten and they never told me a subject or if I would be teaching to the students or a panel. Are these questions ok to ask before my interview? Thanks!

  • Maryanne Phoga

    Your tips helped me alot as a trainee teacher . I were just about to write my reflective journal on the demonstration lesson,and I accidentally browse via your tips. I was abit confused by the way the lesson was planned.we were taught 3 sub-topics in 80minutes. Is that the right way to plan a lesson? I need your help please

    • Hi Maryanne,

      Sorry we missed your comment. Three topics within 80 minutes could definitely happen. This process can be broken down into mini-lessons if your planning small group lessons, or multiple lessons within a single time block. Hope you figured it out!

  • pickle

    i have to do 30 min demo lesson topic of my choice to year 1. i have chosen adding money … the chn will also do some independent work on White board and some work sheets too… is it good? i have diffencited the work too.
    plz let me know if it sounds good?

    • Hi there!

      I’m not sure what the expectations are, but you might want to think through the exact objectives, like “students will be able to add and subtract money using dollars and cents.” Something like that will give you more concrete skills to measure when you get to the end of the lesson. You might also want to check and see what the class already knows, by talking to the principal or teacher, to find out how easy it is going to be to get to that end result. Hope this helps!