Should Teachers Plan Lessons For Online Classes?

The COVID-19 fallout has forced widespread school closures. As of today, there are over 124,000 school closures affecting at least 55.1 million students. With schools closed and more and more people are staying at home, online learning seems to be growing significantly. 

Not everyone has a lot of experience in online teaching. According to a 2017 survey by Educause, only 9 percent of educators “prefer to teach in a completely online environment.” But because of the pandemic, online teaching has become the new normal. 

Yet, most teachers do not know how to teach online or how to get better at it. If you’re a teacher, you may be wondering: should teachers plan lessons for online classes as they would in a bricks-and-mortar classroom? 

The answer is yes. The purpose of this guide is to discuss why it is important to plan lessons for your online classes. We will also talk about the challenges of creating lesson plans and how you can deal with them. 

Table of Contents

The advantages of planning lessons for online classes

Creating lesson plans has a lot of benefits to offer whether it is for online classes or not. Lesson plans, in general, will help you visualize your teaching methods and their outcomes. Without it, you may slow down the academic success of your students. 

Going to a classroom without a lesson plan is harmful to both you and your students. You’re likely to give out mediocre discussions, lecture irrelevant topics, or even puzzle the minds of your students. And worse, your unpreparedness may complicate simple topics.

Online teaching, however, has unique challenges, which make lesson plans even more crucial. 

Planning lessons let you identify effective teaching methods and interaction patterns

Now that you’re teaching through videoconferencing apps, your pedagogies should now be inlined with your technology and your virtual environment. 

Lesson planning lets you identify effective teaching methods that best fit your students.

It can be quite a challenge, especially if your classes are intended to be interactive and engaging. Take music lessons for example. If you intend your students to perform, lag, echoing, and feedback will make it difficult to play over Zoom.

You should be able to identify such problems when creating a lesson plan for your online class. 

Just like in a classroom, you should prepare explanation methods for your students to understand your lessons easily. But the approach can be a bit different. You can give a lecture, yes; but we recommend that you maximize interaction in your virtual classroom. 

To keep your students engaged (and not snoozing behind their computers), you can set polls and quiz questions. Many videoconferencing tools have an integrating polling feature. Alternatively, you can easily share a weblink to a poll. 

You can also use the chat function in your online classroom. Use it as a teaching aid or to message a struggling student via a private chat. 

Use the whiteboard tool to write, draw, or illustrate your points. 

Planning your lessons for your online class is essential for creating tasks and identifying interaction patterns. 

You can choose which content needs to be chunked into smaller pieces

Without a lesson plan, you might get too overwhelmed with your lesson and end up talking too much. Learning online can be more taxing both intellectually and physically than learning in a face-to-face classroom. 

Planning your lesson ahead of time allows you to review your content and cut long text passages into smaller chunks. You can also watch the videos you plan to present and trim them down to create intervals and give students time to process the information. 

With lessons planned ahead of time, you can deliver your lesson within the given time frame

Because the online teaching format is still new to a majority of teachers, it is common that educators have taught face to face classes before they start teaching online. Perhaps, that could be your case. 

Face to face courses and online courses differ significantly in the process of planning and delivery. And several of these differences are time-related. 

In a face-to-face format, you choose to attend to the big picture of the course and introduce details as the class goes on. In online teaching, however, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the course management system (if your school requires you to have one). You should also develop most of the materials beforehand because technology-related materials can be very time-consuming to produce. 

When presenting information in a face to face course, your method is primarily verbal and sequential. Because presentations have time restraints, you present the information period by period. 

On the other hand, in an online course, the information is often text-based and non-sequential. That means you can upload documents, papers, or course manuals, and your students can access particular modules at a time that is convenient to them, which varies from one student to another. 

When it comes to class interactions, face-to-face classes are usually direct, verbal, synchronous, and typical. Students can ask questions directly and receive answers immediately. And because there is personal contact with the students, you can easily evaluate your student’s level of understanding. 

