Course Design: Planning Class Sessions

What It Is

After determining course goals and mapping a class by planning specific learning objectives and assessments, it’s a good idea to plan individual sessions. Planning class sessions involves creating structure for how an instructor’s limited face-to-face time with learners will be spent. What activities and experiences will best support the learning objectives for the course?  

Why it Matters

Planning class sessions ensures that instruction focuses on relevant learning. Looking across a semester, this planning also ensures that essential information in the course receives balanced coverage–so everything that’s on the midterm exam, for example, is included in the first half of the course. Finally, planning sessions organizes content and allows learners to build new skills at a manageable pace.

Apply it

Consider the following when planning class sessions:

– How will you open class?

  1. Share learning objectives. Sharing the session objective(s) during class makes instructional expectations clear and underscores how learners will benefit from the session.
  2. Hook the learner. Plan a short activity before the main lesson to focus learners’ attention and provide a framework for content. Try a short writing prompt, thought-provoking image or question, or play a short video or music clip relevant to the day’s topics. This is also a good time to help learners understand how new topics will fit with or build onto those already covered in class.

– How will you cover the content in class? 

  1. Align the learning objectives to instructional strategies based on their taxonomy. Choose learning activities that support the cognitive demand required of learners (e.g., remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create). If learners will be expected to analyze and evaluate on exams, class sessions should include opportunities for them to practice those skills and receive formative feedback.
  2. Provide ample opportunities for learners to interact with content. Consider the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to ensure all learners can engage with content (Rose & Strangman, 2007). Include opportunities for discussion, practice, and other types of learning activities that support course learning objectives.
  3. Maximize student engagement through opportunities for collaboration between students, writing activities, reflection, polling, or case studies. When students have opportunities to apply what they are learning, long-term retention increases.

– How will you close class? 

  1. Revisit the hook. Class started with a compelling question or opener previewing new content. Revisit the hook and invite learners to reflect on what they learned and what questions might remain. 
  2. Ongoing assessment. What is the evidence of learners’ progress toward meeting course learning objectives? Were any gaps in their knowledge revealed that need to be revisited in a future class session? 



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Cite This Resource

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. (2023, January). Course design: Planning class sessions [Teaching resource].

Updated 1/2023