2.5: Improving your teaching – lesson observations

Time allocation

1 hour (you should spend 45 minutes observing or being observed and 15 minutes on this activity)


  • Use this time to plan and carry out some observations of yourself or colleagues.
  • Observations need only to be for a small part of a lesson and should be focused upon specific aspects of classroom practice.
  • Use the form below to record the key things you observed.
  • Record what you plan to do yourself in your practice as a result.
  • You, your mentor and your colleagues can use the adaptable observation handout (PDF) to make notes on the observation.
  • You could use video to carry out your observations. Videoing your lessons gives you the opportunity to review what is happening in your classroom and see for yourself which strategies are most effective. You can share the video with your mentor.

The intended outcomes of this activity are for you to:

Learn that
2.1 Learning involves a lasting change in pupils’ capabilities or understanding.
2.2 Prior knowledge plays an important role in how pupils learn; committing some key facts to their long-term memory is likely to help pupils learn more complex ideas.
2.3 An important factor in learning is memory, which can be thought of as comprising two elements: working memory and long-term memory.
2.4 Working memory is where information that is being actively processed is held, but its capacity is limited and can be overloaded.
2.5 Long-term memory can be considered as a store of knowledge that changes as pupils learn by integrating new ideas with existing knowledge.
2.6 Where prior knowledge is weak, pupils are more likely to develop misconceptions, particularly if new ideas are introduced too quickly.
2.9 Worked examples that take pupils through each step of a new process are also likely to support pupils to learn.
Learn how to
Avoid overloading working memory, by:
2a Taking into account pupils’ prior knowledge when planning how much new information to introduce.
2b Breaking complex material into smaller steps (e.g. using partially completed examples to focus pupils on the specific steps).
2c Reducing distractions that take attention away from what is being taught (e.g. keeping the complexity of a task to a minimum, so that attention is focused on the content).
Build on pupils’ prior knowledge, by: 
2d Identifying possible misconceptions and planning how to prevent these forming.
2e Linking what pupils already know to what is being taught (e.g. explaining how new content builds on what is already known).
2f Sequencing lessons so that pupils secure foundational knowledge before encountering more complex content.
2g Encouraging pupils to share emerging understanding and points of confusion so that misconceptions can be addressed.

In your notepad

Focus of observation Who was observed? What happened?
Reducing cognitive load when introducing new material.
Making links to prior learning when introducing new material.
Sequencing content from foundational skills to complex skills.
Teaching complex material (breaking into smaller steps or reducing distractions).
Use of worked examples to support pupils learning.
Uncovering potential misconceptions or insecure prior knowledge.

What have you learned from these lesson observations?

What ideas will you carry on using or try out in your practice?