Introduction

So you want to write a lesson plan? Awesome! This page provides some tips, hints, and recommendations on how to do it according to best practices of instructional design.

Choosing a topic

First please view our Project Status Spreadsheet on Google Docs to see the most up-to-date list of lesson plans and their status. Choose the one which is currently unassigned, and put dibs on it by filling in:

  • In Progress as Status
  • Current Owner – your name
  • Your Slack login account (Set one up if you don’t have a Slack account) as Username
  • StartedYes
  • And an approximate Date to Complete in MM/DD/YYYY format. This date is an estimate, not a contract, and you can modify it later on. It is mainly used for the team to track lesson plans which are forgotten and need reassignment.
  • Come to the weekly meeting in #training and let us know which lesson you chose!

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Note: If you’re not 100% percent sure what exactly should be covered in a certain lesson plan or if you have an idea to wrote a lesson plan on something which is not in the list, feel free to discuss it in #training Slack channel on wordpress.slack.com.

Stages of writing a lesson plan

The methodology for writing a tutorial/lesson plan we will describe here is loosely based on ADDIE methodology, which describes building an effective training material in five phases: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Basically, the idea is as follows:

  1. You start with analyzing the needs and requirements for the materials to be created.
  2. Then you design the structure your lesson plan will have and what kind of activities will be included.
  3. Then you write the texts and create the quiz questions
  4. Hit publish button 🙂
  5. Another team member copyedits the lesson plan and provides feedback.

Keep reading to take a look at each stage in more detail.

Analysis

Analysis stage starts with researching the topic. The decisions you make at this point shape your learning needs, instructional delivery, and design. This is a starting point for your lesson plan, but you also can go back to it and amend it if needed later. There are several parts that are important at the analysis stage.

Research the topic

This is especially important if you’re not very familiar with the topic already. Open your favorite search engine and search for the topic you are writing about. You’re likely to find some codex articles, existing tutorials, and ideas, maybe some support threads that can be handy to understand what things people struggle with related to the topic. Take note of the essential things you’ll need to cover, what you can do to make your lesson plan be more valuable for a teacher than the existing information, make note of what materials you’ll want to refer to in your tutorial.

However, if you’re an expert on the topic you can postpone this step to avoid being influenced by someone else’s ideas and do it after you’ve written your own outline to see if you’ve missed something.

Answer the questions

Think about the following questions in order to decide what are the requirements and needs your tutorial needs to adhere.

  • What does your audience need to learn? What should they already know in order to start learning about the topic?
  • How can we evaluate whether the learning objective (your answer to #1) was reached?
  • Is there a good scenario that students could follow to reach the learning objective? What equipment or set-up do they need? (i.e. self-hosted WordPress site, a specific theme or plugin installed, etc)
  • Is there something that we absolutely should or definitely don’t want to cover?

Start the lesson plan

Based on the results of this stage you should attempt to start filling in some of the sections of Anatomy of a lesson:

  • Assets for linked files/materials the instructor needs to teach the lesson plan. Note whether the students will require a WordPress installation, a specific theme (i.e. Twenty Sixteen theme), some files or software.
  • For the Prerequisite Skills list any skills or topics the students should be familiar with to be able to master the lesson. For example, if your lesson is about a certain plugin, you may want to add “Installing and activating plugins”  to the Prerequisite Skills and add a link to that lesson.
  • Take a look at the Prerequisite Skills and Assets sections you’ve just written and think what Screening Questions the instructor might ask to make sure everyone is prepared. (A good example: Are you familiar with X? or Have you had experience doing Y?)
  • Teacher Notes can include some recommendations on what students should do to prepare for the session, how the screening questions should be answered, whether it’s imperative to use a specific theme, approximate timing of the section, a hint on how advanced and thorough your tutorial is and any helpful information for instructors.
  • Learning Objectives should come from the actual learning outcomes you want for your students. It often helps to start with some theoretical aspects (i.e. “Students will be able to discuss X and list its benefits for a WordPress website”) and then add practical aspects (i.e “Students will be able to use X to absolutely Xify a standalone website”). See Bloom’s Taxonomy of Action Verbs (PDF) as a reference for verbs you should use for concrete deliverables.
  • Description paraphrases the learning objectives in a more friendly way so that this text could be copied for a lesson description and used to announce it. When learners read it, they should understand what to expect, what they will have learned after completing the lesson, whether it suits them, and whether they want to participate.
  • Additional resources: (optional) should include 1-3 resources related to the lesson which would slightly extend the lesson or sometimes repeat the lesson content in a different way. The idea here is that these links will help both trainers and students to better digest the content of the lesson through some amount of repetition, but also give them some resources to learn more on the topic.

