The RVS Instructional Design Framework

RVS 2017 Instructional Design Framework

Run Your Own IDF Planning Session

Coming Soon

A Guided Tour of the IDF

A video guide to using the framework (Coming Soon)




Take a walk through the Instructional Design Framework’s components to see how each is used. While they can be put together in any sequence, the order we’ve placed these in is how we most frequently think through our own designs.

1. Title

A powerful experience deserves a strong title. Whether you’re designing a single lesson or an entire unit, give your design a memorable name.

2. Essential Question

An essential question (or questions) serves as a focus for the design. A good question invites exploration toward many possible answers or outcomes. While these can be phrased in many different ways we find “How might we [action or challenge] for [audience or purpose]?” can be a powerful way to phrase a driving question. Check out Andrew Miller’s blog on crafting essential questions for more information.

3. Community Partners

These are people and organizations who are outside your classroom who might bring assistance, authenticity, or expertise to the experience: parents, companies, institutions, colleagues, foundations, neighbors, friends, etc.

4. Experiences

Along this lane we plot the essential activities that students will engage in as they move through the learning. What might students make, create, and do in order to meet the objectives for the learning and to answer the essential question?  Are reading, writing, and listening balanced with engaged conversation, hands-on experiences, and collaborative inquiry?  How will the learning be scaffolded so that when students demonstrate what they’ve learned and created summatively, they’ve had the opportunity to build their skills and understanding?

5. Reflections

“We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

This lane “balances the equation” plotted in the Experiences lane. On this line activities are plotted that answer some of these questions:

  • How might students reflect on their experiences and consolidate new understanding with prior knowledge?
  • How might they relate what they’ve learned to others?
  • How might they revise or iterate on the things they are making and creating?


6. Timeline

While the watermarked words on the template serve as a useful list for a variety of actions and activities, this space is actually meant for plotting a timeline for the learning journey. Whether these are the times of day during a single lesson or the times of year during a unit or course, time runs from left to right on the framework.


7. "Extra" Lanes

These lanes are for your use in whatever ways you need to add more information to your design.  These could be formative and summative assessment plans. For more information on these principles of assessment, visit the RVS Assessment page and the work of Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies. These lanes could also be used for Literacy and Numeracy connections, inclusion strategies, social emotional learning connections, or any other needs you have for your design.

Download a pdf version of the Instructional Design Framework. Also available en Français.

Questions to consider when designing your own framework.

The Instructional Design Framework is a “Non-Denominational” planning tool that helps teachers plan and plot rich experiences for their students. It is non-denominational in the sense that almost any planning format or questioning template could be applied to the framework.  We’ve suggested some key questions to ask and answer, but in reality any format, whether linear or abstract, could be used with the template.

So why the “waves” look? We often think of learning as a journey, and unlike “traditional” lesson planning, the focus on this instructional design format is on making the plans themselves visual. It’s meant to be spread out on a white board or chart paper. We like using sticky notes or dry erase marker to make our plans. This is partially so that they can be edited and altered easily, but it’s also so that the plans can be displayed and seen.

Visual planning invites conversation. Like a work of unfinished art, it asks you to stand band and look at the whole journey as well as get up close and examine the pieces. We think that the most powerful thing you could do with any lesson plan is to share it with a colleague and ask them to give you their thoughts on what you’ve come up with so far. This template can certainly be used on your own, in a binder, and for your eyes only. But where it really shines is when it is out in the open for your students and colleagues to see.


The Pitch Tool

Jumping straight into the IDF can sometimes be a challenge when you’re not exactly sure where you want to go with a design. Following the principles of Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe), the Pitch Tool can be used ahead of the IDF to help “Start with the End in Mind.”  The Pitch Tool invites you to think about the four big elements of our instructional design: the Big Ideas (which can be used to develop the driving question(s)), the Inquiry and Project Deliverables (what the students create to display their learning), and the Exhibition (the venue and the audience for showcasing and celebrating that learning). Any of these sections could be done as a collaborative brainstorm to explore many possibilities.

The Four Boxes
Big Ideas


What are the major themes of the lesson, section, unit, course, etc. you are designing for? These could be broad thematic topics (“Waste in Our World”), specific curricular outcomes (“Students will understand the role of the pituitary gland.”), or qualities and attributes we hope to bring out in our students (“Empathy,” “Problem Solving,” “Innovation,” etc.)

Inquiry Deliverable(s)

Inquiry is a process of discovery. Whether done through reading texts, research, hands-on exploration, interviews, tackling a new problem, or observing, the process of inquiry can be done in a multitude of ways. An Inquiry Deliverable is a product that encapsulates the learning from an inquiry phase. These can also take a multitude of forms: infographics, pictures, podcasts, artwork, summaries, editorials, graphs, videos, journals, soundscapes, essays, letters, experimental designs, etc. How might students in your design encapsulate and display the results of their exploration?

Project Deliverable(s)


The Project phase of an instructional design is the invitation to apply the learning from the Inquiry phase(s). This is where students can take what they’ve learned and use it to create something for an authentic audience. More learning can certainly take place during this phase (how to use a tool or piece of software for instance), but the focus is on being creative in making a high quality product. Models, art, proposals, speeches, functional products, videos, games, performances, displays, exhibits, and many other products are all potential Project Deliverables.




Exhibiting student work can be a factor in driving engagement, product quality, and pride. Students who exhibit for an audience of one (the teacher) only have that teacher’s feedback and the grade to measure the value of their work. When students can exhibit to a large audience that includes many stakeholders, including experts in the discipline being explored, the value of their effort is magnified significantly (as are the social stakes). Who (besides their teacher) should student work be displayed or published to? What venue, format, or platform would offer a high degree of authenticity for this project?