I thought I’d document how I prepare for class. I doubt this is out of the ordinary in any way, but I don’t see many blog posts about it, even though I read far more academic blogs than I’ve managed to add to the blogroll. These are largely discussion classes, and this approach has evolved over several years since the days I was a teaching assistant, when I just had a page of notes.

To prepare for class, I put together a “class plan,” which is essentially a big MS Word document. I name the document with class number and name, so that the numbers live in order in my class plan folder within my class folder on my computer. In the footer, I put the class name and number, the date, and the page numbers. I don’t staple the class plan, because I tend to shuffle pages as I teach, so the footer is essential. I do print the class plan to take to class—and class might start a few seconds late the days I forget to grab it from the printer and have to go back for it.

At the beginning of the class plan, I list the day’s reading, and any announcements or reminders I need to make to the class. Then I plan out my discussion, noting discussion questions, potential answers, quotations to highlight, planned activities, etc. I put it roughly in order, or at least try to group related discussion questions. If I need to lecture before or after or during the discussion, I put the lecture notes in the right place (sometimes breaking them up into multiple mini-lectures in different places, as appropriate). At the end of the document, I put any notes I’ve taken while reading the assignment for the day, and any external research I’ve saved.

Now, in class—I rarely actually refer to the reading notes, and the discussion rarely goes according to script, but I like having all of this together.

When I re-teach a class or text, the first thing I do is check previous class plans that covered the same material. I copy it all into my new document under a Last Time heading. I move what seems appropriate for this time, delete what I know I definitely don’t want, and let some of it stay there, just in case or for future years. Copying the day’s reading from the syllabus into the class plan was a key improvement I just made recently—I don’t normally have a problem remembering what we read for the day I’m teaching (once I did forget to reread a few pages that were in a different chapter of the text), but it’s very useful to have that information when I return to last year’s class plan to pillage it.

Tech note: Sometimes, I use MS Word’s Outline View, and print an outline of the class for quick reference during class. This means I also use a lot of headings in the class plan–Business, Lecture, Discussion, Notes—and I try to use as many subheadings as possible. Sometimes even each discussion question might be a subheading, so that it stands out for me. While I’m prepping, subheadings plus outline view also makes it easy to re-order any parts of the class, group related discussion questions under a theme, etc. In the future, I’m going to check out software that might make it easier to assemble these class plans, as I teach more and more repeating courses.