This step challenges you to design a lesson driven by student thinking.


40 minutes

  • Identify the lesson flow that will take students from where they are now to the new learning of the lesson
  • Identify how students’ thinking (not the teacher’s telling) can drive the lesson—for example, the insight that students need to develop, and the experiences that will build it
Teachers doing lesson planning look on as another teacher discusses equations written on a white board


Imagine the Student’s Experience

The best lessons are driven by student thinking.  This section helps you design a learning flow based on your lesson goals, what you know about your students, and what you have learned about the puzzles and insights likely to propel learning.

The Research Lesson Plan (in Section # 9 of the Teaching-Learning Plan) is different from many familiar lesson plans, since it is built around anticipated student responses. What will the students think and do, and how will students develop the desired new understanding(s) over the course of the lesson? What experiences from the task itself, what insights from comparing different ideas, and what specific questions will advance students’ movement toward the new understanding expected in the lesson?

Note that focusing on the flow of student learning is different from outlining what the teacher does.  The term “flow” (nagare in Japanese) implies a natural force, like that of water flowing. The research lesson plan focuses on the flow of learning–why and how student understanding will change over the course of the lesson.  While we can carefully design the lesson landscape and sometime redirect the flow of conversation, we can’t really pull learning from students, any more than we can pull water up a stream bed.

What leads to changes in student understanding during a lesson?  While simply doing a task or hearing an explanation might sometimes spark students’ understanding, learning is usually more complicated than that.  A basic learning flow outlined in many Japanese lesson plans is that students bring their own prior knowledge to a new task and, as they grapple with the task and explain their thinking, they encounter a puzzle, tension or contradiction that forces them to extend or refine their thinking in some way. A reader of the research lesson plan can grasp this flow–can understand the prior knowledge students are expected to bring to the task, the puzzle or tension expected to arise, and the new understandings expected to emerge as students compare ideas and resolve the tension.

For example, students might be faced with a puzzle such as how to compare two fractions with different denominators, or how to reconcile two contradictory accounts of a historical event.


Create the Lesson Flow

Consider the activities, discussions, puzzles, and tensions that will make up the lesson from beginning to end.


Using the left column of the Research Lesson Plan (# 9 of the Teaching-Learning Plan), capture the learning flow for your research lesson.

This should include the tasks or activities of the lesson, anticipated student ideas, the puzzles or tensions that will arise through discussion and comparison of student ideas and how students will refine or expand their understanding as they confront these tensions. Allocate an amount of time for each lesson element, from introduction through summary.  Specifying time helps makes your team’s thinking about lesson design visible. The following prompts may be helpful in outlining the learning flow:

  • What is the “drama” of the lesson?  What is the sequence of experiences that will propel students from their initial understanding to the desired understanding?
  • How might the student responses you anticipated, including misconceptions, be highlighted or compared to spark student learning?
  • What might students notice that moves their thinking forward? What insights  or actions would we expect from students who have a breakthrough in their understanding?

While the left column captures the lesson flow, the middle column of the Teaching-Learning Plan captures Teacher Support. For example, you might note key questions the teacher will ask the class, questions that will be posed to students who do not get started, etc..

Some Cautions

As you plan the research lesson, group members may be tempted to micromanage each move and comment the lesson instructor will make. Instead, train your focus on the content and how students will interact with it to build the new understandings of the lesson. If a lesson element is likely to affect students’ learning in important ways, then it is legitimate territory for group discussion. Problem wording and content, choice of manipulatives, key teacher questions and design of graphic organizers are all examples of lesson elements that may affect student learning.

Other decisions, such as whether to have students at desks or gathered on the rug, may be best left to the instructor, unless you think they will shape student learning–for example, it may be important for students to be at desks so they can update their thinking in their journals as they listen to classmates present.