12th June 2009 at 01:00
Problem: I'm an NQT and find some classes a nightmare to manage. Whenever there's a lull, pupils take advantage by talking or throwing things. How can I maintain pace so this doesn't happen?

Some teachers link pace to being able to plough through a certain amount of material in a lesson. Instead, says Paul Dix, a former teacher and now managing director of behaviour management specialist Pivotal Education, it should be seen as the ability to keep pupils interested and motivated.

He knows how a drop in pace can affect pupils. "I was an awful teacher in my first year," he says. "An observer pointed out after one class that I'd talked for 35 minutes, and towards the end the children were messing about.

"We all go through that baptism of fire."

Problems tend to arise when pupils are expected to be silent for long periods. A mistake teachers often make is in thinking they have to address the whole class all of the time, he says. "Teachers can get preoccupied with delivering content and end up forgetting what motivates pupils."

To help prevent a lull, make sure anything you need to use - computers, equipment, handouts - is ready before the lesson starts. Getting pupils to distribute resources will also help you to teach undistracted.

Rather than talking for long periods, incorporate short exercises, so that pupils are active and involved, not waiting for you to finish. Asking pupils to have a discussion with a partner about any questions you pose is a good way to ensure everyone is engaged.

David Miller, an English teacher at St Ninian's High in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire and winner of last year's Guardian award for secondary school teacher of the year, suggests breaking up the class as well as the lesson: "Try some active learning approaches. Have them moving around."

Using art, music or film to take the lesson somewhere unexpected can also help.

"Music is a great classroom calmer," he says. "In my probation year, I had a class of 15-year-olds who were not as focused as I would have liked. Pupils were suddenly becalmed when they became aware of distant baroque guitar music emanating from my radio. I had been listening to it during lunch and forgotten to turn it off. This was one of those epiphany moments when I was able to chat to the class about my love for classical music. Sharing something of yourself always improves the way pupils regard and, therefore, respond to you."

However well you prepare, there will be occasions when the pace of your lesson takes a downward turn and pupils respond by messing around. When this happens, Mr Dix suggests taking a "brain break".

Don't treat it as bad behaviour, he says. Accept that their attention has waived and move to accelerate the pace to draw them back. "Brain gym and brain exercises are good for this," he says. "Ask them to do something distracting, such as rubbing their tummies and patting their heads, something weird and funny that will take their minds away for a moment." This will also give you a chance to think about how best to proceed.

Teachers need to have an "armoury of the unpredictable" for these instances, Mr Miller says. "I find talking about myself instantly brings pupils' eyes front. It's good to have a battery of interesting, reflective stories."

If your approach is not hitting the mark, do not persist, he says. "Do not persevere when the lesson is not working. Change the direction or use another type of stimulus, such as music. There is no reason why Bach's Goldberg Variations shouldn't be employed in teaching maths."

Next week: Distracted pupils


. Make sure everything you need is ready to use before the lesson.

. Break the lesson up into periods when you talk and periods when the pupils are active.

. Use brain exercises and other distractions to re-engage pupils if they react to a lull in pace.


. See pace as the amount of material you can get through.

. Speak at the class for long periods.

. Persist with methods that aren't working for you. Try something different.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today