In an online classroom, however, you may not be able to see your students. The interaction can be hard to follow. There could be a delay in giving and receiving feedback. 

Time management

Lesson planning allows you to set a certain amount of time to discuss your topics. You’ll be able to make discussions short and concise, depending on the complexity of the topic and your students’ level of understanding. 

When you have additional time saved, you can use it to give time to your students that require extra help. 

To keep discussions short, exciting, and engaging, you can simplify complex topics by creating a presentation with a meaningful title, headlines, and subheads. Highlight keywords, phrases, and links. Use bullets or numbers when listing important details. 

Organize information

When students are confused and are lost, you may end up spending more time on one topic than you should. Lesson plans can help you organize information so they are easy to follow.

Managing your time in online teaching can be an enormous challenge, but thanks to lesson plans, you can still make discussions jampacked with key information, interaction, and engagement while still having extra time to check on students that require additional attention and help. 

You will be able to guide your students effectively

Your lesson plan does not only tell you what to discuss in a certain time but also ensure that the learning goals you’ve set for your learners are met in the allowed time. 

Lesson planning lets you dedicate time primarily for giving guidance to struggling students

Remember, part of making a lesson plan is understanding who you are going to educate. Hence, you should anticipate various learning styles, be it tactile, auditory, visual, or a combination of the three. 

You can tailor your lesson plan in a way that you can incorporate different learning styles through independent or group exercises. This is especially helpful if you know the group dynamics of your students. 

You may choose activities that can be completed independently, in pairs, or in groups. 

Planning your lesson also allows you to set learning objectives that will describe what your learners will be able to do or accomplish upon completing a course or class. The statements must be short and straightforward. It is your role to help your learners understand how they are going to benefit from your lesson and how they can apply your teachings in a practical way. 

Acquire confidence in your teaching

Josh Wang Li-Yi, a Research Scientist at the National Institute of Education said, “A confident teacher would have a positive impact on his or her student’s achievement, attitude, affective and even socio-emotional growth.”

Yes, there’s no question of how confident teachers make for confident learners. 

There are a lot of things that could help boost your confidence as a teacher, one of which is being prepared. 

Lesson planning enables you to anticipate the challenges of your online class, ensuring you are ready for lesson observations, as well as situations that could potentially arise. And when you have these things set in mind, you will know how to deal with them. 

Moreover, creating lesson plans gives you time to reflect on your teaching methods and practices and pull out your strengths. 

Reflecting on the positives does help to overcome your negative feelings and build a sense of self-worth, which then leads to confidence. 

Lesson plans help you pick digital tools to use in your lesson

Not everyone is experienced in online teaching, and perhaps this is only the time that you’re investing in it. 

There are a plethora of digital tools that you can use in your online lessons. And while this is a good thing, it makes picking the best ones a bit of a challenge. 

However, choosing the digital tools to use shouldn’t be too hard if you sort your options. These are some factors to consider when picking a digital tool:

  • The age group of your students
  • Their level of understanding
  • Accessibility
  • Ease of use of the tool

Our team at All Digital School is committed to helping teachers like you find resources for your online teaching. You can sort online resources by category, subject, and accessibility. Navigating our online resources is simple and straightforward. You can even filter freemium resources from paid ones. 

Having the right digital tools to use in your online classroom can help improve your teaching strategies and can even boost your learners’ engagement and interaction. 

For example, when teaching history, how could virtual field trips enhance your students’ learning

Lesson planning does allow you to spend time to carefully go over the online resources and pick the ones that your class can benefit from. 

Lesson plans make you an effective teacher

Creating a lesson plan is an active process that allows you to line your knowledge with your students, the curriculum, and the teaching context. And with that, you become an effective teacher. 

