Opening thoughts on why I think the 5 minute lesson plan is crap

Before I start this provocatively titled blog, I want to be clear that it is not personal. I am assured that the person most widely associated with the 5MLP didn’t invent the 5MLP, and I am not passing judgement on his practice.

The 5MLP seems to be everywhere. I’ve been shown it in at least three different schools, seen it presented as transformational at three different presentations. I’ve heard people say they achieved outstanding observations because of the 5MLP.

Due to its success, now there is the 5 minute everything. The 5 minute meeting, the 5 minute inset plan, the 5 minute marking plan. It’s becoming a brand.

It’s understandable. Its growth is from the mistaken idea that to teach a great lesson you have to spend hours planning and preparing resources. After marking, planning is the biggest use of teachers’ time, and we’ve been through a history of card sorts and other fireworks type lessons that have led to teachers being frankly exhausted. The idea that we need to plan for hours is obviously rubbish, and you don’t – and to its credit the 5MLP makes this clear. The 5MLP takes us through a number of steps to plan a decent lesson. I’ve even used it. But I think the 5MLP is like the other side of the stick.

The steps in the 5MLP are: Big Picture, Objectives, Engagement, Stickability, AFL, Key Words, Differentiation, then 4 activities or episodes.

The thing is, I think most of this is bollocks. I think it’s a version of the sort of thing that has been sold by Alistair Smith for years, but because it’s on one page encourages you to do what Alistair Smith used to promote, just more quickly.

On some of these terms: what is “engagement” by the way? I really think that is a bullshit word, but I’ll have to write a blog on that later. Similarly, “Stickability” – I guess that is “make sure your pupils know what you’ve taught” – similar to “engagement” I think. To my mind the way to get kids to remember is to practice what they’ve been taught.

AFL – don’t get me started. Someone said to me “kids should practice until they don’t get it wrong rather than until they’ve got it right once”. I agree. If you agree, you probably disagree with the way AFL is used in our schools. I’m certain that’s the way that the 5MLP suggests.

Key Words – OK. But a teacher who is sufficiently versed (educated, with subject knowledge) in their subject will use and promote these as standard and throughout.

Differentiation – this is a loaded term and is jargon. I’ll come back to this in a future blog.

Episodes – No! Fortunately, we’re now allowed to teach whole lessons as one episode. I think that an hour is a sufficiently short episode to be focussed on one activity or practice or concept or selection of knowledge. I hate the common misconception that kids are better off if they have four, five, fifteen different things to do. Sometimes there will be a couple of things to model or practice in a lesson, but why are we obsessed with episodes?

So my main problem is the prescribed process.

See I believe you can teach decent lessons with 5 minutes (or 1 minute) planning. In particular, with experience and deliberate practice, teachers will have planned for hours in the past and be able to deliver a lesson with very little formal planning. That’s because they have hours of studying the subject, studying and experiencing the misconceptions pupils make, and delivering in a manner that works. Effectively, there are hundreds or thousands of hours of hidden planning. And even with this experience, I think those teachers need to consider the misconceptions and what students will think about more than the process.

Effectively I think the 5MLP prioritises process over content.

I don’t think it is unique in this sense, but I think that planning should consider the content before the process.

If I pick up a primary school lesson, I can’t plan it in 5 minutes. I think the 5MLP suggests I can. And I couldn’t have planned my first lesson ever in the same way.

I also think sometimes you need to think about your lesson for a while. A teacher needs to consider how when you marked three kids didn’t understand a concept, and four others made the same mistake. A teacher needs to consider that when you teach kids are going to make common misconceptions, and via your subject knowledge plan to minimise and address these. A teacher needs to work out if there is sufficient practice so that kids will never get it wrong, and if necessary plan for future lessons to include recall, tests and practice, and a teacher needs to be explicitly aware that too much new information will cause the pupil to switch off and not be able to compute, while not enough will result in the pupil just answering from memory (not always a bad thing). Most importantly, I think that teachers need to consider what kids will be thinking about during the lesson, because you only have an hour, and hence pupils thinking about anything other than subject content is an opportunity lost.

And I think that if you weight each of the things in the 5MLP equally, teachers will rush to complete the plan, but they actually should have focussed on what kids will learn, for 1 minute planning, 5 minutes planning, or 30 minutes planning.

Ultimately, I think the 5MLP is as bollocks as all the other proformas produced by SMT and OFSTED. It constrains, when actually teachers who know their pupils’ subject knowledge (and should be held to account for this) can therefore focus on what it is those pupils need to know next.

I think saying “plan in 5 minutes” with a blank sheet of paper usually produces a better lesson than the 5MLP, or any other proforma.

A good lesson does usually take more than 5 minutes planning though, and where experienced teachers can bang lessons out in 5 minutes or at the doorhandle (and it’s only experienced teachers that tell me it is amazing), that’s because of the knowledge they’ve built up through years. The hidden hours, days, weeks and months of planning enable that 5 minutes.

If it was around when I was newly qualified, I think the 5MLP would have made me a worse teacher.

In writing the post, I’ve realised that my criticism is of any proforma for lesson planning that constrains and encourages us to think of planning as a bunch of hoops to jump through, rather than just the 5MLP.

