Lesson Planning - Digital vs Paper?

Welcome to our first blog post here at Digital Teacher Planner!  In this post we are looking at lesson planning and what lessons are actually planned on.  Are clever digital devices and styluses the way to go… or is good old paper and pen still the best?

Let's face it, lesson planning can be pretty arduous at times, especially if it's a lesson you have taught successfully many times before, but your school still requires you to write a full plan.


That’s not to say of course, just because you have taught the lesson before, that you don't tailor it for the individual pupils in that lesson – of course you do – tweaking assessment and differentiation methods to ensure every pupils’ learning needs are catered for, and to monitor each individuals progress.

You could photocopy a previous lesson plan and ‘red pen’ it to suit that latest teaching group, but it wouldn’t look the neatest filed away in your planning folder (although it would show that you are preparing for specific teaching groups).

Or you could write a fresh lesson plan from scratch, but that is surely creating extra work, re-writing generic parts of the plan that never change, even with each teaching group – we call the generic parts the skeleton, or main frame, of the lesson plan.

How to find a happy medium or method… is there a way?

How We Used To Plan

For fourteen or so years I planned with pen and paper.  Then, the Deputy Head suggested that staff could print out and annotate their Notebook or PowerPoint documents, ensuring that learning objectives / outcomes, assessment of / for learning, differentiation, plenaries and timings were written on.

That was all very well for Damian – he was camped out in his snug Business Studies classrooms – but for myself, teaching in the world of Physical Education, it really didn’t help much unless I was teaching theory GCSE PE.

The majority of my plans would still have to be written out in full on the school template. Occasionally I would do the method mentioned above: photocopy or print out a master lesson plan and annotate it with red pen.

Since teaming up with Damian to develop the Digital Teacher Planner, we agree that lesson planning at our school would have benefitted from some sort of electronic lesson planning system.

A basic idea of annotating Notebook / PowerPoint documents to form your lesson plans is to save time and reduce workload – a welcome offer at the time – but teachers are a proud species… we found that our planning folders were bulkier / heavier with all the printouts and we couldn’t navigate from plan to plan with any efficiency.

The result was a return back to the school lesson plan template, either A4 or A5, as it was simply easier to keep a record and timeline of our lessons.

Damian... The Planner Geek

As he states in the ‘Our Story’ page of our site, Damian has long been a bit of a planner geek, having experimented with many methods and strategies – some digital – to find the most productive and time efficient way for him to plan lessons.

After lots of trial and error, Damian came up with a format that he liked and worked for him.  He spent ages creating the pages every half term, personalising them with his lessons on, then printing them, and cutting them to size to fit in his A5 leather Filofax (which he had at the time).

However, the weight of all of that carrying around was just too much, what with all of his text books too (Damian didn’t have his own classroom and often taught in 3 or 4 different rooms every day), so weight was a serious issue.

This made him start researching if there was anything he could do to reduce the weight but still keep the convenience of the Filofax.  Damian thought he'd try and go paperless.

He’d already bought and tried various 'digital personal organisers' for his diary over the years - from the early days of the Psion Organiser, the Palm Pilot, the Compaq iPAQ, a Windows mobile phone with pull out keyboard etc.  None of them really worked for him.

Then Microsoft launched the Surface range of laptops / tablets WITH A PEN, so Damian could still write rather than type.  He types very fast, touch typing, but preferred lesson planning with a pen to mind map out his lessons, and make notes and scribbles, doodles and drawings where needed.

Exploring Digital Possibilities

The first range of Surface 'tablets' were huge and heavy, with a rubbish battery life and Damian ignored them.  Microsoft then launched the Surface Pro 3 and he had to get one!  It was expensive, but Damian thought he'd be able to get rid of the Filofax and put it all on the computer (using OneNote - one of his favourite pieces of software ever).

Not only that, but Damian naively (his words not mine!) thought he'd be able to get all of his text books in digital format, download them and have them on the computer too.

Doing lesson planning on his computer with a 'pen' was great – Damian loved it – but creating his templates for it (Excel based, with a Word mail merge), uploading them to OneNote, and doing this frequently (at least every half term) was becoming a pain.  The ‘time saving’ he thought he'd get didn't really work out as well as he'd hoped.

Following a period of work-induced medical complications, Damian left teaching, took a less stressful job and started thinking about what could have helped him prior to his medical experiences to reduce his stress and free up his time to relax a bit more.