You see, when you plan your lessons, you produce more unified lessons. It gives you the opportunity to think deeply about your:

  • Lesson objectives, 
  • The types of (online) activities that can meet these objectives, 
  • The sequence of your chosen activities, 
  • The materials/resources you needed, 
  • How long the activities might take, and 
  • How your students should be grouped (and how you can do it in a virtual setting). 

Throughout the course of lesson planning, you can reflect on the link between one activity and the next, the relevance of your current topic from any past or future lessons, and the coherence of learning activities and assessment practices. 

Effective teachers create connections explicit to students

As a teacher who considered these connections, you can create connections explicit to your learners, and as a result, your lessons become more meaningful to them. 

An effective teacher also evaluates their own knowledge with regard to what is to be taught. For instance, say you have to explain a complex grammatical structure and you have a bit of doubt about the rules. You would become aware of this during your lesson planning and then find ways to acquire the necessary information. 

As you can see, lesson planning does give you the opportunity to evaluate your own knowledge. You’ll get to analyze what needs to be done, how, and when. And because you anticipate these things, you become more prepared and confident. 

Your lesson plans can be useful for other people, too

You have a class that will start in 10 minutes, but your internet connection keeps dropping and your computer lags. That’s when substitute teachers come to the rescue. 

Substitute teachers appreciate it when they receive a detailed lesson plan to follow. And because you know your substitute teacher is following the plan, you’ll gain confidence that the class time is being used productively in your absence. 

Furthermore, lesson plans also work as documents when the administrators want to know what is occurring in the classroom. If, for example, a supervisor wants to know the lessons that had taken place one week ago, you can refer him or her to your lesson plan for that day. 

Lesson plans serve as your portfolio

If you think lesson plans are merely for class preparations, then you’re absolutely wrong. Your lesson plans for online teaching can serve as evidence of your professional performance. 

Teachers are oftentimes asked to include lesson plans as part of their portfolio to support their annual performance evaluation. And teachers who seek a new job might be asked to submit lesson plans as part of their application so that employers can get a sense of their teaching style and organizational skills. 

With your lesson plan for online teaching, you can show evaluators (or even future employers) that you’re an effective teacher both in face-to-face format and in an online setting.

You can reuse your lesson plans in the future

Making a lesson plan takes an enormous amount of time. It can be tiring both mentally and physically. Yet, keep in mind that lesson plans aren’t a one-time thing. You can reuse them again, in whole or in part, in the coming months or years. 

Many teachers keep files of the lessons they have already taught, which they can easily draw on to facilitate lesson planning for their current classes. 

Tl;dr – lesson plans can help save you time later. 

The challenges of creating lesson plans for online classes (and how to beat them)

Lesson planning does not come with many disadvantages. It is an essential part of a teacher’s journey and provides nothing but good results. But there are, of course, a few challenges that can make lesson planning rather difficult. 

We listed the challenges of lesson planning and solutions to beat them. 


Your teaching time does not end when you leave your videoconference class or when you shut the computer down. 

A survey from the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average American school day is only six and a half hours long. But as the school day ends, teachers still have a lot of prepping to do. 

Lesson planning can be really tiring and time-consuming.

And now that classes are transitioned online, teachers now face unique challenges, including using and troubleshooting videoconferencing apps, creating visuals and presentations and learning how to show them through shared screen features, evaluating students in a virtual classroom setting, to name a few. 

What you can do

To make lesson planning less time consuming, we recommend using online lesson plan makers to scaffold your next class easily. You can find free and paid online lesson plan makers by navigating through our resources directory. 

We also recommend taking online teaching courses to get insights on how you can create lesson plans, conduct classes, and assess your students in timely and organized ways. There are also online courses, webinars, and guides to teach you the technical know-how’s of using different tools, videoconferencing apps included. 

Related: The Ultimate Digital Tools You Need to Teach Your Class Remotely

Needed teaching materials not available

Teachers need materials to make online classes more fun, engaging, and truly productive. When you have the things you need to illustrate, perform, or demonstrate a certain topic, you create a lesson explicit to your learners, and that’s crucial if you want them to achieve your learning objectives. 

