5 Reasons Lesson Plans Are Totally Overrated

Less really can be more.

5 Reasons Lesson Plans Are Totally Overrated

Colleges of education spend countless hours teaching future educators how to craft perfect lesson plans. Essential questions must begin with “how” and “why” to make sure students demonstrate knowledge at the appropriate depth. Bell-ringer activities must be authentic and get students working. Agendas must be written on the board and meticulously follow the introduction-instruction-student work-closing format. They must also match readily accessible lesson plans in daily, weekly, or monthly formats for the administrator to evaluate effectiveness and check how well we align with our peers. And don’t you dare forget the standard!

It leads one to wonder if all of this intricate, detailed-to-the-minute lesson planning does what it is supposed to: make us better teachers through preparation. In some ways, preparation is everything, so lesson planning matters. However, in my opinion, super detailed lesson plans are simply overrated, and here’s why. 

Planning down to the minute doesn’t work.

The 10-question worksheet you budgeted 30 minutes to complete has gone beyond the five-minute cushion. Do you stop students from working because your lesson plan says time is up? Alternately, what if they finish it in just 10 minutes? Now you have to decide if students get 20 minutes of free time, if you’re going to give them a second worksheet, or if you’re just going to move on with your lesson.

If you move on, then you might have time left over at the end. What then? We’ve all been there as teachers, and sometimes you just have to improvise. I like to try to have a list of activities that I can use in times like these instead of using a plan that requires a stopwatch.  

Every class is different.

The introduction that took 15 minutes with your first period takes five minutes with your fourth period. Planning exactly what you are going to teach to each class each day and trying to stick to it just doesn’t work.


It only adds stress for the students who need to ask more (or fewer) questions. It also causes you stress when things just don’t go according to plan. Having a looser unit plan that allows for acceleration or slowing down creates more authentic learning experiences.

Every day is different.

It’s raining, so “recess” was indoors today. Not good. Or maybe you had an assembly, a pep rally, or a fire drill that really threw off the schedule.

In addition, sometimes students just aren’t in that learning space. Something significant might be going on outside of school, and students are processing that.

The best-written plans sometimes just don’t apply. Overly detailed lesson plans are wasted work when teachers have to throw them away. A longer, more general plan with checkpoints along the way allows for those days when everything goes awry. Then you don’t have the stress of hitting each little point.

We write them for the wrong audience.

Minute-by-minute lesson plans are often a dog and pony show for the powers that be (ahem, administrators). We try to fit our ideas into rigid formats to which we teachers rarely refer.

When was the last time you had to refer to a lesson plan to know what resources you planned to use and how you planned to assess? Teachers should write their plans for practical use, not because an outside observer wants to check a box or two.

They waste time that could be better spent elsewhere. 

Creating lesson plans in specific formats takes hours upon hours. We can spend our time more wisely by crafting learning experiences that get students thinking, learning, and doing. We could also work on providing great feedback and locating fantastic resources.

Finally, we could get around to integrating technology. All of these activities impact teaching more positively than listing potential differentiation strategies.

The more experience we teachers have, the more we deviate from written lesson plans to meet the social, emotional, and academic, needs of our students. Curriculum maps, learning experiences, lists of activities, and aligned assessments provide enough framework for effective teachers. Detailed lesson plans are overkill.

However, when you’re absent, make sure you leave detailed lesson plans for substitute teachers. Give them every single detail and a minute-by-minute guide to follow. If not, this could be the result:

What are your thoughts on lesson plans? We’d love to hear about them in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, when it’s okay to ditch your lesson plans. 

5 Reasons Lesson Plans Are Totally Overrated