Do you have a digital lesson plan book? If not, read on.

I have a stack of unused paper teacher books. You may, too–the green attendance “Roster” book, and the lesson plan book. I’m sad when I get them because I won’t use them, and I’ve been getting them forever.  I’ve been digital for most of my career, even before files synced peacefully across the cloud. I lasted one year–my first–with the paper book, and I knew I needed to find a better way before someone spilled water on it, moved it, shredded it, or the dog ate it.

If you’re a teacher with a paper planner, read on. Maybe some of this makes sense for you. If you’re digital, skip to one of the articles about food or fun.

Digital planners improved my life

Something bad’s going to happen if my life is in one irreplaceable book. If my wallet gets stolen, I lose a few bucks and have to spend a day calling credit card companies and going to the DMV. If I lose my lesson plans and every note I wrote in the margins for an entire year, my life is over.

Lesson plan book squares are TINY. I cannot put a day or week in a one-inch square? The flow and organization of paper planners doesn’t work for me. I need a free space to put my thoughts, not a little square.

My plans change.  I plan religiously, but I can’t know until I teach a lesson. I may need to adjust, pace differently, or adapt. Also, fire drills, assemblies,  and school cancellations ruin the best laid plans. Every September starts with everyone neatly aligned.  By the end of week two, not so much.

Elementary classrooms aren’t spared this curse–just because you teach one group of kids doesn’t mean lesson plans are cast in stone. They should be fluid.

I have a friend who erases and rewrites in her paper plan book. I have another that puts sticky notes in a bullet journal. I need to be digital so I can cut, edit, and paste and send constantly.

Digital plan books look more professional. They’re neat, usable, and almost executive in nature. It’s the opposite of a messy desk or scribbled-out grid.

Typed lessons are easier to understand. Whether I’m sharing material with a colleague, sending it to a new teacher, or spinning my computer around to show a pop-in evaluator, I always have weeks of material available at the drop of a dime. You can see each quarter, with one week on each page. There are bullets for intros, lecture notes, activity directions, and outside links. It’s understandable to anyone. Since I link in all the websites, resources, and content I made, I can download it as a PDF or Word file and give access to all the embedded documents in that lesson.

I can copy and paste lessons from my grid for students and families. I’ve trained students to send me an email when they’re absent. I answer them. If there’s something critical, I can cut and paste the lessons right from my grid and send them. They have access to links, PDFs and resources for each lesson, too, so they’re up to speed when they return.

Having bullets and links helps me rehearse and prep for my class.  I can color code and highlight any resources I still need to gather, bold things to copy or paste on Google Classroom, and give a quick once-over to the links and bullets like an actor getting ready to step on stage.

There’s no need to recreate the wheel.  I never know what my schedule’s going to be until the last minute, but I’ve been teaching long enough to get a sense of the possibilities. Keeping my plans digital means I can I can pull from prior years and update those lessons or sequences.

I can see my progress. I can put comments after I teach and always have them. I also see the times of year I’m most overwhelmed, because here’s what happens–I start out the year or the post-vacation period with highly-detailed lessons and full grids. Then… sometime around November or March (hectic seasons), i can see the bullets dwindle and a couple blank grids. Every teacher has these tough seasons–pre-holiday, months that are longer than others. Looking at the structure, frequency of comments, details in the assignments from year to year (rather than the content itself)–that’s an excellent reflective exercise.

How to make the lesson plan grids

The sky’s the limit here. Mine was a 6-column (five days a week plus a column for the dates) seven-row (I taught six classes plus had a line for labels) table.

What to use:

Most schools use Google Drive, but before that, I used Word. At our school, Dropbox was blocked, meaning I couldn’t sync my document across computers. So, I’d email it to myself. This was dangerous, since I sometimes ended up with split versions. As time passed and we had things like hotspots and school wifi, I just brought my own laptop with my lesson plan grid on it.

These days, I’m willing to bet you have a school Google Drive. Use that. You can even share plan grids across departments that way and see what everyone else is teaching to know how you can best coordinate with that in your lessons.

How to organize:

I like to have a folder for each year with a separate document for each quarter. This stops the endless scrolling by May or June. But, you might want one a separate plan for each unit. Do what works for you.

Pro Tip:

Nothing is worse than scrolling through past years of plans looking for a link to a doc, or going through your documents and Google Drive saying, “What did I call this again?”

If you’re using Google Drive, keep a master document. When you teach a unit, link to it.  You can do this with Dropbox as well.

That way, no matter what you want to reference or share, even if it was three years ago, it’ll be right there.


Here are some digital plan templates on Teachers Pay Teachers.  But you can make this yourself. Here’s one I’ve made for you and a sample of a week of my lesson plans in their real, raw state as I used them in real time. For me, this beat sticky notes, bullet journals, and tons of eraser holes in a book I was only going to lose.


Photo credit: The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer on Unsplash