One of the most polarizing discussions among CFI candidates is the topic of lesson plans. Specifically, should you make your own? Or is it OK to purchase premade lesson plans from a third-party provider?
Aeronautical Knowledge for CFIs
FAR 61.185 lists the aeronautical knowledge required for flight instructors. There you will find it written that the person applying for a flight instructor certificate is to receive and log ground training from an authorized instructor, and that ground training will include the learning process, elements of effective teaching, student evaluation and testing course development, lesson planning, and classroom training techniques. It’s all there in black and white—lesson planning.
Chances are good you never saw or perhaps even heard about the use of a lesson plan in aviation until you began your CFI training. The best CFIs are knowledgeable and glib, and knowledge rolls out of their mouths like fat fish. But they also know when it is time to refer to their notes—that is, the lesson plan.
The designated pilot examiner (DPE) who administers your CFI check ride will likely want to see it so they know you have a plan. It can be helpful to refer to if you get stuck during the oral portion of your check ride or when doing ground instruction with a learner.
What Is a Lesson Plan?
As noted in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, a lesson plan allows the CFI to organize their thoughts and present the information in a logical manner. It should not, however, be used as a script. The elements of the lesson plan should include the objective of the lesson, equipment required schedule, instructor’s actions, learner’s actions, common errors, and completion standards and references. (CFI candidates: The acronym to recall this is Only Elephants Should Ingest Lemon Candy Corn Really!)
The lesson plans should cover all skills, tasks, maneuvers, and knowledge required for the certificate or rating the instructor is teaching. Refer to the current airman certification standards to make sure this is accomplished.
Premade Lesson Plans vs. from Scratch
Buying premade lesson plans saves the instructor candidate time because someone else has done all the work. It’s a shortcut, which may be totally appropriate for your situation, or it may send up a red flag to the DPE or even a potential employer who may wonder what other shortcuts the applicant takes.
If you opt for premade lesson plans, you’ll have to make sure they cover the requirements from the airman certification standards for the certificate or rating to be taught, and the instructor knows where to reference the material. For example, know where to look in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge or Aeronautical Information Manual to verify what is being presented.
For some, the act of making the lesson plans helps them learn the material or refresh their knowledge on the subjects to be presented. The laws of learning come into play here, as the law of exercise states the more we practice something, the better we are able to retain the knowledge and perform the skill. The CFI who refreshes their knowledge by creating lesson plans can improve their skill in delivery.
Other CFI candidates opt to use the premade lesson plans and modify them for their teaching style and environment. If you go this route, it will take some time to figure out what works best for you.
Hard Copy or Digital?
It’s always good to have a hard copy of a document in addition to the materials you create digitally. It’s not that difficult to print the lesson plans. If you don’t own a printer, an office supply store or library probably has one you can rent. Just bring the lessons in on a thumb drive. Keep the hard copy lesson plans in a safe place because if the worst happens and the thumb drive disappears, the hard copies can easily be scanned.
Be careful about using “inherited” materials from other instructors, as you don’t know if they are up to date. An instructor I knew during my primary training “gifted me” with her old lesson plans. They were hand typed and in big binders. She had been out of the CFI business for a number of years, and I was coming up on 10 years of actively instructing when the exchange took place, so they really weren’t useful to me or any of my clients except as a cautionary tale. There were some things that had changed. For example, the duration of the third-class medical certificate for a pilot under 40 at the time of examination has increased to 60 calendar months.
Looking at these binders that were thick as the Gutenberg Bible, I was glad my lesson plans had been created on a laptop computer and the files saved. It’s a lot easier to go into a digital file and make changes than sift through pages and pages to find a place to put correction tape.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on flyingmag.com.