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Tips for Beating the Clock in the Classroom

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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In Texas, there are 180 days of instruction, taking away 30 days for state testing so that leave 150 days for instruction. Let's say that a teacher gives a curriculum-based test once every two weeks and the district benchmark test three times a year. That is 21 less days of instruction or 129 days. Now, schools typically have three days of teacher in-service. Five special assemblies, two holiday parties, two half days, four emergency drills and three sick days takes away 15 more days bringing it to 111 days.

Now count that each class instead of 55 minutes is 45 minutes because of the five minutes of taking roll and getting the class started and five minutes of closure and putting things away. Instead of 385 minutes a day, it now equals 315 minutes a day in a typical secondary school. If we do the math, then the bare minimum we have are 91 days with which to teach. The shocking thing is that this represents about one half of the time allotted in a year.

Time Wasters

To make matters worse, there are all sorts of things that teachers may do that take away time in the classroom, most of which can be easily eliminated with advanced planning and practice:

  • When a teacher takes time to write on the white board for students to copy
  • When a teacher takes time to pass out papers, or collect them
  • When a teacher repeats exactly what a student just said, or even worse, repeats himself several times
  • When a teacher loses time in transitioning from one activity to another
  • When a teacher does not have an effective system that minimizes the effect of students leaving class for the restroom or the office
  • When a teacher does not have a system for absent students to catch up with the classwork missed

Jigsaw and Collaborative Groups

The above are significant time wasters, but to tell you the truth, the worst time wasters are any activities that are not effective instructional practices. To counteract this for example, time-sensitive teachers use the jigsaw method instead of reading a PowerPoint to the students. Rather than having the students do round-robin reading of a book or a chapter, this type of teacher has them all read at the same time, or in small groups. When this teacher needs to lecture, she provides the students with concept maps or interactive notes in order to increase learning time. Instead of asking questions to only one student at a time a teacher intent on maximizing time will have all the students answer the question or have them ask and answer in pairs so that more students get opportunities to learn.


A time-conscious teacher avoids asking, "Any questions?" when moving on to another topic, but instead asks students to explain to their partners what they just learned and then wanders the room listening carefully to their answers. Such a teacher gives a diagnostic test to find out what students already know so he doesn't waste time teaching it again. A teacher intent on increasing learning time creates a system to help students learn from mistakes made on formative quizzes and tests. A teacher concerned with saving time will invest the time wisely by giving students at least three different opportunities to master the learning thereby increasing student confidence and building on success rather than failure.

Use Rubrics and Preview Vocabulary

A teacher interested in preserving learning time will develop and strengthen content vocabulary prior to using the words in a lesson so that when the students hear the words in context, they already know what they mean. This type of teacher is intent on creating successful learning opportunities and makes sure to provide students with a clear rubric of learning expectations before assigning learning projects so no time is wasted re-explaining and answering questions on how to do the project.

The time-wise teacher knows that each of the above strategies and activities requires that the teacher invest time and energy prior to implementing these practices in the classroom. This level of teacher will invest the necessary time to prepare well thought-out lessons and learning activities that engage all students at their appropriate level, knowing that this will save time in implementing the lesson and increase content retention, thus saving time from having to re-teach.

Many of you are time-wise teachers and I am interested in learning how you save time in the classroom. Please share in the comment section below.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Stacy Watkins's picture

I whole-heartedly support your endeavor to maximize time in the classroom, but I think a more effective way to accomplish this would be to whittle down the barrage of testing we force upon our students. If anyone else spent nearly 30% of their time in the workplace evaluating whether or not they were doing things right, their boss would seriously question their effectiveness (and work ethic).

karon's picture
middleschool math teacher

I like your ideas. I already use Venn diagrams to introduce and assess word knowledge, prior to teaching a lesson. I underestimated the value of this when I omitted this activity "for the sake of time." I'd like more time saving tips. How do you handle student work? Grading, returning, collecting, etc.

Kara Haltiwanger's picture
Kara Haltiwanger
Ninth grade Earth Science/Anatomy&Physiology teacher from Windsor, VA

Wow! Testing takes a big chunk of time! While many teachers hate standardized testing, I do not see them going away anytime soon.
I am a busy teacher, coach, mother, and grad student so any time-saving tips are aways welcomed.
When my students come into my classroom there is a set procedure that is followed for everything. The students know when they walk into my classroom they are suppose to check their folder for graded work, get the warm-up assignment, and get to work. While the students are doing this I take roll and conference with students that were absent. Procedure takes care of classroom management issues because the students know without a doubt what they are suppose to do every day.
In my classroom I have a crate file with a folder for every student. Once I have graded their work I return it to them in their file. This procedure gives the student grade privacy and saves time passing out work. The folders also serve as a way to make sure absent students get all of their make-up work.
When student have a mission as soon as they walk in my classroom it is easy to keep the momentum all the way to the last minute.

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