12 ways to keep the Lesson Flowing

There will undoubtedly be students who don’t understand, students who don’t want to understand, and students who finish before everyone else. This will cause you problems unless you’re prepared for it by having strategies and systems in place to prevent and deal with disruptions. A student who needs support, for example, will demand your attention by shouting out, getting out of their chair or, if they are left too long, messing about and distracting others.

Here are some ways to reduce and manage problems by keeping the lesson flowing.

1. Use routines

Let’s take an obvious action that happens a hundred times a day – a student getting the teacher’s attention by the simple raising of a hand. Even this needs a routine because students need to be taught responsibility. They aren’t going to learn to solve their own problems if they get used to enjoying immediate support and assistance every time they put their hand up or ask for help. Imagine thirty young people all demanding immediate and individual attention from you at the same time!

A ‘self-check/teacher/partner’ routine frees the teacher up from tending to what are often unnecessary, time-consuming requests for help - and it teaches students to rely on themselves and each other. Students are told that whenever they have a question they must first self-check their work again to see if they can find a way of solving the problem. If they can’t they must then as their learning partner or other group members. Finally, if they still can’t find a solution they can ask the teacher. This is an example of how a simple routine can save you a great deal of time and stress and make your classroom run more smoothly.

2. Have a visual reminder of noise levels

For younger students coloured ‘traffic light’ cards can be very effective.

When green is up - the noise level in the room is fine. Orange equals a warning - the noise level is too high and needs to drop immediately. If it doesn’t drop after an agreed time the red card goes up. Red means the activity must stop; the students lose a minute of break time and have to work in silence for 5 minutes. A simple ready-made ‘Noise Level Indicator’ on Power Point can be found in the free download area of our teacher resource site Lesson-Ology.

This isn’t really suitable for older students – for them I would simply write on the board

“You Are Too Loud – Quiet Now Please!”

3. Use lots of praise when appropriate

With a difficult group we tend to focus on what’s going wrong... “I told you to be quiet”, “That’s the third time I’ve had to tell you!”, “Be quiet!” This makes for a very negative classroom environment, reinforcing the group’s entrenched view that the classroom is not a nice place to be.

I don’t care what anyone says - there is not a child on the planet who, deep down, doesn’t want to succeed. If you’re the one who consistently recognises and acknowledges it when they have done something right, done something well, or managed to do something they have previously struggled with they will respond to you.

4. Tell them that you will assess every piece of work by the end of the lesson/day

Challenging and vulnerable students will benefit from, and appreciate, immediate feedback on progress. By setting smaller, ‘chunked’ tasks which can be completed in a short space of time, you will have time to mark them and give feedback. This gives you additional opportunities for praising students as well as a bargaining chip if they are becoming boisterous – “I’ll give you your feedback as soon as you’re settled.” Remember, your most challenging students do want to succeed and they like you to notice when they try.

5. Be prepared with ‘emergency’ resources and Back-up activities

I’ve recently been reminded of one of the most important lessons in behaviour management. If you have been on my Free Tips list for any length of time you will know that I’m currently (at time of writing) juggling my business (writing, training and speaking) with looking after my elderly mother who has dementia.

It’s a cruel, cruel disease and one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with, from a carer’s point of view, is that the sufferer tends to ‘wander’. When my mother is occupied and sitting down she presents no problem and no risk to herself. It’s when she gets up and starts wandering around –usually at inappropriate times – that the problems start.

Isn’t that a lot like managing behaviour in the classroom? When your students are occupied there are no behaviour problems. When their attention is held by an activity or task, behaviour looks after itself. It’s as if there is no space left on their ‘hard drive’ for naughtiness – it’s all used up.

Keeping your students involved in the work is one of the most powerful and effective preventive strategies you have and many behaviour problems in class can be attributed to work which is either too dull/boring or frustratingly difficult.

Whenever things start to go wrong in a lesson, a change in activity or a switch to a different ability level/learning style might be all that’s needed to bring an irate student back down to earth.

6. Give them responsibilities

Consider giving responsibilities to some of the ring-leaders in the class – ask them to quieten their group/area down for you.

“Paul the group respond very positively to you, they look up to you. I need to use that strength you have – would you mind helping me by quietening your table down for me?”

It’s surprising how responsive very challenging students can be when requests are phrased in this way. 

7. Prepare your lesson as a set of separate events.

This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘all singing, all dancing’. Sometime should also be factored in for quiet reflection, reading, feedback, Q & A, discussion, writing, role-play, independent work, practical work, pair work, group work, watching a video etc.

8. Plan from the students’ perspective

When you have worked out your sequence, write down what THE STUDENTS will be doing during each phase or event and make sure that it involves as much difference and change as possible so that they don't spend too much time doing activities which are, essentially, the same thing over and over again.

9. Stick to timings

Allocate times to each element of the lesson, and stop them when the finish time has arrived, without fail. If you set a starter task, for example, make sure you give a limited time to the activity and stop it when you say you will - whether they have finished or not.

10. Give frequent reminders

Keep reminding students how long they have left of each activity – “last five minutes”, Last two minutes – you need to be finishing off”, “Last minute”, “Last 10 seconds..9..8..7..6..etc.” so that there is more chance they will finish each activity on time.

11. Keep them occupied

Have a selection of ‘early finisher’ tasks on hand. Don’t run the risk of having students idle – even for a few minutes. Make sure there is a list or tray of activity ideas –such as extension work, making posters, helping other students, getting equipment ready, checking past work etc.

12. Don’t let the pace slip

Be ready to introduce and start the next phase of the lesson straight after the preceding one. Drive the lesson forward without letting the pace slow. In this way students are kept on their toes and problems are minimized. 

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