I had the opportunity this summer to attend my very first conference focused solely on teaching. My usual conferences are immersive experiences in the science of the physiology of exercise, but this one was completely different. If you haven’t ever attended a Lilly Teaching Conference, I highly recommend it.

One of the sessions I attended was entitled, “Focus Your Lecture with the One-Sentence Lesson Plan,” led by Norman Eng, a professor at The City College in New York. His premise was that most faculty focus on WHAT they will lecture on rather than on what they want their students to KNOW and be able to DO as a result of what they have learned. The former approach is very content driven and focused on teaching, while the latter approach is focused on learning.

The problem is that students forget most about WHAT we teach. Meyers & Jones (1993) reported that students who took a Psychology 101 class knew only 8% more than students who didn’t take the class. They reasoned that cognitive overload, and a focus on content was getting in the way of real learning.

Eng encourages instructors to ask themselves a simple question, which forms the basis for the one-sentence lesson plan:

WHAT is the most important component of learning for today, WHY do students need to learn this, and HOW will I help them reach this goal?


The WHAT may be the easiest piece. Ask yourself what you want students to be able to know or do by the end of class? What are the pillars of the industry or the things that cause the most misconceptions?What are the most complex topics?


Next, WHY do students need to learn this? The “why” is probably the most important part of the lesson plan, but is also the most overlooked. Being able to articulate the “why” gives your lecture purpose, and it’s REALLY important that we articulate this to our students. We should not assume that students automatically KNOW WHY they should learn a particular topic. The “why” can even serve as the opening for your lesson. “Have you ever wondered why… ?” Another approach is to ask the students to come up with reasons why this topic is important. The truth is, it’s not always easy to articulate why students need to learn something, but the process of figuring out the “why” changes your mindset to be more student-centric.


Once you know the WHAT and the WHY, then all you need to decide is HOW students will reach this goal. What strategy, method, approach, activity, resource, tool, or formula will you use to help them learn this important topic? This is where you can get creative and engage students in different ways.


Written as a statement, the one-sentence lesson plan may sound something like this:

Students will be able to [accomplish outcome x] by [using strategy y] so that [they can be helped in z way].

When I did this for one of my lectures, it gave the lesson a sense of purpose that I could easily articulate to my students: Students will be able to construct a healthy meal plan using MyPlate so that they can make informed decisions about their personal nutrition. Give it a try!

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2 thoughts on “The One-Sentence Lesson Plan

  1. Thanks for the note, Kara. What reinforcement! My COMM 324 class tomorrow will repeat this message. In organizations, especially with presentations, “know” and “do” is where it all begins. My message tomorrow replaces “students” with “organizations” and it works the same way.


  2. Also sounds like a great technique for “recentering” our teaching in the midst of lots of content, goals, assessments, and learning outcomes. Especially when feeling like we’re packing way too much into a single class meeting!


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