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Teaching with Packets – what they are and why I love them.

teaching with packets

I have fallen in love at first sight 4x in my life. Once when I met my husband, each time my children were born, and when I was first introduced to teaching with packets.

Many moons ago I landed my first official teaching job, teaching biology (with a high-stakes state EOC exam) alongside a team of 4 other biology teachers. These teachers had a system of teaching with packets that I had never heard of before – but they had insane test score results (we were in the 90% and up pass rate every year) – much of which they attributed to the packet strategy.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. I had tried using interactive notebooks during my student teaching experience and found that they just weren’t for me. (You can read more about my experience using them here, if interested). I knew I wanted to try something different, and since teaching with packets had been so successful for this new team of teachers I was working with (and to be honest, since I didn’t really have a choice because we were required to do the same thing 😅 😅 ), I went all in with learning about what they are, and over time, truly fell in love with how effective it is to teach with packets.

What are packets?

teaching with packets

From my experience in teaching with packets, packets are a curriculum organization tool. When using packets effectively, they force you to batch lesson plan (meaning, do ALL of your lesson plans for an entire unit at ONCE in ADVANCE – not day by day), align all of your resources, and provide your students with structure, organization, direction, and VISION for what is to come in a unit.

Packets are NOT just massive workbooks full of worksheets and busywork.
Packets are NOT just copies on copies on copies.
Packets do NOT even have to be printed on paper – they can be totally paperless and digital (like below)!

The cover page should serve as the overview for your entire unit. On this page, divide the unit into concepts. I have found chunking like this especially effective for students with accommodations. Each concept has a list of objectives, skills, and vocabulary associated with it. This list guides the selection of every instructional resource I use for the entire unit AND serves as the foundation for the summative assessments I write. If giving a test, every test question goes back to this list. If giving a nontraditional summative assessment, the project, lab practical, research paper, etc. aligns with this list as well.

After the cover page, the packet includes every single handout (paper-wise or virtual handout) you would administer during the course of a unit. This could include lecture note outlines (I use Cornell note outlines), labs, project rubrics, activity overviews, inquiry investigation guidelines, practice problems, review concept maps, etc. If it is something you plan to give to your students at some point in the unit, it is included.

Each of these pages included in the packet is selected with intentionality and purpose. The goal is that EVERYTHING included aligns and builds towards whatever you hope to accomplish in the unit you are teaching. No labs for the sake of labs, or practice handouts for the sake of doing practice problems.

The point of teaching with packets is NOT to overwhelm students with a bunch of papers, assignments, and busywork. The point is to create an organizational tool that:

  1. Forces you as the teacher to be comprehensive and lesson plan with intentionality
  2. Allows you to only have to make copies 1x per unit and distribute resources 1x per unit
  3. Makes keeping up with your class MUCH easier for your students
  4. Allows your students to clearly know your expectations which better sets them up for success

What does teaching with packets look like?

teaching with packets

It helps if you can start using this strategy at the beginning of the year. Tell your students from day 1 that you will be teaching with packets this year. Let them know that your expectation is for them to come to class every day with their packet and a pencil (or if paperless, their laptop, or another tech. device).

Then, explain that at the start of each unit you will be giving them a unit packet. Go through the cover page and explain how this will be their guide for the unit, and this should be what they should study from (I actually have my students make study guides from these!) Then show them all that is included so that they can see how critical it is for them to come to class every day with it, since it will be used every single day.

Now, CELEBRATE! You only have to go to the copy machine once per unit now (and if you have a T.A. or a student who needs community service hours, send them to the copier one afternoon for you!) I like to hole punch mine and have students keep it in their binders. They can separate each unit by a divider. I have one 1-inch binder per unit because within each I keep the packet (CP and Honors versions), answer keys, and quizzes and tests all in one place.

You can also celebrate that you are DONE WITH LESSON PLANNING FOR THE UNIT! No more scrambling the night before to know what to do. No more stressing at 2 am when you are up with the stomach bug about what your students will do the next day with your sub. They already have everything they need – you can just point them to what they can work on next.

Why do I love them so much?

teaching with packets

I love teaching with packets for sooooo many reasons. I go into a lot of detail on a few of them in this post here, but here is a quick list for you:

  • Packets keep me and my students incredibly organized.
  • The organization especially benefits my students with accommodations – and the resource teachers I have worked with ESPECIALLY love that I use them.
  • Parents and admin love them too. It shows them how prepared and intentional you are with your instructional resources. They can see how clear your expectations are and how you are doing everything you can to support their students and keep them organized.
  • Students rarely lose assignments.
  • Students MORE OFTEN refer back to work they’ve previously completed (practice problems, labs, etc.) because it is so easy to find and reference them.
  • Students come to class every day prepared. This builds confidence in them and just makes your life as a teacher easier.
  • The packet serves almost like a portfolio at the end of each unit of all of their effort and chronicles the entire instructional process. The binder of packets at the end of the year is a true representation of all they have learned.
  • Teaching with packets holds me accountable and keeps me from scrambling the night before to make lesson plans or the morning of to make copies.
  • They may require more time and effort on the front end, but save so much class time on the back end. Plus, they can be used year after year. No reinventing the wheel, just more like adding air to the tires or tweaking the rotation each year as you improve your practice and the instructional resources you use with your students.
  • Teaching with packets has truly made me a better educator. I don’t feel like this toots my own horn either because packets were NOT originally my idea. I just fell in love with them and have used them with tenacity since I was first introduced!

How do I make effective packets for my own students?

teaching with packets

I will not lie to you, it takes some time to do this right and to do it well. But I’ve outlined my entire process for how I do this here!

Feeling overwhelmed? Take a deep breath! If you teach biology, anatomy, or physical science, I’ve done alllll of this for you. If you teach something else, refer back to this post and I’ll walk you through step by step what to do.

Teaching with packets has truly been a game-changer for me as a teacher, and I am so thankful that I was introduced to this organizational strategy my first year teaching.

What’s a strategy you learned from other teachers your first year of teaching that you still do to this day? I’d LOVE to hear. DM me on Instagram or email me here and let me know!

More Pedagogy, Lesson Planning Posts

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