Eventually, Damian concluded that lesson planning and marking took up far too much of his time, mostly due to the fact that there wasn't really a simple process he could follow easily, keeping everything neatly organised - most teachers will agree with Damian on that one!  So, he decided to create one.

Digital vs Paper – The Pros & Cons

For this part of our discussion, we thought we’d create a good old table to show our thoughts as to the pros and cons of digital vs paper lesson planning.  They are not exhaustive lists of pros and cons, they are simply our own thoughts and views.

First The Pros...

Digital Lesson Planning
Paper Lesson Planning
  • Saves time and makes time spent on planning more efficient
  • Note-taking apps are quick and can copy & paste material from one plan to another
  • Clear digital trail and evidence of planned lessons
  • Keep plans on a lightweight device rather than folders
  • Potential to be more engaging, using rich / dynamic content from other digital sources
  • Lesson plans and hyperlinked content can be shown in the classroom, directly from a digital device
  • Plans, with resource-rich content, can be saved in and accessed from a cloud / network / online area for immediate, future or shared use
  • Can be integrated and used with digital diaries and calendars
  • Possible to amend / update faster and more easily if exam board syllabuses change or if linked resources improve
  • Recent styluses and writing devices have become easier and more comfortable / natural to use with devices
  • Neat and tidy (generally dictated by the digital design)
  • Clear paper trail and evidence of planned lessons
  • Can keep plans neatly in plastic wallets / folders
  • Have the familiar tactile feel associated with paper & pen
  • Lesson plans can be created / annotated exactly as envisaged
  • Plans can be referenced to during the lesson if needed
  • Possible to design in various sizes (A4, A5 etc)
  • Can photocopy plans to reuse or share
  • Neat and tidy (dependent on input from the teacher)
  • Cost friendly – paper and folders generally provided by the workplace

And Now The Cons...

Digital Lesson Planning
Paper Lesson Planning
  • Costs associated with purchasing a digital device, a suitable note-taking app and the digital lesson planning service
  • Lacks the familiar tactile feel associated with paper & pen
  • Size of the lesson plan dictated / limited by the size of the digital device
  • Slower / interrupted use of lesson plans if device malfunctions and / or storage location becomes temporarily offline
  • Some may find making an area of a lesson plan larger, by pinching to zoom, cumbersome and tedious
  • Creating a paper trail of lessons can be very time consuming
  • Wallets / folders can become untidy and / or look ‘tired’
  • Folders can become extremely bulky / heavy
  • Photocopied plans can look untidy and / or lack a personal touch when annotated or ‘red penned’
  • Cannot contain any direct and interactive links to further rich / dynamic content or resources
  • Difficult to share plans online for other colleagues to access and use, particularly from the home
  • Exam board syllabus / school changes will mean that all lesson plans will probably need to be rewritten from scratch
  • Paper lesson plans are very much standalone documents and cannot be easily integrated and used with other diaries and calendars

Digital vs Paper – Our Final Thoughts

Paper still has its deserved and rightful place in the world of teaching… we and our students would be totally lost without it!  But we feel, specifically with planning lessons, that digital is the way to go.

There are way too many changes in the teaching profession, often enforced upon us from external influences and political involvement, to be rewriting lesson plans from scratch every year or two when the actual skeleton – or main frame – of the content remains the same.

At the very least, going digital means that content can be copied from the outgoing lesson plan template to the (supposedly) better one.

Our Digital Teacher Planner is what has come out of Damian’s experiences and thinking.  If he had owned such a planner back in 2014, Damian honestly believes he'd have been a lot less stressed and has since worked out that he'd have probably saved around 3-4 hours a WEEK in getting organised and planning lessons.  Those two things combined might just have 'saved' Damian and he might still be teaching now!

We are hoping that if you're stressed in any way as a teacher, and spend too much time getting organised, staying organised, and planning lessons, then ANY form of digital planning could just be what you are looking for, and will reduce your stress, free up a few extra hours a week, and prevent you going through anything remotely like what Damian went through.



DigitalTeacherPlanner.com is a team of two ex-teachers with over 20 years combined experience in the UK. We are passionate about making your teaching life that little bit easier, reducing your paper workload and enabling you to spend more time with the people that really matter... your family, friends and students.

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