Developing a Brief Focus Lesson


Years ago, when I first implemented the Daily 5 and CAFE in my classroom, I struggled with the idea of brief focus lessons. I listened to Gail and Joan talk about brain research and its implications for the classroom, and although it all made sense, I was still confident that my lessons were effective. At a Daily 5 workshop, they encouraged teachers to videotape a lesson or two, and then watch to observe student behaviors. I did this soon after I returned from the workshop, and what I saw was astonishing.

At the time, I was teaching kindergarten (five-and-six-year olds). While watching the video, I noticed student behaviors start to decline at about the five-minute mark, and by the time the lesson hit eight minutes, I was basically teaching to the four students who were still focused on me. How could this be? I know when I was teaching this lesson, it couldn't have been this obvious! But the videos don't lie. My lessons were not as effective as I thought they were.

This was the turning point for me. I started to become very aware of student behaviors and signals showing they were "done." I realized I needed to adjust my teaching to meet their needs. I was spending five minutes of each lesson accessing prior knowledge, and by the time I got to the new learning material, my students were done. I had to find a way to adapt my lessons so they would fit the definition of a brief focus lesson.

I am pleased to say that although it didn't happen overnight, it did happen. I changed my teaching style, and the result was shortened focus lessons that were explicit and effective. Thanks to the many videos I watched on, and the use of the Ready Reference Guides in the back of The CAFE Book (Boushey & Moser, 2009), I highlighted the steps of a mini-lesson and created a template to help me stay brief and to the point. Now, when I plan my focus lessons each day, I use this template to stay on track. My lessons are shorter, but I still access prior knowledge, teach new information, engage students in the application of new learning, and generalize the learning to their daily reading lives.

If you struggle to keep your focus lessons brief, I encourage you to videotape a lesson, take the time to watch the video, and reflect on your teaching and student engagement in the lesson. Then, view some of the many videos on, access the Ready Reference Guides (Boushey & Moser, 2009), and use the attached template to help plan your focus lessons. It may not happen overnight, but you will find that if you continue to reflect on your teaching and adjust as needed, it will impact the effectiveness of your focus lessons.


Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2009). The CAFE Book. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

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