As a teacher, we typically have quite a few resources at our exposal. Unfortunately, time isn’t one of them. Time is very much an enemy in the classroom. There’s always too much to cover and never enough time to cover it. So how do we get around this? By using mini lessons! Mini lessons are a fantastic way to provide specific and targeted instruction to students without spending an overbearing amount of time. Here is everything you need to know about planning the perfect mini lesson!
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Mini Lesson Structure
Mini lessons are not just ‘short’ lessons. They have a very specific format and structure to them that makes them unique and easy to use in the classroom! There are 5 main pieces of the mini lesson format. Not into the mini lesson format? Make sure to learn more about the essentials of full lessons too!
- Connection: This is the very first part of the mini lesson. Teachers, in 1-2 sentences, want to try and connect something the students have previously learned and experienced with what they are about to practice in the current mini lesson. Teachers can use sentence starters such as, “Yesterday we..” , “Remember when…” , “I was thinking about…”. This part of the mini lesson is extremely quick and the purpose is to help get the students’ schema going and connect old learning to new learning.
- Teaching Point: The second part of the mini lesson is also extremely short. In 1-2 sentences, teachers share the exact teaching point or objective the students will be practicing in the mini lesson. Teachers can u see sentence starters such as, “Today, I want to teach you that readers _____ by ______.”
- Teach: The third part of the mini lesson is where the teacher is taking time to actually model for the students. This is where the teacher will analyze the mentor text he/she has chosen, write answers and examples in front of the students, or explain the chart or graphic organizer they are using. Teachers can use sentence starters such as, “Watch me as I…” or “Let’s look at how I…”.
- Engagement/Practice: The fourth part of the mini lesson is the most important. This is where students are now allowed to practice the teaching point with the teacher and with each other. During the practice portion, students can talk to teach other, explain what they have learned, try it out with the teacher, and ask questions. The most important part here is to let the students do the talking and keep them engaged!
- Link: The final piece of the mini lesson is called ‘link’. Teachers need to link the learned skill to real life and to what they are about to practice independently after the mini lesson. Teachers can use sentence starters such as, “Remember any time you…” or “You already learned ____ and today you have another strategy to ____.”.
Characteristics of a Mini Lesson
As stated above, mini lessons are unique in the way that they are structured. It’s not just about being a ‘short’ lesson. Here are some other characteristics of strong mini lessons!
- Mini lessons are short, typically 10-20 minutes in length. However, research doesn’t state that there’s a specific amount of time worthy of a strong mini lesson. The appropriate length depends on two factors. 1 – the age of the child and 2 – the depth and complexity of the skill being taught. If the students are younger, their attention span will be much shorter than older students. Also, if the depth of understanding needed to meet the skill is heavy, it will take more time to model and more time for student engagement, therefor making the mini lesson a bit longer. Don’t be discouraged if your mini lessons vary in length, just keep these two tidbits in mind!
- Mini lessons are focused. This means that the targeted skill being taught during the mini lessons has been broken down into a manageable chunk of information for students to take in in such a short amount of time. This is one of the biggest mistakes teachers make when planning mini lessons. Teachers don’t necessarily put ‘too much’ into the lesson, but the concept they are trying to explain is too much to handle. For example, trying to teach ‘main idea and details’ in a mini lesson is way too much. That huge skill/standard needs to be broken down into a component that is manageable during the mini lesson.
- Mini lessons are practical. This means that what the teacher is modeling and explaining during the ‘teach’ portion of the mini lesson has actionable steps for students to take when he/she is reading independently. If it’s too abstract, students won’t understand how it applies to them and therefore won’t know how to take the information and use it when reading. What action do we want students to DO when reading? Keep that question in mind when planning!
Keeping Your Mini Lesson Short
I totally get it. Trying to teach, engage, and explain a lesson to students in 10-20 minutes sounds impossible. And sometimes it is! It’s all about training yourself to keep them short, sweet, and actionable. Here are some tips to help keep your mini lesson, well, mini!
- Use a timer! I know it’s hard to actually remember to use the timer, but getting into this habit can really help train us. Use your students to help remind you to start that time each time you meet at the carpet for a new mini lesson. Also, when setting the timer, don’t set it for the full amount of time. If you’re shooting for a 15-minute mini lesson, set the timer for 10 minutes. This way you know you have 5 minutes to wrap everything up and get out those teaching points as best as you can!
- Plan out your mini lessons. This is especially important if you’re ‘new’ to teaching mini lesson style! You can find free mini lesson templates all over the internet. Or you can grab this one I made for you for free too! 😉 By using a template and pre-planning your mini lessons, it will help you to stay on course while teaching. No more veering off on another thought you had or answering a student’s question that wasn’t quite related to the mini lesson. If you have it all planned out and you know you only have 15 minutes, you’ll do anything to get it done!
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- Have your anchor charts ready! Anchor charts are designed to be completed WITH the students (otherwise it’s just called a poster) 😉 But that doesn’t mean I can’t have everything ready to go on the anchor chart except for the ‘student’ portion. Have the anchor chart ready to go with title, cute designs, clip art, or whatever else you need to put on it ahead of time.
- Read your mentor text ahead of time! This is a big one. Using mentor texts in your mini lesson is a fantastic approach. Mentor texts provide amazing examples of the skills and strategies we’re wanting our students to learn. However, in the 15-20 minutes we have, teachers cannot read the entire book and expect to get through all 5 of the mini lesson components effectively. This means we need to read the book a different time than the actual mini lesson! You can do this by keeping track of which mentor texts you’ve previously read for fun (or even for other mini lessons). Or you can read the mentor text the day before the mini lesson as well. 🙂
- Reread mentor texts! No one ever said that for each mini lesson, you need to use a brand new book. That’s crazy! A strong mentor text can be used to teach a lot of different skills. Know your literature and keep track of which books can be used for which skills. Then reuse your books as much as you can!
Mini Lesson Tips
Because we haven’t said enough about mini lessons, let’s keep it going! Here are some fantastic tips to make your mini lessons rock!
- Create a comfortable space with materials ready to go. Mini lessons are all about timing. You don’t want to have to always tell students where to go. You don’t have time to collect all of your materials from around the room. Design a designated space that has everything you need and that students know where to go and what to do.
- Have set spots with assigned partners. This is just a suggestion and might not be needed in your classroom. But here’s why I would suggest it. During the engagement portion of the mini lesson, you are going to want students to talk to one another. By having set spots and set partners to chat, you’re not spending time putting out fires about who to talk to, trying to find groups of 3, etc. Students know where to sit and who to talk to. Makes it all much smoother!
- Mini lessons fit into any schedule. Typically when you hear teachers talking about mini lessons, they use the workshop models (reading workshop, writer’s workshop). However, mini lessons don’t just have to fit into the workshop model. They can be used in any type of lesson structure that you’re comfortable with. Personally, I love using the mini lesson with the gradual release of responsibility structure (I do, We do, You do).
- Mini lessons should NOT be scripted and should be planned by the teacher. I will say this until I’m blue in the face. Mini lessons are a reflection of what your readers need. They are not a reflection of what your curriculum says needs to be taught. Get to know your readers and plan effective mini lessons around your students’ needs.
So what do you think? Want to give mini lessons a try now? Hopefully you found a few tips to help get you started or make your mini lessons even better! Want to save the post for later? Make sure to pin the image below!