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Avoid 'death by slides' with five lesson plan reasons

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
It's a common fear to give instruction before a group, but experts at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center said recently that if you put presentation slides aside, and take time to plan, you can write lessons that feel comfortable and make class less punishing.

"Just relying on PowerPoint is not an effective way to give a lesson," said Tammie Smeltzer, professional continuing education manager for the Air National Guard. "You will skip key points and get off track, not to mention, you pass on those vague slides to the next guy."

First, PCE instructors here, who teach hundreds annually, tell service members who give regular lessons to take an instructor course. The military offers many programs that vary in the qualifications they provide.

The training center offers a basic, two-week Instructor Certification Program for Airmen, which is popular with aircrew flight equipment personnel, firefighters, security forces, equal opportunity managers and others.

The instructors offered these five reasons for developing a lesson plan:

1. You hit your objective

You may know what you want to say, but a written objective ensures that you cover the critical topics you want students to walk away with, despite off-topic discussion or questions.

"The biggest mistake many make is that they believe they can shoot from the hip because they know their topic so well," said Smeltzer.

Ask yourself, "What is it that I want students to remember?" Write it out, like this: The objective of this lesson is for each student to comprehend the benefits of a zombie preparedness plan.

2. You have a strategy

Like any good military operation, you need a strategy. Instructors use a strategy statement, which describes what they're talking about, why they selected their main points, and how they intend to present each main point.

If you're the type who never reads the assembly instructions or manual, this is the moment you really need to follow the directions, said Smeltzer.

"It's your game plan," said Smeltzer. "It describes how all the pieces are going to connect."

3. You know exactly what to say

There's few other moments as awkward as being tongue-tied before a full classroom. Especially when your boss and your subordinates are watching.

How will you start your lesson? Do you have an introduction? Can you describe why your lesson is important? What will you say in your overview or during your main points? What will you say to transition between them?

Again, instructors said that your expert knowledge of a topic here will not guarantee a good lesson. You increase the odds for success when you write out what to say in the classroom, word for word.

You can keep the lesson plan in your hand or atop a podium, since reading from slides turns your back to the class and weakens interaction and timing, said Smeltzer.

There's also a gamble to consider when relying solely on overhead projectors and computers. If there's a system outage, it might happen during your class.

Smeltzer said that using visual aids like PowerPoint to compliment your lesson is a good idea, but take time to scrutinize any visuals, and redesign them when they fail to follow your strategy and objective.

4. You anticipate questions

Good lesson plans formulate and anticipate interactivity during the lesson, said Dustin Russell, a prior Air Force maintainer and a former high school English teacher who now certifies Air Force instructors as an instructional systems specialist.

"The heart of any education or good learning comes from good questioning," said Russell. "The whole point is to get them thinking about your topic."

A presentation slide with 20 bullet statements, five multi-colored arrows and a picture of your cat takes more time to decipher than asking the class, simply: "What is the Fire Triangle?"

Russell said that if instructors ask the right questions - those related to their main points - they will stay on topic and meet the lesson objective.

"Ideally, if you're formulating good questions and not just reading a PowerPoint throughout, there should not be many questions at the end of the lesson, because you already answered them," said Russell.

5. You save time

If you're interested in reducing staffing requirements, an initial time investment in a well written lesson plan is the way to go, said Russell.

"What I like to pass on in class is that, if you're reassigned, someone else can step right in and teach that lesson," said Russell. "They will know what you wanted to get out of that lesson, because they don't need to figure all the material out again."

"Even if you are the expert, if you sit down and write it all out, it really makes you think, 'why am I teaching this ... and why am I doing it this way and what would be a good question to ask here,' and think those things through, rather than winging it with a PowerPoint," said Russell.