Planning a sequence of lessons

The planning process of 'backward design' is a framework for designing lessons. The planning begins with a focus on learning outcomes and leads to a deep understanding of the content taught.

Image: Teachers planning a sequence of lessons. They start with learning outcomes before determining the curriculum, activities and materials. This sequence enables students to have a deep understanding of the content taught.

Backward design

The backward design model of curriculum planning provides a framework for designing a sequence of lessons that will lead students to a deep understanding of the content taught.

A sequence of lessons can refer to a curriculum unit or a sequence of learning experiences aimed at producing a particular learning objective, goal or intention.

Teachers are coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or activity. They focus on ensuring learning, not just teaching (and assuming that what was taught was learned); they always aim - and check for - successful meaning making and transfer by the learner. McTighe

In the past, teachers planning curriculums might start with activities, resources and textbooks instead of identifying classroom learning goals and planning towards those goals.

When using backward design, the teacher starts with classroom outcomes and then plans the curriculum, choosing activities and materials that foster student learning.

Ultimately, teaching should equip learners to be able to use or transfer their learning.

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3
Identify the desired results Determine acceptable evidence Plan learning experiences and instruction
What should students come away understanding, knowing and being able to do? What will be the evidence of the desired results? What learning activities will promote students' understanding, knowledge, skills and interest?

The backward design model of the curriculum planning process consists of:

  • Stage 1: Identify the desired results
  • Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence
  • Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction.

  • McTighe, J. (no date) Understanding by Design. Retrieved from Three Stages of Backward Design: Frequently Asked Questions
  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (expanded). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Return to top of page Back to top