Most teachers work in education for the love of their students…not the love of planning lessons for hours each day. In fact, teachers average almost 20 hours of unpaid overtime each week, and much of it comes from grading, but also from planning engaging lessons. Lesson planning can look vastly different depending on your district, and admins’ expectations, ranging from 2-page lesson plans with specific criteria, to more of a one-sentence overview posted for students and parents. Regardless, the fact remains that teachers have to know what we are doing once 30 eager little faces are looking up at us expectantly. Here are some quick lesson planning hacks to save hours of time without sacrificing the quality of your lessons.

#1 Get real about how much time you spend lesson planning.

Do you even know how much of your week is devoted to planning? Do you sit down to lesson plan and realize an hour has gone by with little progress? By evaluating your own efficiency, you have a starting place to see how you can streamline your process. Keep a log for a few weeks, and then use the steps below.

#2 Create a personalized template.

No, I don’t mean the one your principal requires, but rather one that works for you and how you teach. A simple template might look like:

  • Bell ringer
  • Engaging video
  • Mini-lesson
  • Activity
  • Exit ticket

By following a format, you won’t lose time wondering what components go into each lesson, and can focus on the important stuff.

#3 Repurpose, don’t recreate, the wheel.

You know you taught this last year, and instead of reinventing an entire lesson, spice up yours from last year. The secret to this is keeping super organized files and virtual folders so you don’t waste all your newfound time searching for whatever you called that one worksheet from that one unit that one time.

#4 Beg, borrow, steal!

Somewhere someone brilliant has already created the lesson you want, or at least parts of it. Use your resources by first searching for lessons that are available online before inventing yours from scratch. For example, history teachers can check out the Stanford History Education Group, which offers robust and interesting ideas. Other resources such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest have ideas as well.

#5 Plan weekly overviews, not daily minute by minute lessons.

How many times have you planned out an entire week, only to realize that by Wednesday you’ve gone a whole different direction, or changed your plans? Instead of planning down to the 10-minute increment, create plans for the week as a whole. For example, we will show these videos, do these activities, and get through these chapters by Friday. This prevents redoing all of your planning halfway through each week.

#6 There’s no “I” in team.

If you are lucky enough to be on a teaching team you find supportive and enjoyable, use your resources to divide up the planning. While it’s tempting to do everything yourself and “your way,” delegating means just a fraction of the planning time for each person.

#7 Give the planning power back to the kids.

Most teacher evaluations and best practices promote student choice and voice in learning. What better way to save time and empower classroom leadership than to give students control of the plans. To keep this doable, break down the concepts they need to learn, and allow them to investigate the lessons and teach them to each other periodically. Or, have small groups create lessons for everyone.

#8 Use YouTube to your advantage.

Why are you planning long lectures and lessons when there’s probably a YouTube video your kids will love that teaches the same concept in a cool format in just a few minutes. Don’t fight against the YouTube generation, use it!

#9 Choose the optimal time to plan.

Is 4:00 on a Friday really the time you will be most effective, efficient, and creative with your lesson planning? Doubtful. Instead, be strategic about choosing times in which you have energy and feel the creative juices flowing, so you aren’t fighting an uphill battle that takes twice as long. You may find your hour of planning after school each day (totaling five hours) can be accomplished in just two hours if you choose a different time when you aren’t exhausted.

#10 Recalibrate the efficacy of your processes in a month.

After you’ve tried some of the above, take a new inventory of how much time you are spending lesson planning. If your time hasn’t improved, try a new hack. The process, and a combination of what works, is different for everyone.