Monday, April 8, 2013

Make Every Minute Count

Make Every Minute Count - The importance of using every available minute you have with students in the classroom. 

There are certain inevitable truths about lesson planning and running a classroom: a) you can approximate closely and do your best but you never really know how long things will last (due to a multitude of reasons), and, b) the amount of free time given is directly proportional to the amount of small fires started/animals tortured/ graffiti on your wall/etc.. (maybe this one is just me).

Addressing the former, however, the frequent default solution for extra minutes at the end of a period is to "get started on the homework" or just "kick it". On one hand this makes sense, but on the more rationale hand, this is a terrible idea. If the minutes you dismiss at the end of a period were only 3 or 4, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it also doesn't take a math teacher to see what this means long term: 255 - 340 total cumulative minutes by the end of the year. That's almost six hours! Thus, I offer a better solution.

If you keep the attitude that every minute counts, you'll find something to do with those extra minutes do make them count. Here are some good ideas:

- Have a pile of interested FYIs or questions about your subject and pull out as many as time allows.

- Keep some games on hand that students know how to play and require no set-up (obviously, games should be relevant to your subject)

- Some kind of review on hand and go through them like flashcards with your class.

- Teach them a song and then make them sing it during these minutes. (There are thousands of educational songs for your subject, just search youtube and look for the least or most terrible one. Sometimes the lamest ones are the most fun to sing)

- Have them talk quietly while you check email really quick. (Just kidding, this is a bad idea. Your time with students needs to be time with students)

- Read a related book/story/novel over time.

You may see a trend in the list. In short, if you don't have the time to start something new in those few remaining minutes, then you should have one (or really multiple) things immediately ready with which to fill them in. In the foreign language sector here are a few of my favorites:

- Go through the vocabulary cards. I always have oversized vocabulary cards for every chapter (students make them) and keep them in folders by the door. We go through them once during every class but it's okay to go through them again if I find myself with extra time - it's frickin vocab.

- "Salvar al Ciego" (Save the blind man). The logic here is that sometimes communication is in a hurry and we can't go through grammar charts in our head or we'll miss the opportunity to relay an important message so the point is to free associate (or, to tell the blind man a bus is coming before it hits him).  I keep a collection of magazine pictures, or just magazines, and tell the students they have only 7 seconds to say whatever sentence they want to a partner, inspired by the picture I show them. This could easily be adapted to several other subjects by changing the requirement

- Round-the-world. It's an easy review game that can go on as long or as short as needed. This can also be used easily for any subject.

I hope the point is clear. After all, it's like I say when students pack up or line up early, "It's a small school. You don't need a head start." Of course, the unspoken part of "It's a big world. You need all you can get" is really the message I'm looking for. A group of students once complained and nicknamed me the "Classpacker" because of my philosophy on minutes. But, I took it as a compliment because it really is the attitude every teacher should have. Give it a shot and see what you can learn.

Other related resources:
Top 10 Time Filler For Your Classroom
5 Minutes To Go In The Classroom
5 Minute Learning At the End of Class


  1. Great thoughts! Using time well is also a Christian stewardship issue, so I appreciate the list of ideas that help educators be good stewards of the time God has given us with our students.

    One other idea: I saw a post a few weeks back (if I can find it again, I will post it) where a teacher shared a list of activities a student could always do in class when there was extra time. Make that list public and reviewing it often is another option.

  2. I agree completely. There are a lot of good things a teacher/classroom can do with spare minutes. I'd love to have that list. Semi-related, I had an idea that I haven't thought through yet where each concept/chapter whatever.. gets a 1 - 2 line catchy review of it, then somehow they accumulate over time and are catchy enough to remember. It would be like learning the alphabet song, except each letter is a class concept and you only learn one letter every day (or less). Not sure if that made sense but it does in my head. I'll work with it and get back to you in July.
    Long Comment!