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Creating Synergy: Lesson Design in a Co-Taught Classroom

By Christine Peterson, M.Ed., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.
In recent years, co-teaching has become a popular service delivery model for meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Co-taught lessons must be carefully planned with the curriculum and student needs in mind. As such, co-teachers are accountable for designing and delivering specially designed instruction and providing opportunities for students to reach their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals within the general education classroom. When designing instruction, partners collaboratively make decisions about grouping students for instructional activities, the co-teaching approaches to use within a lesson, teacher roles and responsibilities during instruction,and methods for student progress monitoring (Friend, 2014).

Lesson Planning

According to Murawski and Lochner (2011), effective co-planning ensures the special educator has“proactive input into the lesson” (p. 175) and increases the likelihood that students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum. To begin the lesson planning process, co-teachers may answer the following questions:

  • How will the co-taught lesson be different and more beneficial for students with disabilities than a lesson taught by one teacher?
  • How will specially designed instruction be delivered for each student with an IEP?
  • Which co-teaching variations will be used during the lesson?
Another planning method involves a four-step co-planning process called BASE that consists of:
  1. Defining the big ideas;
  2. Analyzing areas of student difficulty;
  3. Creating strategies and supports to maximize student learning; and
  4. Evaluating the process (Hawbaker, Balong, Buckwalter, & Runyon, 2001).

Table 1 shows the steps of BASE and corresponding teacher considerations.

Table 1

Teacher Considerations for Each Step of the BASE Planning Process



Define the big ideas
  • What do our students need to Understand, Know, and Do (U-K-D) based on the Standards of Learning and curriculum framework?
Analyze areas of difficulty
  • What does the pre-assessment identify as areas of weakness?
  • What are the gaps in skills required to learn the identified new content?
  • What does the Virginia Student Performance Analysis indicate as areas of difficulty for students related to the SOL strands related to this lesson?
Create strategies and supports
Evaluate the process
  • What do our formative and summative assessments tell us about student learning and their success with the new content?
  • How does the assessment data help us refine our teaching?
  • Were the co-teaching approaches effective? Are there adjustments or changes that need to be made?


As another tool to guide and assess their co-planning, co-teachers may use the checklist in Table 2, adapted from Howard and Potts (2009). More detailed information on the co-planning process and use of this checklist may be found in Remove the Barriers of Time and Space: Strategies for Effective Co-Planning.

Checklist for Instructional Planning Components

Planning Area Guiding Questions Yes No
Standards Did we use standards as the focus of the lesson?
Did we align instructional content with IEP goals?
Assessment Did we identify intended learning outcomes?
Did we include formative assessment?
Did we include summative assessment?
Will we assess in a variety of formats?
☐ Paper and pencil
☐ Project-based
☐ Oral
☐ Presentations
Did we agree on grading procedures?
☐ Person responsible
☐ Differentiating grading based on student needs
☐ Use of rubrics
Did we talk about homework?
☐ How much to assign
☐ How often to assign
☐ Procedures for submitting
☐ How to grade
☐ Accepting late work
Accommodations/Modifications Did we address any appropriate content-related IEP goals?
Did we address any non-content-related IEP goals?
Did we consider needs of individual students for assignments?
Did we discuss how to provide accommodations/modifications inclusively without calling attention to the student/ students?
Instructional Strategies Did we consider mnemonics?
Did we consider graphic organizers?
Did we consider cooperative learning strategies?
Did we consider progress monitoring?
Did we consider peer-assisted learning strategies?
Logistics Did we decide who will prepare tests?
Did we decide who will prepare materials?
Did we plan for roles and arrangements?
☐ Seating
☐ Classroom movement patterns
☐ Student grouping
☐ Roles in instruction
☐ Roles in discipline

Adapted from Howard and Potts (2009). (Download Chart)

Well-planned co-taught lessons have the potential to effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities and create powerful instruction for ALL students. How will you unleash the power of the co-taught lesson?

Additional Resources

For additional information on the co-planning process strategies, read the T/TAC William and Mary Considerations Packet Co-Planning for Student Success. This free packet and many others may be ordered online at

For a comprehensive resource from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) on collaborating for student success, refer to Stepping Stones to Success II Collaboration: Working Together for All Students.


Friend, M. (2014). Co-teach! Building and sustaining effective classroom partnerships in inclusive schools (2nd Ed.). Greensboro, NC: Marilyn Friend, Inc.

Hawbaker, B. W., Balong, M., Buckwalter, S., &. Runyon, S. (2001). Building a strong BASE of support for all students through co-planning. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 33, 24-30. Retrieved from (not longer available)

Howard, L., &. Potts, E. A. (2009). Using co-planning time: Strategies for a successful co-teaching marriage. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 5. Retrieved from

Murawski, W. W., & Lochner, W. W. (2011). Observing co-teaching: What to ask for, look for, and listen for. Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(3), 174-183.

By Christine Peterson, M.Ed., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.