Design

At this step, you will mostly work with the Hands-On Walkthrough section – it’s time to decide on the structure the lesson will follow. Organizing the materials and creating a course outline from them is a crucial step – we have to make sure the lesson content is organised logically, the chunks of information are easily digestible and a learner will be able to get a solid understanding of the subject matter when progressing through the material as suggested. Here are some ideas on how to reach that:

  1. If some hands-on actions are going to be performed, it might be helpful to frame them as a scenario/use case. That makes it easier for a reader and also helps the reader to figure out how the lesson is relatable to their own projects. You may add a paragraph that will describe a scenario in the beginning of the section. An example of a scenario may feature an imaginary client called YayWP! that has certain needs that students will cover by performing the actions described further on in the lesson plan.
  2. First compose the outline: break the process into logical steps and use it as headers later on. That makes the resulting lesson more visually appealing and increases its readability.
  3. Generally it makes sense to start with describing concepts used and the possible benefits of using them for the learner. I.e if you are writing about concept X, you may start with “What is X and why it’s important”, further on moving to ways X can be dealt with and a demonstration on how to use X for your website.
  4. Control your scope: make sure it isn’t too extensive. It will benefit both you and the students; you will be able to devote as much time and energy as you can into making sure the not-that-big chunk you’ve chosen to cover is coherent & engaging and the students will have a deep dive on a single topic. An in-depth lesson can be better than a fast overview of several topics or even an extensive and details-heavy description of several topics.

Development

Write the script

At this point, it’s time to compose the text of the Hands-on Walkthrough section and add screenshots, if required.

Tip: Make sure you’ve read the Style Guide before starting writing – plenty of helpful information on how to format your text there. 

Here are some points on writing the script for the instructor to follow during in-class sessions.

  1. It’s important to avoid situations where there are plenty of details on how to do something and little to no explanation about why do we do it. After the learner is done with the tutorial it’s important for them to apply the knowledge they gained to the projects they will be working on, so explanations are crucial. And sometimes it’s better to have too much explanation than having too little, especially for low-tier lesson plans targeted for newbies. For example, if you want them to modify the theme’s style.css, remember not everyone is able to locate it by themselves. Make sure you don’t assume your learner knows as much as you do (otherwise, why would they be interested in learning this specific lesson?).
  2. Make sure there is a Conclusion to your Hands-On Walkthrough. End with a short recap of what the lesson was about, making sure to highlight the main points again, so that everyone would understand what was the most important and what should be memorized.
  3. If you make some theoretical points, it’s good to have an example illustrating them.
  4. Try to be concise and strive for readability. Break up sentences that are too long and avoid jargon or words that are too complex.
  5. If you include code snippets, make sure it’s not a screenshot and people can actually copy it.
  6. If you have a description of the process for the students to follow, number the steps. It makes it harder to lose track of what’s going on and also provides a reference to the stage of the process.
  7. The questions people may have when dealing with the topic can make great subheadings and generally make your material more relatable for the learners.  Use them and try to answer them explicitly.
  8. Often numbered or bullet lists are easier to read than a long paragraph listing items in a single line.

Screenshot the process

If you have a process you want the instructor to demonstrate to the students, or students to do on their own, absolutely include screenshots. This is best done at the same time as you write the process description so you can make sure the screenshots and the text correlate.

Tip: You’ll find it’s convenient to use a dedicated screenshot tool for your screenshots, such as Awesome Screenshot.

It is best to get your screenshots from a clean install to make sure there’s no additional menu items, plugins, or anything that might confuse the students. Otherwise you may want to include a note that their experience is likely to be different from what is seen in the screenshot. It’s also good to highlight the areas of the screenshot you want the learner to click/pay attention to.

What if for some reason you can’t get a required screenshot (i.e. your specific settings make it impossible for some feature to work, but others are not really likely to face that, and you can’t eliminate the error)? There are several ways to handle that: you may ask some one else from the training team to take it for you, photoshop the one you have (while being really careful with it) or describe what should be on a this screenshot, while not including it in the demo.