The availability of instructional materials can be tricky depending on the subject you’re teaching. For example, teachers of geography in secondary schools may find it difficult to find materials to use in an online classroom.

According to research conducted by Keshav Raj Dhakal of the Department of Geography Education, out of 174 students from various community schools, about 65 percent of them said that printed materials were available in their classrooms and the other 35 percent responded contrary. 

The research implies that printed materials (which include newspapers, books, magazines, teacher guides, dictionaries, etc. about geography) are mostly available in their school. 

In the same research, about 78 percent of the students said that graphic materials were available in their school, while the other 22 percent said that the materials were not available in their schools. 

This is just one example. There could be thousands of teachers struggling with the availability of materials for their online classes. 

What you can do

Are there teaching materials you need but you can’t seem to find them? Trust us, with the rising popularity of online teaching, it’s nearly impossible not to find whatever you need on the internet. 

The internet is now bombarded with resources that you can use for your online class. From virtual tours, audiobooks, instrument simulations, to draw boards, you can always find the materials you need. 

All Digital School is committed to helping educators get the materials they need so they can teach effectively albeit the online setting. Use our resources directory to find tools, instructional materials, and videos you need. 

You can also ask other teachers from different parts of the world about the materials they use to conduct their classes. Join our growing community to ask questions or provide aid to other struggling educators or parents.

Overcomplicating things

In lesson planning, your goal is to make lectures short, simple, and easy to follow. But because of your efforts to simplify your teachings, you may end up overcomplicating things. And the worst part, you may go to this path without you noticing it. 

You may find yourself perpetually chasing shiny objects: that is, new and exciting trends to transform your teaching. You don’t want to miss out, and you sure do not want to be stuck in the dark ages when everyone around you is innovating. 

What you can do

Instead of spending excessive time figuring out what you could be doing, focus on what you are already doing, especially if what you are doing is working well for you and your learners. Spend your time and energy in more important things, and look into what you should be prioritizing. 

When you find an activity or strategy that works, you can repeat them over and over. If lesson planning takes too much time, you can list down four to five strategies (or activities) which you know are effective for your learners, then add more slowly over time. 

More tips for conducting online classes

Lesson planning is a crucial part of your teaching journey, be it in a face to face environment or virtual classroom. It serves a lot of benefits for you and your students. And although there are some challenges in lesson planning, there are actionable things you can do to still succeed. 

Here are some more tips that you might need for your online classes:

Keep it simple

Design remote learning experiences that convey very clear instructions and utilize only one or two resources. We also recommend providing your students with resources like PDFs that your learners can always access. 

Prioritize student-driven assignments

What makes distance learning challenging is that you cannot correct mistakes on the fly or immediately pivot when your learners are disengaged or distracted. How can you ensure efficiency in your online class?

Create longer and student-driven assignments and tasks. That way, you’ll have more time to plan your future units (and also get your learners off the computer). Build long-term projects where your learners have autonomy and a clear set of instructions and deadlines to be met. 

If possible, give students opportunities to discuss what they are learning with their families. It’s also good to add an element of student choice to build engagement. 

Interact with your students

While everyone is on lockdown, your students will miss human connections that are cultivated in your classroom. The brief interactions with them in the hallways before and after class are irreplaceable. While focusing your online class on learning assignments and videos, you should not forget to personally check in with your students. 

You can create touchpoints through emails, phone calls, video messages, or comments on shared documents. When you do this, your students will know that you’re invested in them and that you care about them. 

Connect with other teachers, and help them plan their online classes

Did this article help you with lesson planning for your online class? There are thousands of teachers out there who are still figuring out how they can ace their online classes. We encourage you to connect with other educators and extend your help by giving out some tips and/or advice about how they can become a topnotch online teacher. 

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