Understanding By Design – Backwards Design Process

(Adapted from format developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2002)

Stage 1 Desired Results

Content Standard(s):

Understanding (s)/goals:

Students will understand that...

  • This is a goal, not an objective.
  • List the big ideas or concepts that you want them to come away with, not facts that they must know.

Essential Question(s):

  • What leading questions can you ask of students to get them to understand the Big Ideas?
  • Address the heart of the discipline, are framed to provoke and sustain students interest; unit questions usually have no one obvious “right” answer

Student objectives (outcomes):

Students will be able to...

  • These are observable, measurable outcomes that students should be able to demonstrate and that you can assess. Your assessment evidence in Stage 2 must show how you will assess these.
  • Your learning activities in Stage 3 must be designed and directly linked to having students be able to achieve the understandings, answer the essential questions, and demonstrate the desired outcomes

Stage 2 Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s):

  • Authentic, performance based tasks that have students apply what they have learned and demonstrate their understanding.
  • Designed at least at the application level or higher on Bloom's Taxonomy.
  • Rubrics can be used to guide students in self-assessment of their performance

Other Evidence:

  • Includes pre-assessment, formative assessment, and summative assessment evidence
  • Can be individual or group based
  • Can include informal methods (such as thumbs up, thumbs down, and formal assessments, such as quiz, answers to questions on a worksheet, written reflection, essay)

Stage 3 Learning Plan

Outline the learning plan (teaching & learning activities). This plan should be aligned clearly with the desired results (i.e., geared towards having students meet the objectives, answer the essential questions, and be able to complete the assessment activities). There are many formats that you can use for this part of the lesson plan (e.g. Hunter Elements of Lesson Design), but the plan should include all of the following components:

  1. Materials & resources: List all.
  2. Timeline: next to each step, indicate approximate length of time you expect each step to take.
  3. Introductory activities: hook/capture student interest, set the stage, relate to previous learning (review), how this fits into what is to follow (preview), tell students what they will learn and be expected to do as a result of the lesson.
  4. Developmental activities: outline the content and outline the instructional strategies & learning activities. Include details what you will do, how you will organize/prepare students for tasks, and what students will do. If you plan to involve students in discussion, list key/stem questions that you might ask to generate discussion.
  5. Closing activities: list activities that you & students will do to summarize the lesson, reinforce what was covered, and tie everything together so students see how the lesson fits into the context of the rest of the course (what they have already done and what is coming next).

Also include any handouts, overhead transparencies/PowerPoint slides, and other relevant visuals and materials.

What you should aim for in your plan:

  1. Include appropriate strategies that promote student learning, active engagement, manipulation and testing of ideas. Students are asked to take responsibility for their own learning
  2. Include cultural integration. Community resources are brought into lesson.
  3. Clearly tie to a standard(s). Students are asked to engage critical thinking and problem solving as appropriate to prior knowledge, styles and interests
  4. Engage students in both individual and group learning based on personal interests. Students are able to make choices that help to establish meaning.
  5. Include variety and accommodations for learning styles, and multiple levels of development. Lesson clearly ties to curriculum goals.
  6. Include activating prior knowledge, anticipating preconceptions, exploration and problem solving, and new skill building.


  1. Lesson plan assignment rubric: (a) view as html (b) download as Microsoft Word document
  2. Understanding by design (UBD) framework: (a) view as html (b) download as Microsoft Word document
  3. UBD blank outline (a) view as html (b) download as Microsoft Word document
  4. Madeleine Hunter elements of lesson design