There’s a time and a place for linear thinking. If I’m trying to re-create a recipe exactly, I must follow the steps, precisely, in order. If I’m ever in a flash mob (on my bucket list, by the way), I must perform the steps as choreographed, in order. But for most things organic—playing, creating, learning—it just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, there are basic progressions you should go through, especially on a macro level. You must learn to stand before you walk, as they say. But on a micro level, when teaching a specific concept, we tend to create very linear lesson plans for a non-linear learning process. We put time and effort into lesson plans that have a clear progression of steps, one building off the next. We do this because it provides us a sense of assurance—assurance that the lesson can be completed in the allotted time, that we will cover all the mandatory elements of the lesson, etc.

But as we all know, these assurances aren’t real. The best-laid lesson plans can easily be derailed by any number of real-world classroom distractions. More importantly, rigid lesson plans beget rigid student thinking. You don’t want your students to learn what you planned. You want them to be inspired to learn more than you dreamed possible.

Don’t get me wrong; planning is important. You must have a foundation of knowledge that you intend to impart. But, you should also remember to create lesson plans that leave room for student-led progression, pacing, and connection. Here are a few ideas that can help.

Prezi vs. PowerPoint. If you want to present information to your class and your go-to tool is PowerPoint, consider Prezi (prezi.com) instead. PowerPoint slides are innately linear, forcing you to go through them in order. Prezi allows you to zoom in and out of content, enabling your students to direct the progression of learning.

Flipped Lessons. Rather than preparing and delivering  your lecture in class, try video-taping yourself giving the direct instruction. Ask students to watch the video as homework, on their own time, and to then come to class ready to apply the learning. This gives them control over the pacing of the learning, allowing them to pause, rewind, and re-play as much as needed. It also gives you more time to monitor how they apply the learning in class.

Flexible Grouping. Grouping by ability level is useful for certain tasks, but so often that is the only form of grouping in the classroom. Students see right through it. They know what group they’re in and they perform as expected. Mix groups up throughout the day. Group students by interest, by learning profile, randomly, or by choice.  Constantly changing groups gives students options in how they connect to the content and their peers.