Learning to Pace Your Lessons in the Classroom

One of the things I’ve struggled with since I started student teaching this fall is pacing my lessons. On some occasions I’ve looked up and realized we were supposed to move on 15 minutes ago, and other times I’m surprised to find an activity has taken the students half as long as I had expected.

I’ve heard from a lot of teachers that pacing is something that gets easier with experience as you develop and practice your lessons, but I’ve been consciously making an effort to improve my pacing with the help of my supervising teacher. Here are some things that have helped me implement lessons more effectively.

Have materials ready

Preparing all your materials ahead of time is a huge time saver and will help you make smoother transitions during the lesson. For example, if students are going to be sorting shapes that are cut out of paper, have those shapes cut out before the lesson begins. Print out any worksheets they need to complete and have them visible and ready to be passed out.

It’s also a good idea to spend some time creating materials that you can use again in the future. If your lesson on shapes was successful, print out and laminate some sets that you can store and pull out for next year’s lesson. My supervising teacher has bins and files full of materials she’s used in past lessons, so it’s easier and faster for her to prepare for those lessons she’s repeating now.

Share lesson plans with students

At the beginning of a lesson, share lesson objectives and outline the plan so that students can independently transition from activity to activity. This prevents waiting time and gives you more freedom to work with students individually and in small groups without holding up the rest of the class. I’ve been posting a list of lesson activities in order on the board so students can quickly see what they need to move on to after finishing something, and it’s been pretty effective thus far.

Check for understanding

Ultimately, the pace of your lessons should depend on your students. If they are mastering concepts quickly, you should move along faster. If they’re struggling with something, you need to slow down and incorporate additional activities to help them develop those skills.

The fastest way to check for student understanding is to incorporate formative assessments throughout a lesson. Have students do work on whiteboards and hold them up for you to check. Ask them to indicate their comfort with a topic by giving you a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. You can use these assessments to speed up or slow down the pace of your lesson.

Plan accommodations for learning styles

I believe in teaching to the student and accommodating different learning styles. This means that you have to really get to know your students and what makes them tick. Before this fall, I’ve only spent short periods of time in different classrooms, so this hasn’t really been possible. Now that I’m in one class, all day, every day, I feel like I have a better understanding of how each student learns best.

Using what you know about your students, you can create accommodations before a lesson so you’re not scrambling while giving instruction. Accommodations include everything from manipulatives for visual learners, special paper for students who have trouble writing, or an audio book that will help a student to better comprehend a text. Having these materials ready ahead of time will prevent you from stopping the whole class, and greatly benefit the students who need them.

I also try to plan accommodations for gifted students who excel in a subject and tend to finish earlier than their peers. It’s easy to assign busy work, but it’s important that the work is meaningful and not just extra. My supervising teacher often has students who master a concept work with students who are still struggling with it, which can be really effective. One student is getting the opportunity to practice the skill he/she just mastered in a meaningful way, while another learns about the concept from a peer who may be able to explain it in a more kid-friendly way than you can.

Set up activities for student down time

No matter how much you plan, your students are bound to have some periods of down time during the day. They may finish everything they need to do early or you may be unavailable to help them or check their work right away. Prepare students for these times by talking about activities — such as independent reading or writing — that they can do while they wait. It will become part of their routine and make the school day run much more smoothly.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.