5 steps to smoother lesson starts

1st March 2018 at 12:04
When this English teacher began timing how long it took her pupils to settle at the start of a lesson, she was shocked to find how much learning time was wasted – and set out to do something about it

How long does it take your pupils to settle down at the start of a lesson? Have you ever timed it? I never had until this year, when, as part of my CPD, I was guided through the process of carrying out a disciplined inquiry. Each teacher has been able to choose their own field of interest: mine is lesson beginnings. And when I started looking at these more closely, I was in for a shock.

I don’t have my own classroom and move around between lessons. I am constantly seeking marginal gains in my practice, so need techniques that can maximise my efficiency and the learning of my students. Having read about classroom micro-management strategies, I decided to improve my own. It seemed sage to start at the beginning. And so, I timed lesson beginnings.  

How long, I wondered, did it take my Year 7s to settle and be ready for learning? The answer: approximately 5 minutes per lesson. This equates to roughly 20 minutes a week – 12 hours, or 12 lessons, a year. This is a huge amount of wasted time and energy. Instead of using this time to get going, pupils were using it to remember where to sit, unpack their bags and get books handed out.

I decided to set myself a goal of getting the start time of my lessons down to under a minute. Here’s what I did to make lesson beginnings smoother with my Year 7 class:

  1. I told the pupils what I was trying to do and explained the rationale behind doing it. I already regularly encourage them to be responsible for their own readiness to learn, so had laid the groundwork ahead of time.
  2. I began opening lessons by showing the class what they look like when they are ready to learn. I do this with photos and videos taken in previous lessons, which remind pupils of what I am waiting to see.
  3. I turned the inquiry process into a competition in which pupils are competing against each other. For each classroom that we have lessons in, I have assigned a team of two or three students to be classroom monitors. Their responsibilities are to hand out books – which I deliver in the morning before school starts – and equipment, collect in homework, ensuring that all of it is named and encourage the class to be ready and silent for the starter activity.
  4. I record how long it takes for the class to get ready to learn at the beginning of every lesson and regularly report back to them about which team of monitors gets the class ready the quickest. I give the leading teams praise in the form of commendations and phone calls home.
  5. While the pupils are organising themselves, I use the time that was previously spent handing out books and materials to set up my lesson so that I am ready to go at the same time as the pupils.


I am still in the midst of trialling these changes. The outcomes are not yet finalised, but so far the differences have been positive. I am already doing less classroom "admin" and more teaching, while the pupils are taking an important step in learning how to learn.

Katie White is a secondary English teacher in Devon

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