Written by Donald Joyce, Elementary Teacher, Tsai Hsing School

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, we’ve all had lessons that went completely off the rails. We thought the lesson was going to be awesome, we were really excited to teach it, but it just didn’t click with our students. We scrambled to get the lesson back on track, but frustrations took over and disaster ensued.

After the lesson, we spent some time reflecting about what went wrong. (That’s what good teachers do!) After a little while, we were able to get over it, and promised ourselves that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. (Hey, there’s always next time, right?)

What if we spent some time before teaching our lessons, thinking of all the ways our lessons were going to fail?

This is the idea behind a pre-mortem.

Essentially, a pre-mortem is a deliberate attempt to envision all the ways a product could fail before it’s launch into the marketplace. If one could effectively see the factors that would inhibit the success of a product, one could take specific steps to prevent them…thus increasing the likelihood of that product’s success.

When we as teachers teach a lesson or a unit of study, and things don’t seem to go right, we reflect on that lesson…this is a post-mortem.

Over the past few years, after learning about how businesses use pre-mortems to help them plan and launch successful products, I’ve tried to adapt this strategy to my teaching practices. When I have planned out my lesson or unit of study, and I feel it’s ready to go, I don’t stop there. I go through my lesson plan or my slides with a different mindset. I try to envision all the ways my lesson was going to fail.

Pre-mortem Guiding Questions:

1. How will I handle potential classroom management issues?
This is often the main cause of a failed lesson.


2. How will I manage the lesson if we finish early or later than expected?

You will want to be flexible with timing so students don’t feel bored or rushed.

3. How will I connect the lessons material to my student’s prior knowledge?
If connections aren’t made to prior knowledge, students may feel lost from the onset.

4. How will I support my students with the specific language demands in the lesson?
Students may need to be pre-taught vocabulary, be given word banks, or provided with sentence frames to help them be successful.

5. Will the lesson be engaging for my students and allow them to share their ‘voice’?
Am I aware of my students’ interests and did I provide opportunities for self-expression?

6. How clear are my learning goals?
Will the students understand why we were learning this material and what we were trying to accomplish?

*Remember, you should be asking these questions before your lesson.