How to plan an outstanding observation lesson: free Mental Health and English resources

Lesson observations can be a source of significant stress, some schools are beginning to move away from formal observations, aiming for a whole-picture method of appraisal. However, in most schools, they are often undertaken formally 3 times per year (usually each term). We have taken Ofsted’s outstanding lesson information from the School Inspection Handbook and combined this with our expert knowledge to help you plan your next lesson observation (whether that be for performance management or your first ECT interview lesson). 

Lesson observations should be supportive and begin a discussion to further investigate areas of interest and strength or organise suitable additional training to meet the specific needs of the class.

How to plan an outstanding observation lesson

The knack to planning an outstanding observation lesson is a tailored fit for the needs and interests of your class. Plan activities that show clear progress and create lots of meaningful discussion. Let’s break this down into 4 areas to help you plan an outstanding English and Mental Health focused lesson.

Create your idea

This idea should hook your children’s interests, generate discussion, awe and wonder and allow for application of a multitude of skills. Here are some outstanding ideas for lesson observations combining the key themes of English and Mental Health:

Year 1: Make connections between memories and feelings by looking back on memories that invoke feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement and nervousness. Linked carefully to the cross-curricular unit of Blast from the Past (a unit to explore themselves and their families). Download your free lesson plan and resources from here.

Year 2: Recognising when mistakes have been made and the importance of seeing a problem from both sides is an excellent discussion topic.  The unit of The Diary of a Killer Cat is ideal to transition into these important reflections.


Year 3: Exposing discussions on positive and negative feelings and how to react to those, by using the learning vehicle of the Ancient Greeks. Download your free Zeus lesson plan and resources from here. 

Year 4: Learning about their own personality traits, identifying positive personality traits in friends and loved ones as well as encouraging self-awareness and reflection, The free unti sample of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a perfect way to discuss these important reflections.

Year 5: Understanding of stress and its harmful effect on the mind and body is important, exploring coping strategies and mindfulness supported by the Science and Literacy themed unit of Galaxy Quest. Download your free Zeus lesson plan and resources from here.

Year 6: The introduction of new family members (or even friends) can be a challenging change of routine, creating stressful situations. Using the free unit overview of Skellig, children will discuss and create ‘will change’ and ‘won’t change’ boards for common lifestyle changes: new baby, moving schools, moving houses.

Think of the needs of the children

Your class will undoubtedly have diagnosed and undiagnosed additional needs, think of the larger picture of your class. Is vocabulary understanding low? Are there significant levels of Speech and Language needs? Your chosen activities must account for these learning barriers.  Here are some ways you can demonstrate meeting the needs of your class:

  • Speech and language: plenty of discussions, vocabulary shared around the room, talking partners, mirroring vocabulary.
  • Low-concentration: stations involving movement from seat to activity, short-burst activities, visual explanations.
  • Poor social interaction: the slow introduction to group work, roles assigned for clarity, celebration of positive interactional skills.

Build on from previous learning

Your lesson ideally must be a part of a sequence, not a sparkly lesson that is pulled out just for observations (unless for an interview!) Look at the sequence of lessons two weeks before your observation with a plan of how to build up to this lesson. Your learning journey should be evident in their work books, with a clear cohesive sequence followed to the lesson itself. Always revisit previous learning, verbal reminders and accessible information via display boards can be helpful to build on previous knowledge.

Vary your learning structures

Not all children learn in the same methods, all developing preferences for learning styles. Consider following the lesson structure of:


Purposeful discussion is invaluable for understanding and progress towards a learning objective (paired with the confidence to bring them back together quickly with strong classroom management skills).

Group work

There are numerous free resources online for group makers. Split the class into discussion or application groups to work with different abilities and personalities (this is something that will work well if it is used in everyday practice not just for an observation lesson).

Independent application

Allowing the children opportunity to apply their discussion, vocabulary submersion and idea planning by giving them their own independent task allows for reconsolidation of skill as well as providing excellent formative assessment opportunities.


As a class, in small groups or independently in their work books, encourage a reflection on new knowledge learnt during the lesson. Visually self-assessing their understanding and application through a colour or number system to demonstrate their confidence can add depth to your own teacher assessment judgements.


Top Tips to remember during lesson observations

Effective questioning in observation lessons

Familiarise yourself with a mixture of open and closed questions in relation to your lesson plan prior to the lesson. Circulate the classroom to ensure a broad range of children are given the opportunity to interact with your questions. Questioning to probe for further understanding and vocabulary enhancement is a task for both the teacher and any supporting staff, discuss this with your classroom team prior to observation.

Physical classroom

Think about your classroom layout, do all children have a clear view of the board and any resources on the board or screen? If you have any children who have traits of Dyslexia, ensure your font used is a Dyslexia friendly one! Uncluttered working stations with clear and accessible previous learning information on the display boards are the gold standard of physical working environments.

Reward system

Your school will have a behaviour policy stating their reward systems. This should be underpinning your classroom management on a day to day basis, but especially in the observation. Enlist any additional adults you have in the classroom to champion this throughout the lesson.

Remember, even the best planned lessons can go awry, wet playtime, a windy day or a stray cat can cause chaos. Deviating from the plan when necessary isn’t the end of the world - it shows professional judgement. The aim is always progression, in line with the planned learning objective with the larger picture of the whole sequence in mind.

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English, english teaching, Teaching, wellbeing

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