Win it or lose it within the first three minutes, by Nicola Fahey

Whether you are an experienced teacher or just starting out, the prospect of meeting a new group can be a daunting one. This simple control management technique, outlined below, may help to give you the psychological upper hand before you even enter the classroom.

In order for this technique to work best, you will need to

  • prepare the classroom in which you will be working, prior to the lesson;
  • have access to a list of the pupils’ names.

If you have a permanent post and a classroom base out of which to teach your own subject, then the above arrangement is easy and you are in an ideal situation to take control. If not, the following technique can be adapted on an ad-hoc basis with a hurried sketch, a pad of post-its and a borrowed register.


Decide on the type of classroom layout, which suits your own style of teaching and subject.


Clearly write a number on a sticky label (one per pupil) and stick them consecutively, in a prominent position on top of the desks or tables.


Draw an accurate diagram of your desk arrangement / numbers. It needs to be clearly recognizable at a glance, so it is worth taking the time to draw it neatly. Your diagram can then be photocopied several times. Decide in advance how you would like to seat your pupils. I always start by arranging them alphabetically boy, girl as this seems to have maximum impact upon control. You will have your own preference, but whatever your arrangement, make sure to write the names of each pupil accurately in their proposed position on your chart.


The manner in which the pupils enter the classroom is absolutely key to setting the tone for the rest of the session. With your stickers and prepared seating plans in place, you are now ready to take control of the class before they have even entered the room. Let me describe how it works with the real example of my very first teaching session, some years ago. I returned from assembly to find that the Year 9 group had arrived there first and already piled into the classroom, (which they assured me their previous teacher had let them do!) At that moment, of course, they had the psychological upper hand in terms of control.

I stepped confidently into the room and firmly instructed the class to go and line up outside the door, girls on one side, boys on the other. Once outside, I told the pupils that they could only go to their places when they heard their name and table position number being called out. In spite of much groaning and moaning, they did follow my instructions to the letter because, as a new teacher, I was still an ‘unknown quantity.’

The atmosphere felt very different from how it had done previously. Psychologically, I had now taken control of the situation and felt in a strong position to introduce myself and start the class properly. When a little later on, the first inevitable test of my authority came, I was able to glance at my prepared seating plan and address the culprit by name. The response was a startled,’how do you know my name Miss?’ It was now very clear who was in control and the lesson continued with no further challenges.

Nicola Fahey began her career as Head of Spanish in an outer London comprehensive. She then spent 8 years as a Management Development Trainer and Change Consultant with BT. Nicola has returned to teaching and is currently employed at a pupil referral unit where she deals specifically with pupils who have severe behavioural, psychological or physical difficulties.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 1 Autumn 2003.