Last Minute Lesson Ideas for All Content Areas

I always try to have a solid plan for my classes, but sometimes, a day sneaks up on me where I don’t have anything planned, and I’m scrapping to fill it with something enriching and meaningful.  And, if I’m being completely honest, these days can sneak up out of the sheer exhaustion of running the hamster wheel of teaching.  I’ll make it to Friday and realize that it was left open on my curriculum plan.  I’ll read that word “Flex Day” on the calendar and begin to panic at what I’m going to do to fill in the gap.  Has this ever happened to you?  Or have you ever gotten so busy with life that you needed a last minute lesson to get you through the week?

If so, then I have a list of FIVE LAST MINUTE LESSON IDEAS for all content areas.  These lessons are practically material-free and can pretty much be accomplished by just walking in the door and maybe writing some things on the board.  AND if you end up being observed on one of these “last minute lesson” days, don’t worry!  You’re covered!!  These lessons will get you through that observation with flying colors because they target learning standards such as the Common Core. 

By the way, this has happened to me.  I have been observed during a last minute lesson.  Four years ago, I missed a week of school to get married and take a short honeymoon (approved by my principal, of course), and THE DAY I returned, he walked into my FIRST PERIOD CLASS for a formal observation!  Sheesh!  Talk about not cutting a person any slack!  No worries.  I did lesson #2 on the list below and received rave reviews.  So, without further adieu, here they are!


1.     Reflection

Reflection is a key aspect of any unit.  In order for students to internalize their own education and take ownership of their own learning, they need time to reflect back on exactly what they’ve learned and what they still need to learn.  AND, they need time to go back and review the curriculum standards to see how they are measuring up.  Where I teach, I am required to assign Common Core Standards to every unit.  No doubt this can be very time-consuming, so in order to kill two birds with one stone, I give my students a copy of the standards at the beginning of the school year, and I have THEM identify which standards go with the lessons.  YES—I put THEM in CHARGE of the standards.  This way, students get to monitor what they’re learning and what they still need to work on.  If you haven’t given the standards to your students, don’t worry.  You have two choices:  give them out now, OR simply write a few standards on the board.  Then, have students reflect upon the standards by answering a few short reflection questions, including:

A.    Which standards have we targeted with this unit?

B.     Measure your progress—What have you mastered? 

       What do you still need to work on?

Give students some time to write and reflect.  Then, allow them time to share with a partner and then report back to the entire class.  As students share, you can write notes on the board, which will help you as the teacher assess your students’ progress.  It’s a win-win!

2.     Most Important Word

Another great way to assess student learning is to ask your students ONE simple question: 

What was the most important word from this unit of study?

They can get into groups to discuss and then prepare an argument to present to the class.  This can very easily be turned into a class debate, and it works for all content areas.  Not to mention, this is a fantastic way to make a cross-curricular connection with English Language Arts!

3.     Vocabulary Pages

Every subject area has its own vocabulary list of content-specific terms that students need to learn.  And with so many terms to learn, it can be difficult for students to move beyond memorization and actually acquire new language.  This lesson is a way for students to use mnemonic devices in order to enhance their ability to remember the meaning of new words.  It’s a very simple and straightforward lesson.  Either preselect a few terms for students, or have them select words on their own.  Then, have them complete a “vocab page” for each word (either individually or in a group) using the following steps:

A.    Write the word.

B.    Write the dictionary definition.

C.    Paraphrase the definition.

D.   List synonyms.

E.    List antonyms.

F.    Make associations—things/ideas/people/places you associate with the       term.

G.   Sketch a picture that displays the word’s meaning.

After students complete the vocab pages, allow them time to share with small groups and with the whole class.  Done and done!

4.       Summarize

Another useful last minute lesson is a simple summary exercise.  There are several different ways students can go about summarizing whatever it is you’ve been working on—a chapter in a book, a new theory, a new formula, etc.  Ideas can range from the traditional outline to something creative such as a comic strip or even a skit.  Nonetheless, the goal is simple:  students should focus on summarizing key points in order to showcase their comprehension of a subject.  They can then share their summaries in small groups or with the entire class.  If you want to take it a step further and have even more time, have students write a quiz question and swap with another group to see if they can answer it correctly.  This is a no-prep lesson that will hold students accountable for the material as well as enable you to assess their comprehension.

5.       Quiz Game

It’s review time!  Students can always use time to review material, and having a quiz game is a great way to make it both interactive and meaningful.  And it’s fairly simple to do!  Divide students into groups and give each group about 10 minutes to write as many quiz questions (with the answers) as they possibly can.  You can set the parameters to a specific unit/theme/time period/novel, etc.  Then, have students give you their questions.  Create a scoreboard and then go around to each group and select a quiz question to ask them.  In order to prevent a group from getting one of the questions they wrote, assign each group a number and make sure they’ve written this number on their sheet of questions.  Then, be sure not to ask a group a question from its own sheet.  It’s that simple!  If a group gets the answer correct, they score a point.  If they get it wrong, the question passes to the next group, and so on.  Play until the end of the class period, and as a checkout item, have students write down any tricky questions they heard for studying purposes.

I hope these Five Last Minute Lessons come in handy this school year!  What Last Minute Lesson Ideas do you like to use?  What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below.