Yes, reduce time planning. Don’t use a hoop-jumping proforma.

This post needs more detail but I was using the 5 minute blog plan so I’ve run out.

13 thoughts on “Opening thoughts on why I think the 5 minute lesson plan is crap

  1. What a negative and combative post! By all means constructively criticise and by all means open up debate and discussion, but positively and seeking alternative solutions. If you feel lessons should not be engaging then fine. If you don’t believe learning should stick then fine. If you think one hour lessons should all focus on one activity then fine. Don’t use the Five Minute Plan if it doesn’t work for you or your context. But there is no place for the abusive and derisive tone you have taken here in professional debate – you have put down a colleague without offering alternative solutions, and set a tone that is negative and destructive. Whatever qualities your arguments may or may not have are undermined by this alone.

    • Yes, I’m sorry you read it like that. To be honest, if the person you’re referring to takes it personally I’ll delete it. As I wrote it, I realised it was becoming more of a criticism of proformas full stop.

      • Can’t say fairer than that! I’ve found the 5MLP really helpful in some contexts and it helps me to crystallise my thoughts for some lessons. It’s a tool that I’m glad I have to hand to use as and when I need it. It’s not always appropriate – but what proforma is? I certainly agree that we don’t need a 5minplan for everything and that there is a law of diminishing returns in their proliferation. If anyone was prescribing that all lessons had to be planned in this format I’d be against that, but nobody is – are they?
        Thanks for responding – much appreciated – and I look forward to the subsequent blogs where you promise to explore the issues in more depth.

  2. Brilliant ending. Also, clarifies to me why I could never bring myself to use it. Having said that, 5Min plans for things I am new to, I like, if only to get me started on a structure…. That I then deviate from once I have something concrete to lean on.

    • 5 Min Plans for something new can be really beneficial. Take the key words argument above: any new teacher might not necessarily know the specific key words that are vital to that lessons and that are the most ‘examinable’ and this could help. The same applies throughout, provided you agree that these are the key themes that ought to be explored in a lesson. If you don’t think they are, adapt it or don’t use it. Simple really!

  3. I agree with you entirely!
    Far too over-used and too many other variations. I’ve promised myself not to produce anymore.
    Agree; thinking/planning takes much more than 5 minutes. Take away 5 minutes in ‘the title’ and what are you left with? Another proforma!
    The 5 min plan is 5+ years old. So, it is very out of date now with current teaching pedagogy. To say it is bollocks, well, I’d disagree; but to argue that it is hoop-jumping, I’d happily agree. The layout helps school leaders use a framework and reduce teacher red-tape.
    Silly acronym?. Perhaps! But out system is bombarded with them.
    I don’t even use it myself and I hate proformas! However, I’d still argue that it is visually and succinctly designed better than ANY other school lesson plan proforma!
    You know who I am and I can handle critique, so do drop me a line. Thanks. Ross.

  4. I think the key thing to remember, whatever proforma you use, is that planning is a thinking process. It is not a writing process. If the proforma is a scaffold to prompt thinking then great! If not and it simply becomes a box filling exercise which doesnt equate to better learning outcomes for children then it is pointless paperwork.

  5. Hi John,

    Read through the post and thought about whether to reply or not – I’ve co-authored a series of #5MinPlans with Ross so need you to know I’m not exactly an unbiased commentator. I wonder whether on reflection the content of what you are saying has rather been lost with some of the more extreme language you’ve used. It’s good to see that Ross has commented as it would be easy to take offence at some of your comments.
    I tend to view the #5MinPlans, including the one on lesson planning, a bit like I view theories – they will all probably be proved wrong or incomplete at some point but some are more useful than others, that is, more useful to some people and more useful at some time.

    They provide a structure for people into which they need to pour their growing understanding and experience of issues. For example, stickability is a key concept linked to Teacher Clarity (Hattie – ranked 8th, d=0.75) – associated with the key learning a teacher expects and expresses through learning intentions and success criteria. This is useful for teachers as they develop their classroom practice and then it becomes second nature. We all carry schema around about planning lessons, the great thing about the #5MinLessonPlan and other #5MinPlans is that it makes a particular schema explicit for others to think about, try and then continue to use or reject. I would suggest it has been very helpful rather than perfect.


    • That’s an interesting perspective, and one that has some plausibility. However, I think that this particular schema implies that all the different sections carry equal weight. As I suggest in my post, I don’t think they do – I think subject knowledge and marking are the two essential ingredients to get right.

      I take the point on stickability – I think the fact that this is a point that Ross has had to patiently explain is also a valid one.

      The only think I like about the 5MLP is that it gives permission to spend a short amount of time planning lessons. It disturbs me though, to find teachers saying they plan all their lessons in this time. I can’t imagine this is effective. And as you say “continue to use or reject”, but that’s not even implicit in the promotion of it.

      On the schema, I also agree that we develop our own schema for planning lessons, but I don’t think the 5MLP helps that. I think it undermines it. Constant reflection, coaching and feedback should adjust our schema – and do – but the promotion of a proforma can curtail this, and I’d argue the 5MLP is actually more constraining than most.

      There was no offence meant. I appreciated Ross’ comment as I was wary of taking offence. I also appreciate yours.

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