Behaviour Matters explains why it’s important to break down the separate activities within a lesson into clear time slots

For many students simply getting through an hour-long lesson can be a major issue. They will often become anxious on the way to school, although foreboding can begin as early as the start of the week.

Some students may even be preparing themselves for disruption, confrontation or exclusion from the lesson. Whatever the lead-up, the result can often be challenging or off task behaviour. Such students may benefit from help in dealing with the structure and timing of the lesson. You will have probably prepared and differentiated the content of the lesson and know exactly what you want to achieve by the end. Inevitably the lesson will be made up of a variety of activities that may include:

  • Enter room, welcome and settling in period
  • Spoken introduction
  • Direct teaching to whole group and/or individuals
  • Quiet study/writing time
  • Question and answer session
  • Review and evaluation
  • Clear up and end of lesson
  • Leave room

No matter how your lesson is constructed, you will be very aware of the timings you have in mind for each section or activity. This is also true for many of your students. However, some students will not be concerned with timing. They spend much of their time off task, chatting and disrupting, or are simply unable to plan a structure to their work schedule. These students will certainly need your help in prompting and organisational skills. Helping them with a structure, reminding them and preparing them for changes in the activities will not just help them to remain on task, but will allow you to be proactive in your behaviour management techniques. Constant reminders to stop talking, sit down or get back to work can actually cause more disruption then the off task behaviour! Clear timings, forewarning of changes in activities and positive recognition can be a powerful behaviour management tool.

Practical Tips

While the actual timing for the whole lesson is generally fully understood by all, it is important that you break down the separate activities into clear time slots and make this very obvious to the students. Setting out the lesson in a form of a timed agenda will give a clear indication of your expectations. All too often, the teacher can aggravate challenging behaviour from students with comments such as: ‘You need to get on with your work, you are wasting time.’ ‘What, you haven’t done that part yet?’ ‘I’ve explained what to do, now get on with it!’ Many younger pupils will find a visual reminder very helpful in planning a structure to their work. An egg timer, buzzer or electronic timing device with a clear visual readout allows the child to understand not only what is expected of them, but also how long you are allowing for the activity. Gauging time can be a very difficult skill for many children. Mentally judging five, 10 or 15 minutes can prove to be almost impossible for some students, and structuring a whole lesson can be an impossible task, which leads to arguments and overall disruption. Once you have prepared the content of the lesson, plan your timings carefully. These should be communicated to all the students in an age-appropriate manner using clear start and end procedures, remembering to include reminders and warnings of changes in activities.

  • Give a clear indication at the start of the activity of how long you are allowing for that particular piece of work.
  • Use a visual timing device for younger students.
  • Have a clock (correctly set!) in the room for older students.
  • Give a five-minute warning and then a one-minute warning for all changes in activities. Try saying, ‘I’m going to stop you in one minute to talk about…’, rather than simply saying, ‘Right everyone, stop and listen.’ Some students will be absorbed in the activity and will not want to stop immediately, while others will not even have started, and will need a reminder to get back on task.
  • The same applies at the end of the lesson. Give clear and advanced warnings prior to ending the lesson.
  • Allow time for any questions, clearing up and preparing to leave the room. Remember the next group or member of staff will not thank you for leaving the room in a terrible state, trashed by the previous group who had no time to clear up or to leave in a sensible and orderly manner.

When making allowances for individual students it is also worthwhile considering varying your timings. Break up a 60-minute session into chunks of five, 10, 15 or 20 minutes rather than have six 10-minute activities.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2007

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.