Successful students are able to use their time effectively to get their work done. Teachers often encourage their students to use their time wisely and be efficient in their work habits without explicitly telling them how to do so. Providing explicit lessons on understanding time can be particularly challenging for new teachers, but there are several simple ways to teach students what time feels like. These lessons will make it much easier for students to independently self-monitor and better organize their time.
5 Ways to Teach Time
1. Encourage estimation. Before students begin an assignment, have them estimate how long they think it will take. After they complete the assignment, have them write down how long the assignment actually took and reflect on the estimation. Often students anticipate an assignment taking a shorter amount of time than it actually does. As a result, they may not set aside an adequate amount of time to complete the given assignment. Conversely, had they known the assignment would be completed quickly, the student may have prioritized work differently.
As students progress through school, we want them to become better at organizing their schedules and prioritizing tasks. When students estimate and then reflect, they can be more aware of how long a given task will take and will anticipate accordingly. Initially it’s best to practice within class assignments. Once students have had practice, it can be incorporated into homework.
2. Use a visual. Use a timer that gives students a visual of the passing of time. This helps students stay on task and gives them a way to organize their time effectively. For example, if students have 10 minutes to finish four short written responses, when the timer hits 5 minutes, students should be reminded that they should be about halfway done. If this becomes a routine in a classroom, students can start to organize and prioritize the work they are completing independently.
3. Set a minimum. Teachers often give students a limit on the time they can use—for example, “You have 30 minutes to complete this assignment.” Instead, try setting a minimum rather than a maximum. By letting students know that the task should take at least 20 minutes, you are prompting them to slow down and monitor. Students might confuse speed for success. They are eager to announce, “I’m done,” but have rushed through the process.
Additionally, teachers can build in other systems that help students focus on the process rather than the product. For example, teachers can add in checklists or rubrics that students must refer to as they work on their assignment. This builds in natural moments of reflection.
4. Incorporate silent time. Time, or the feeling of being timed, can cause anxiety to rise. As stress increases, one’s ability to utilize their executive functioning skills decreases.
At the beginning of a task or assessment, set a timer for a small amount of silent time, such as 5 minutes. During this time, students are not allowed to ask questions. You might find that when the 5 minutes are over, students have filtered their questions and either have gotten started or have identified their confusion. The use of silent time encourages students to implement a plan independently and initiate the task.
5. Try half timed and half not. When giving a task like recalling math facts, have students write their answers in pen for the first minute. Then, allow students to continue working untimed in pencil. This allows them to differentiate between automaticity and ability. Often the stress from being timed can negatively impact a student’s ability to showcase their knowledge. The use of a pencil and pen also allows students to reflect on how time restraints impact their learning.
Students need to learn how to organize time to be effective and productive. Fifteen minutes of playtime or screen time feels different than 15 minutes of writing. When teachers are explicit and teach students how to use time and give them a significant amount of practice, students will begin to internalize time and be able to independently plan and prioritize a given task.
As students progress through school, they must eventually not only plan and prioritize a task but plan and prioritize many assignments over several weeks. In order to be successful, students must learn ways to organize their time efficiently and use their time effectively. If students can practice organizing their time when working on one task and experience success doing so, they can begin to generalize this skill and carry it out in their independent assignments.