How Planning a Lesson is Like Planning a Birthday Party for a 3 Year Old

Be social, share this:

I just survived the planning and execution of a 3 year old birthday party. The process reminded me of planning a high quality lesson.

Step 1: Plan ahead

I began obsessing about my daughter’s about 6 weeks before her birthday. This is a great deal further ahead than you might plan a lesson. Planning a quality lesson requires about 5-7 days in advance. Both a birthday party and a good lesson require good planning.

Step 2: Choose the content


Angelina Ballerina Berries

This is critical for a fickle soon-to-be-3-year-old. Will she still be obsessed with Dora the Explorer in 6 weeks? Will she still be singing the theme song from Frozen when the birthday party rolled around? In the end, I settled on the reliable Angelina Ballerina. My daughter has loved her for a while, sings the opening number at the drop of a hat, and knows all the characters. Angelina Ballerina it is!

Of course, when you plan a lesson, you already know the content: Math, ELA, Art, etc. No problem.

Step 3: Align to a Standard

This is a tricky one. When planning a birthday party, I could compare my event to those posted by professional party planners on Pinterest. Or I could try to meet the standard of other parties my daughter has attended. I could try to match the standard of some of her friends in scope, size, and prize bag content.

When planning a lesson, I choose a standard my students need to meet. Sometimes I choose this standard because I know the students are missing the skills. Sometimes I choose the standard because it matches the curriculum. In either case, the standard drives the planning.


Delicious cupcakes

Step 4: Try the content out yourself

When planning our birthday party, I tried out the cupcake recipe ahead of time. We didn’t want to serve inferior cupcakes to our friends. The week before the party, we prepared the cupcakes and took them to a family/dress rehearsal birthday. They were a hit and a keeper.

When planning a math lesson, it is essential for me to do the math first. This is important because I can anticipate the misconceptions students might have, narrow in on my learning target, and clarify the task. When planning an ELA lesson, I need to make sure there’s enough evidence to support a claim.

Step 5: Create a learning target

My learning target for the 3 year old birthday party: no meltdowns for either the 3 year old or myself.

Learning targets are a bit trickier for the classroom. I need to consider the content, the curriculum, the materials, the prior knowledge of my students, and the end goal. Sometimes, determining the learning target is the thorniest part of the lesson planning process. My assessment should match the learning target, so I need the target to be meaningful and with the end in mind.

Step 6: Choose Worthy Tasks


The puzzle and book center.

A worthy task is both motivating to the students and meaningful in the learning process.

For the birthday party, I wanted to keep the kids busy in worthy tasks. These events were tied to my content (Angelina Ballerina), the standard (best birthday party ever), and the learning target (No Meltdowns.) I chose Ballerina puzzles, crown decorating,  and Ballerina bubbles outside.  Definitely worthy.

When planning a lesson, I plan a worthy task it must match the content, the standard, and the target. It will hopefully come from my materials but sometimes I must modify an assignment to make it worthy.


The food center

Step 7: Gather Materials

Gathering materials for the Best Angelina Ballerina Birthday Party ever proved to be difficult. While Disney has the corner market on princess merchandise, PBS (copy write owners of Angelina Ballerina) do not actively market their products (excluding books and a few games and apps). It was difficult to find the napkins, plates, goody bags, balloons and the likes available for the average Frozen or Princess birthday party.

Gathering materials for a lesson is easier. Sometimes it’s nothing more than finding the worthy task and putting it on the document camera. Sometimes it involves finding a text all students can read with accuracy and comprehension.

Step 8: Enjoy the process!

The Angelina Ballerina went off without a hitch. We ran out of Pirouette Croissant Sandwiches, but had enough food to compensate. Making the crowns was a hit, as was the bubble station. Everyone seemed to have a great time.

During a lesson, if the planning has been thorough, the content and target are clear, I can sit back and facilitate the learning. It’s a joy to see students learning new content that they are motivated to study.

Step 9: Assess


The birthday girl and her ballerina hair-do

Birthday party assessment: we met the standard of a fun birthday party (although perhaps not Pinterest-worthy). We met the target of no meltdowns. Success! We even met an extension activity of thanking people politely for a gift. Bonus! No re-teaching necessary.

During a lesson, it’s essential to assess students learning to see if they’ve met the target. If they haven’t met it, I need to re-teach.

Step 10: Reflect

After the birthday girl took her post-birthday-bash nap, we were able to take stock of the pile of gifts. We talked about her favorite parts of the party and played with a few toys.

The often-skipped process of reflection is essential for growth. It’s helpful to have a coach or peer to help with the reflection process. I like to review the standards, the target, and the assessment data.

Planning a lesson may not be as stressful as planning a 3 year old birthday party, but it can be just as fun.

Written by Kelly Pruitt

Kelly Pruitt

I am a Reading Specialist in Gig Harbor, Washington. I’ve been a coach for 9 years and I taught in the classroom for 5 years before that. Professionally, I’m most passionate about teaching children how to read and giving teachers tools to make their jobs easier so they can do the good work of educating students.


  1. Alisa Louie says:

    This is so true! Careful planning makes a lot of life go a bit smoother. In teaching though, I like to include the “back-up plan!” So glad you didn’t need one this time! What a perfect 3 year old party! :)

    • Kelly Pruitt says:

      Ooh, back up plan. Yes, we would have needed that if it rained! We couldn’t squeeze all those preschoolers into our living room! :)

  2. Kelly Pruitt says:

    Thanks! This was a fun one to write. :)

  3. Chris Gustafson says:

    Congratulations on your successful party and those stunningly beautiful cupcakes. Not to mention avoiding meltdowns. Thanks for the successful analogy.

Speak Your Mind