Planning Instruction

Engaging in thoughtful, precise lesson planning in MTP results in the efficient use of your time, rigorous instruction, and an increased proficiency in reading and writing for every child.

There are many planning considerations in MTP: the primary literacy objective, the genre and content of your writing piece, who you will scaffold, what your goals for these individual children will be, and what your mini-lesson will be. Using the MTP template can guide you through the process. The more connected your planning for MTP is to your other literacy practices, the more impactful your lesson will be.

Lesson Planning Template

The lesson planning template can guide your planning of a successful Message Time Plus lesson. The template is sequential and is equipped with helpful prompts that focus your attention and support your thinking through the planning of each lesson component. If you need more support, take a look at our “notes” version of the template. Use the sample lesson plans for ideas and feel free to adapt them to use in your own classroom.

Choosing Objectives

Carefully select the primary literacy objective to keep your lesson focused, meaningful, and engaging for the children. Make sure the objective meets the needs of your children. Here are some considerations for choosing objectives:

  • Choose objectives for your mini-lesson based on your curriculum’s scope and sequence, mandated learning standards, and the needs of your children.

  • Make sure the objective is appropriate for the majority of the children in the class (not just a few children).

  • Keep a list of mini-lesson objectives as you teach them. This will help you keep track of the skills, strategies, and behaviors you have taught and help with future planning.

  • If you already have a primary literacy objective in mind, consider what format or genre will help illustrate your objective (while still keeping the above guidelines in mind). See the chart below for examples.

Possible Primary Literacy Objective Possible Format/Genre of your Message
Beginning, middle, end Narrative
Rhyming words Poem
Main idea Informational piece
  • When appropriate, select objectives that connect to other areas of literacy instruction such as writing, word study, etc. If the children are writing “how to” pieces in Writing Workshop, you could write a how to message and ask the children to notice what makes this type of writing unique. If they are learning about verbs in word study, they can identify verbs they see in the message and discuss how these words enhance their comprehension of the story.

  • Choose objectives that cover different areas of reading instruction such as phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency.

  • After your lesson ends, reflect on the evidence of children’s learning and whether or not the objective needs revisiting.

Planning Your Writing: Varying the Genres and Formats

Varying the types of writing that you model during Message Time Plus will expose children to a wide range of genres and formats in a meaningful context. Familiarize yourself with writing genres and formats your children should be exposed to and need instruction in learning. The chart below offers several examples.

Genres & Formats


Story (e.g., narrative, fable, mystery, folk tale)


Venn diagram


Scene (from a play)

Song lyrics

Comic strips

Reading response












Science observation



Concept map or web

Length and Complexity of a Writing Piece in MTP

Message Time Plus is an instructional practice designed to address multiple areas of literacy while engaging children in an authentic learning experience. Children enjoy MTP so much that you might find yourself spending a lot of time on one lesson! However, generally MTP lessons should last between 10 to 25 minutes depending on the age and needs of your children, the demands of your literacy block, and the time of the year.

To help you complete an MTP lesson in the appropriate amount of time, pre-plan your message, scaffolding, and mini-lesson so you know exactly what it is you want to say and do and what it is you want the children to learn and do. Also, establish procedures for MTP so children know what is expected of them.

The length and complexity of your writing will no doubt develop over time as your children’s reading skills develop. However, always be mindful of the length of time it takes to write in front of the children. Writing longer pieces won’t necessarily result in increased learning for the children. Consider ways to enhance the complexity of the message over time using the guidelines below.

Grade Level In the beginning… Examples of messages As you progress… Examples of messages

Draw or use pictures

Write one sentence

Incorporate at least one high frequency word

Incorporate at least one vocabulary word

I have a dog.

He wags his tail all the time.

Don’t provide picture support

Add one or two more sentences

Vary your sentence structure

Vary the genre of the message

Add more high frequency words

Add more vocabulary

Make connections to different content areas

The other day I took my delightful dog on a train ride. He enjoyed watching people, sniffing the seats and taking a long nap.

Write two sentences

Incorporate at least two high frequency words

Incorporate at least one vocabulary word

Facts About Loggerhead Turtles

Loggerhead turtles have enormous heads.

Loggerhead turtles have a reddish-brown carapace or shell.

Add one or two more sentences

Vary your sentence structure

Vary the genre of the message

Add more high frequency words

Add more vocabulary

Make connections to different content areas

Messages can build upon each other

Dear Mr. President,

We have been studying animals and their habitats. My students are all in agreement that we need to preserve the ecosystems of the loggerhead turtles to ensure their survival.


Ms. Smith’s Second Graders

Planning and Implementing the Mini-Lesson

The mini-lesson is your opportunity to teach all the children in your class one important literacy skill, strategy, or concept. When planning a mini-lesson, determine exactly what you want your children to learn and do. All children should actively participate. It will also be important for you to explain why this skill or strategy will help them as readers or writers and how they can use it in their independent work. Remember to use child-friendly language and keep the mini-lesson relatively short, no longer than 10 minutes. Brevity and engagement will make the mini-lesson more impactful for your children.

Say “what” the children will learn.

Determine what you want children to learn in the mini-lesson. Do you want them to recognize, identify, and/or apply this skill or strategy? Connect your mini-lesson to the primary literacy objective.

Teacher says: Today I want to review the “st” blend with you. This is what “st-“ looks like (write it at the bottom of the board). This is what the blend sounds like /s/ /t/.

Say “why” this will help them as readers and/or writers.

Explain to the children how practicing this skills or strategy will help them be more successful as readers, writers, and thinkers. Make sure to use child-friendly and specific language.

Teacher says: Identifying words that have the “st” blend at the beginning of the word will help us read new or unfamiliar words. When we come across words that have the “st” blend, we will be able to notice the blend and read the word better.” (Examples: stop, steer, stump)

Say “how” you want them to engage with this idea.

Vary your mini-lesson to appeal to different learning styles. Make sure to engage the entire class. Use this time to collect assessment information on whether or not children are successful. You can use what they say, do, or write.

Teacher says: Right now I would like you to read the message and look for words that begin with the blend “st”. When you have finished, put your thumbs up like this (teacher demonstrates).

Teacher does: Give the children time to reread the piece. Look for the signal that everyone has found a word.

Teacher says: Let’s share what you found. I will make a list of the words on the bottom of the board.

Teacher does: Call on a few children.

Teacher says: Everyone, what two letters make the blend “st”? What sound does /s/ /t/ make?

Link the mini-lesson to independent work.

Explain how this skill or strategy will help children as independent readers and writers.

Teacher says: When you read and come across a new or unfamiliar word that begins with this blend, you can get your mouth ready to read it now!

Scaffolding: Planning for Individual Instruction

When you plan your scaffolding, think about the children you will be inviting to the board. What do they need to learn? Use information from your formal and informal assessment to identify their academic and language needs. What might they pick and how will you move them towards new understandings? Jot down what you might say and do to help them gain new understandings. Use the example below as a model for thinking about your scaffolding. Use the blank scaffolding sheet for your own planning.

I will invite… He needs to learn… He might pick… I can scaffold him by…

The difference between contractions and possessives

How to read three letter blends (str-)

More strategies for decoding longer words

The vocabulary word (furious) or a high frequency word

If he picks the word “furious” I can have him count the syllables in the word. Then I can write other words that have three syllables on the bottom of the board and help him decode them by reading their word parts (e.g. departed, unhappy, lemonade).

If he picks a high frequency word, I can ask him to find another high frequency word that has an apostrophe in it in the message. Then, I can write a sentence that contains both a possessive and a contraction to review the difference. For example, I can’t find Joe’s shirt.

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