When You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

The Value of Templates for Lesson Planning

By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo

As a 37+ year veteran, I say these words with the greatest sincerity: “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail!” You would think after all this time, I could teach with my eyes closed, and I wouldn’t need to write lesson plans. It is not a question of the plans not being necessary (they are), but many other factors come into play when lesson plans are on the table.


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From a contractual and evaluator point of view, lesson plans are mandatory. There is not one work contract in force that doesn’t require some type of lesson plan, outline, or whatever you want to call it. In my county, plans must be on the teachers’ desk, visible and available to any administrator who walks in at any time. But, beyond that, the ultimate necessity is for YOU—the educator!


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I would do the plans even if it weren’t a part of my professional responsibilities because it makes me a better teacher. Plans force me to think about what I want my students to do and how I can get them to achieve the goals I set for them in immediate, interim, and long-term time frames.

Lesson planning can be daunting. All that writing! What am I, an author? Every week, the same old thing, writing over and over again? There is a quotation offering eccentric advice that is often attributed to the billionaire software magnate Bill Gates: I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it. I think we’re all inherently lazy to some degree or another. If we weren’t, life coaches and motivational speakers would be out of a job!


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I got so sick of writing similar lesson plans over and over, I sat down one summer and developed a template to suit my needs. Since my employment for years was elementary music, that was my focus. I separated out all of the objectives by grade level. You can find these on your state website curriculum resources. Your district should also have a copy. I brainstormed all of the possible activities:

  • introduce/review vocabulary
  • sing/play
  • listen/lecture
  • worksheets
  • movement
  • video

You can add whatever activities you do in the classroom. Then, I listed all the evaluations I could possibly do with my students:

  • participation
  • quiz/test
  • unit test
  • written assignment
  • individual performance
  • class performance
  • And I always include teacher observation of classroom activities.

Let’s face it—in the real world, we don’t have time during a one-hour period to “test” every single student during every single class. I have double classes ranging from 45-50 students at a time. That means in one hour (actually less, considering the teacher brings them a few moments late, by the time they get in, get their instruments, I take attendance, yadda, yadda . . . I really get to teach only for about 45 minutes if I’m lucky.)

Teacher observation of classroom activities means that if you’re teaching and students are engaged in the activity, they can earn a participation grade. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That assessment means they were actively engaged in the learning process. Since there was no individual test, you could not determine whether or not the information was accurately assimilated, but you do know the student was paying attention and was participating in the lesson being delivered.

lesson plan

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You have a clear vision of what you want to teach your students this week, right? Great! Now, how do you write a lesson plan that reflects your idea?

Ok, I’m going to teach my fifth graders a song in their recorder book. It’s on page 8. Sooooo . . . I’ll find the objective that says play instrument with pleasing tone or students will sight-read simple melodies. Oh, wait! This piece has a 2/4 time signature. I have to explain that. Ok. I’ll find that objective. Oh—and there’s a dynamic marking. Gotta find that objective. Wait! There’s a repeat sign. Even though I already taught the repeat sign, I have to put that objective since I’m going to be going over it, right? And, now I see a tempo marking.


You can easily drive yourself cray cray listing all of the objectives you talk about in a single piece of music. For lesson plan purposes, focus on one or two important objectives you want your students to absorb. Don’t list each and every concept you’ll mention. Think of Language Arts and focus on the main idea. What is the idea you want your students to remember after today’s lesson?


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Over the years, I’ve tweaked the plans a bit to suit my needs. When the opportunity came up to teach a middle school exploratory music class, the lesson plans almost wrote themselves. The template was already in place. All I had to do was plug in the correct objectives. Don’t be afraid to write on your already printed out lesson plans. Things come up and plans can change at the last minute. I’m all for seizing the teaching moment. Feel free to handwrite it onto your already created lesson plans. It is a big red flag for any administrator to see one thing on your plans and witness you doing something completely different in front of your students.

If you don’t want to go through all the work of creating your own template, or if that doesn’t sound like something you want to do, there are programs like Planbook which not only are templates but also have the standards from each state embedded into the program. You click and drag your lessons into place. It does have a cost. It is $12 for a year, a pittance to pay for a year’s worth of plans.

NAfME has an entire bank of free curriculum units available for its members courtesy of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program. These little gems are amazing, a valuable free resource. Quaver has lesson plans as well. I could go on and on. If you Google “free music lesson plans,” see what comes up and decide from there. I highly encourage you to start with NAfME first. They are my go-to resource. And NAfME members can reach out to colleagues around the country on Amplify, our online community which is great for crowd-sourcing trusted professionals.


iStockphoto.com | Bkamprath


A little more work now saves a lot of work later on. Those are words to live by. When you save your beautiful template, you can adapt and print out weekly, monthly, and yearly plans. Your administration will be quite impressed with the scope and sequence of the work you have done. Who knew you were so lazy?

About the author:

music teacherAudrey Carballo, a 37-year NAfME member, is in her 37th year as a music educator for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, the fourth largest school system in the country. Her teaching experiences include general music, exploratory music, and chorus to regular and exceptional students in elementary, middle school, high school, and exceptional student settings.

She has been an Assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and currently serves on the National Education Association Member Advisory Board Panel and as the Union Steward and Chairperson of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Board Council at her school. Recently, Audrey was the Children’s Choir Director for the Miami Music Project, which is an El Sistema program spearheaded by the world renowned conductor, James Judd.

One of her most rewarding experiences has been with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to teaching Broadcast Journalism classes, and giving private lessons in voice, composition, theory and piano, her duties included being the Vocal and Advanced Theory instructor for their Better Chance Music Production Program. Audrey was one of the co-authors of an article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness titled, “A New Synthesis of Sound and Tactile Music Code Instruction: Implementation Issues of a Pilot Online Braille Music Curriculum.”

Audrey collaborated with Jin Ho Choi (another instructor at the Lighthouse) for nine months, creating their Braille Music Distance Learning course.

Follow Audrey on Twitter @scarlettfeenix.


Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. March 19, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)


April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

March 19, 2019


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March 19, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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