Add some exercises for students to practice on

If you had some real hands-on action performed and there is some way for students to do it again in a slightly different way (i.e. add another product to a e-commerce shop with some different settings you mentioned in the lesson plan), feel free to add this to Exercises section. If your lesson was purely theoretical, you might want to have a discussion in pairs/groups as an exercise, or get rid of this section if you feel like there’s nothing to practice.

Timing

As the trainers are preparing for a lesson it’s important for them to know how much time do they need to allot. Unfortunately this is something which can be best estimated only when actually conducting a lesson. If you have had some teaching experience, please include how much time you think a lesson based on this plan should take to the Teacher notes section of the plan.

Questions

After all the rest is ready, it’s time to create the Quiz section. It’s the last, but definitely not the least part of the lesson plan because it actually helps to increase the efficiency of the material by:

  • Aiding retention by making the learners practice effortful retrieval of the material they just went through when answering the quiz questions
  • Accenting the points we consider being the most important by asking questions based on them
  • Providing the learners with an opportunity to self-check their comprehension of the material

There are some rules worth considering when writing questions, but first let’s look at the anatomy of a quiz question:

Which of the following describes a WooCommerce variable product? (question stem)

  1. A set of variations on a product, with a random option chosen (distractor)
  2. A product listed and described at a website but sold from a third-party website (distractor)
  3. A product that doesn’t require shipping (distractor)
  4. A set of variations on a product, with control over prices, stock, image, etc (correct answer)

Answer: 4. A set of variations on a product, with control over prices, stock, image, etc

Starting with the rules relating to the question stem:

  • Focus the questions solely on the material covered in the lesson plan. The goal here is to help the learners retain key material and assess how well they mastered it, not to make them feel stupid or trick them.
  • Try to keep the wording clean and simple. It’s annoying for the reader to have to read the question several times just to understand what’s being asked.
  • Follow the learning objective with your questions. It’s important to ask that people know exact answers only for the questions they absolutely need to know according to the goal we have in the corresponding lesson. Otherwise, it’s better when they are encouraged to think.

Now, let’s discuss writing distractors:

  • Try to keep the options about the same length, or at least do not let the correct answer to be the only “long” option
  • Be careful with ‘all of the above’ and ‘none of the above’. That can be confusing. If a question that has multiple correct answers is required, a multiple-response question is a better option.
  • The distractors must be plausible. If a learner can choose the correct answer right away just because none of the other options make any sense, that will not help the learning process much.

Some of these rules are harder to follow than others, but it’s still important to try :).

Implementation

At this point – well done! You’re almost done with the lesson plan, which is great. Reread the text again, while paying attention to:

  • Internal logic, i.e whether learning objectives match what the students actually learn, whether the description is accurate, etc
  • Phrasing and readability
  • Typos and screenshot accuracy

Now, publish your page :). And don’t forget to let everyone know about your accomplishments! Post the name of the lesson plan you’re done with and the link to it to the Slack channel at #training on wordpress.slack.com.

Evaluation

After the team is notified that your lesson plan is all ready, a copyeditor will be assigned. The copy editing process includes editing for grammar usage, style and lesson content. A copyeditor may get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your lesson plan.

If everything is good, your lesson plan’s status will change to “ready for testing”. Which means that people will be encouraged to use it in a real classroom. At some point, these instructors may also leave feedback on the lesson plan, noting its strengths and maybe some points for improvement.

Summary

We went through the process of explaining how one might approach writing a lesson plan for WordPress Training. After you’ve chosen a topic, the main stages of this process are:

  1. Analyzing the needs and requirements for the materials to be created
  2. Design lesson outline
  3. Write the script and quiz questions, insert screenshots and images
  4. Reread and publish the result
  5. Get feedback from the team and implement it

Remember the importance of scenarios and explanations behind the actual instructions.

Additionally, there’s something else to keep in mind when working on a lesson plan:

  • Trying is awesome! Don’t hesitate to try if you haven’t had a lot of experience in composing tutorials, or even if you’re somewhat new to WordPress. You’ll be able to learn something yourself, and educate others, which is very rewarding!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Or to ask people to check your outline, or to clarify something. Just try the #training Slack channel on wordpress.slack.com – we are ready and eager to help.
  • If you are unable to continue working on the plan, please let us know and update the Project Status Spreadsheet on Google Docs so that we know it’s up for grabs.