• Madison Magee

The 5 Characteristics of an Effective Lesson

What makes a good lesson? Is it the lesson that most effectively bridges the learning objectives to the assessment? How can educators prepare the most effective learning environment and be more intentional in their delivery of material?

So many great teachers and educators have asked this question, and developed wonderful strategies to deliver engaging lessons to their students. Their approach to classroom learning is founded on classroom engagement with the subject, not just the material. The educators that stimulate curiosity and a thirst to understand more are the ones who deliver the most effective lessons. The focus is on the students’ learning experience.

In a teacher’s conference at University School, Milwaukee, Dr. Michael Thompson talks about exactly that: how can we, as educators, be more intentional in the way that our children are learning? With an arsenal of experiences under his belt working in over 700 different schools, years as a school psychologist, and author of multiple books (including The New York Times Best-Seller Raising Cane), Dr. Thompson confidently delivers a message that approaches the best (albeit subjective) answer to the question all educators are asking: what drives learning in the classroom?

Engagement. Students who are engaged in the lesson will learn more. Building on top of that, students who enjoy the lesson will want to learn more. So the question could be restructured to ask “what drives student engagement?” and “How can we create lessons that are driven by student engagement?”

Dr. Thompson references a large survey sent to thousands of teachers across the country to better understand which lessons are that asked them to describe their most effective lessons. It was sent to thousands of teachers to best understand which lessons they found to be the most engaging to their students. An analysis of the responses showed that the most effective and engaging lessons had five core components in common.

Hook: The hook is the attention-grabbing aspect of the lesson. It’s what captures the focus of the student and allows them to find the relevance of the subject and material. It’s been found that the students who have an understanding of why the information is important will be more receptive to listening and participating.

Movement: For students to really connect with the material, they need to interact with it using their bodies— and often times, this movement component is thought of as kinetic-learning. Physical movement has also been shown in other studies to be associated with forming stronger, longer-lasting memories.

Teamwork: A teamwork component was found to also play a vital role in learning— where students develop an understanding of the material, but also the learning processes of other students. Similarly, teamwork builds the students’ social and leadership skills. In student-centered learning, the teacher is more of a learning guide, and the students are the ones who learn from one another as they learn together.

Competition: More often than not, competition in the lessons will yield higher participation amongst the students. The survey results showed that when students were learning (and applying that learning) in a competitive environment, it creates an alternative motivation to really want to learn the material. The students who may not be motivated by a GPA or teacher approval might find it more interesting to be more competitive in a contest.

Mystery: Just as the hook is the initial spark of curiosity, the mystery component of creating the most effective lesson plan is keeping the sustained interest. Just as there is rising action in a book, students need to be continuously building to a greater understanding throughout the learning process. The teachers noted that when students are drawing inferences, connecting concepts, and predicting outcomes, that they are continuously asking questions. The key to unlocking the mystery component is for students to be so interested in the subject that they are continuously asking new questions and solving for those solutions, too.

Every teacher’s teaching style is different, every classroom has its own character, and every student views the material from a unique perspective. Similarly, any given lesson and subject will be taught and learned differently depending on those variables. The constant, though, ought to be based on the five principles outlined in Dr. Thompson’s presentation: if the students are more engaged, more learning takes place.

Perhaps this is why Dr. Michael Thompson is such a staunch proponent of sending kids to summer camps? Perhaps he will tell us that the most effective teaching strategies remain constant regardless of the learning environment— but summer camps are naturally structured to incorporate direct application of what is being taught. With that, it comes with an alternative setting to build teamwork and social skills, activities that require more movement more often, and various activities involving competition.

Counselors and teachers are the ones who provide the learning experience— and building lesson plans based on more effective learning will only make the teaching experience more compelling and impactful.

Considering the vast differences in the learning environments between school and summer camps, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the most effective camp counselors have similar approaches to teaching as the most effective teachers.