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Lesson planning for reading in elementary school — March 2020


Could you provide research on lesson planning (such as backward planning) for reading in elementary schools?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on lesson planning, including but not limited to backward planning, for reading in elementary schools. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Apthorp, H., Randel, B., Cherasaro, T., Clark, T., McKeown, M., & Beck, I. (2012). Effects of a supplemental vocabulary program on word knowledge and passage comprehension. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 5(2), 160–188. Full text available from

From the abstract: “A cluster randomized trial estimated the effects of a supplemental vocabulary program, Elements of Reading®: vocabulary on student vocabulary and passage comprehension in moderate- to high-poverty elementary schools. Forty-four schools participated over a period spanning 2 consecutive school years. At baseline, 1,057 teachers and 16,471 students from kindergarten, first, third, and fourth grade participated. The schools were randomly assigned to either the primary or intermediate grade treatment group. In each group, the nontreatment classrooms provided the control condition. Treatment classrooms used the intervention to supplement their core reading program, whereas control classrooms taught vocabulary business-as-usual. The intervention includes structured, weekly lesson plans for 6 to 8 literary words and aural/oral and written language activities providing multiple exposures and opportunity for use. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to estimate both proximal (Year 1) and distal (Year 2) effects on vocabulary and passage comprehension. The intervention had positive and statistically significant proximal effects but no statistically significant distal effects. The results indicate that the intervention can improve targeted vocabulary and local passage comprehension, but expecting global effects may be overly optimistic.”

Cooper Hansen, C. (2006). Technology as an electronic mentor: Scaffolding preservice teachers in writing effective literacy lesson plans. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 27(2), 129–148. Abstract available from and full text available for purchase from

From the abstract: “A marked difference in the quality of reading lesson plans after early childhood education students were required to use the Unit Builder feature in a web-based productivity tool (TaskStream) prompted the design of a study to measure significant changes. A rubric was created that meshed the qualities of effective teachers of literacy and the elements of an effective lesson plan. Two researchers independently evaluated 32 lesson plans. Statistically significant differences in quality were found across all nine measures of effectiveness. It was concluded that technology, as a cognitive tool, positively scaffolded students as they learned about lesson planning in a content area and increased the effectiveness of their literacy plans.”

Courey, S. J., Tappe, P., Siker, J., & LePage, P. (2013). Improved lesson planning with universal design for learning (UDL). Teacher Education and Special Education, 36(1), 7–27. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Efficient lesson planning with universal design for learning (UDL) enables teachers to more effectively meet students’ individual needs. In this study, a comparison of lesson plans by teacher candidates in a teacher preparation program before and after UDL training is presented. After training, teachers (n = 45) incorporated more differentiated options and varied teacher strategies based on UDL principles into their lesson plans, so that the content was more accessible to all students. A variety of changes and options was examined, and examples of commonly occurring choices selected by the teacher candidates were provided. The improved multiplicity of options in lesson planning demonstrates a better understanding of UDL principles; however, teachers need more experience in actually implementing the UDL principles in their classrooms.”

Schmoker, M. (2011). The stunning power of good, traditional lessons. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(4), 70–71. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The article discusses the ways in which traditional teaching principles can improve reading and literacy in childhood education. The author discusses drop in 2011 American College Test (ACT) scores for reading and principles for effective teaching such as reinforcing lesson plans and providing checkpoints for measuring understanding. Topics include research on effective teaching and high-achieving teachers’ use of modeling, guided practice, and explicit instruction developed by educator Madeline Hunter and statistics detailing that such teaching adds six to nine months of academic growth per student per year according to education researcher Dylan Wiliam.”

Spooner, F., Baker, J. N., Harris, A. A., Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., & Browder, D. M. (2007). Effects of training in universal design learning on lesson plan development. Remedial and Special Education, 28, 108–116. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The effects of training in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) on lesson plan development of special and general educators in a college classroom environment were investigated. A true experimental group design with a control group was used for this study. A one-hour teacher training session introduced UDL to the experimental group; the control group received the intervention later. A three-factor analysis of variance with repeated measures was completed for each of the dependent variables (i.e., UDL lesson plan). Differences were found between pretest and posttest measures for both treatment groups for special education and general education teachers. The results suggest that a simple introduction to UDL can help teachers to design a lesson plan accessible for all students.”

Sumrall, W., & Sumrall, K. (2018). Understanding by design. Science & Children, 56(1), 48–54. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Elementary teachers often avoid the struggle of matching a science activity to a specific standard by using a lesson planning process known as Understanding by Design (UBD) (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). A main tenet of the UBD model involves starting at the end rather than at the beginning of the planning process. By starting at the end and visiting "Next Generation Science Standards" ("NGSS") first, teachers know where they want their students' understanding to conclude upon lesson or unit completion. Specifically, what scientific concepts and knowledge based on their grade level is identified before trying to find a fun activity to do. This allows teachers to better guide the students through the lesson and ensures that the standard is being assessed. The paper describes the process that elementary school teachers should take to design science lesson(s) that focus on meeting specific "NGSS" in the lower grades using the UBD approach..”

REL West note: This study is about lesson planning for science in elementary education. We included it here for your information.

Wang, J., Herman, J. L., Epstein, S., Leon, S., Haubner, J., La Torre, D., & Bozeman, V. (2018). Literacy Design Collaborative 2016-2017 evaluation report for the New York City Department of Education (CRESST Report 856). Los Angeles, CA: National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST). Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) was created to support teachers in implementing college and career readiness standards in order to teach literacy skills throughout the content areas. Teachers work collaboratively with coaches to further develop their expertise and design standards-driven, literacy-rich writing assignments within their existing curriculum across all content areas. The 2016-2017 school year was the first year of implementation, following a pilot year during which the implementation plan, instruments, data collection processes, and analytical methodologies were refined. Participants across all groups reported positive attitudes toward LDC and perceive a positive impact on student outcomes. Analysis of module artifacts suggest that teachers at the elementary school level were moderately successful in the backwards design process, particularly in developing high-quality writing tasks for students. As an ongoing multiyear intervention, the LDC implementation will continue to evolve year to year as participants provide feedback and LDC program managers make refinements. Thus, we anticipate that further significant changes to the course material and the delivery system that are already in progress for Year 2 will likely result in continued and possibly increased positive feedback.”

Womack, S. T., Pepper, S., Hanna, S. L., & Bell, C. D. (2015). Most effective practices in lesson planning (Online Submission). Full text available from

From the abstract: “In a previous study with 130 undergraduate teacher candidates from all licensure levels, data on candidate effectiveness were examined using factor analysis. Four factors were found in effective teaching, those being lesson planning, teacher and student reflection, safe school environment, and teacher professionalism. The present study followed the 2012 one and was done to (1) determine whether the lesson planning factor was unitary or could be divided into any further factors, and (2) to identify subcomponents of lesson planning in terms of impact upon teaching effectiveness.”

REL West note: Even though this is not a peer-reviewed article, we included it here for your information given its relevance to your request.

Additional Organization to Consult


From the website:ASCD empowers educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Comprising 113,000 members—superintendents, principals, teachers, and advocates from more than 129 countries—the ASCD community also includes 71 affiliate organizations. Our diverse, nonpartisan membership is our greatest strength, projecting a powerful, unified voice to decision makers around the world.”

REL West note: ASCD has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Ullman, E. (2011). How to plan effective lessons. Education Update, 53(10), 6–7. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“lesson plan” OR “lesson planning” OR “backward mapping” OR “backward planning” OR “backward design”) AND (reading) AND (elementary OR primary OR “K-5”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.