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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.

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Kay Butler's picture
Kay Butler
HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

My classroom is set up with relatively large tables that seat four students, so my students are assigned to work in specific groups for several days at a time. So, I make use of "Group Folders" - I use them similarly to the way that Kara Haltiwanger uses her individual folders. Students come in, get their group folders and begin working on the first task of the day (usually a Warm-Up problem or task).

These group folders are used to distribute, store, and collect group and individual work on a regular basis, reducing the likelihood that work is lost or misplaced. Since students put their group's handouts in the front pocket, I can easily transfer them from one class to another quickly, cutting down on the amount of paper used for non-consumable handouts when laptops are not being used for group work (PBL Entry documents, instruction sheets, rubrics, etc. - these are posted online for access by students outside of class) - I usually issue two per group (student pairs sitting on the same side of the table share them) and reuse the same handouts for multiple classes.

I use a hanging file caddy to organize their folders . . . making access and organization of work quick and easy.

I also set up group caddies ahead of time, allowing for the quick distribution of specific materials needed during group work. An index card listing the materials is included, so students can check to make sure everything has been placed back in the caddies prior to returning them to the storage area.

I agree with what I have read elsewhere . . . pre-planning and preparation is the key to saving precious class time and assessment time. I have found that the extra time spent at the front end is well worth the investment - time is gained back during and/or after those lessons!

CrazyLaughLady's picture
H.S English teacher

What's the best strategy for having a student make up a quiz or a test? I hate to take class time to do this because then they are missing the day's lesson. Some of my students do not have a study hall. Any suggestions?

rebedwell's picture

I teach high school English at an urban school. I've invested a lot of effort into time-saving strategies over the years and it has really paid off. Here are my "Top 10 + 1" Timesavers:

1. Each student has a classroom folder. On this there are two numbers: one for alphabetical order (with a zero added: 10, 20, 30, etc., not 1, 2, 3) and the other is their seat number.

2. I use the alphabetical number to pass back papers. It only takes a couple of minutes to put the folders in order (number order is much quicker than alphabetical order), and then it is a breeze to slip returned work into the proper folders.

3. I use the folders to distribute new handouts. Before school starts each day, I take the time to put any new handouts into these student folders.

4. I pass out their folders to their desks during the passing period using the seat numbers. It only takes a couple of minutes to walk around the room, putting folders on their desks by seat number (of course, you have to take a couple of minutes to put them in this order ahead of time, or have a student assistant do it), leaving three minutes to stand by the door and greet students When the students come in and seat themselves, they already have their folders and whatever handouts they will be using that day.

5. I always start the class with a Catalyst (aka Warm Up, Do Now, etc.) that is projected on the board. For my class, this is usually a prompt to write a paragraph about something, and is always related to either the writing genre we are studying that quarter, and/or to the theme of that day's lesson.

6. I use stamps. While students are working on their Catalysts, I walk around the classroom stamping their papers. These stamps are worth points, and are given for (a) being in their seat when the bell rings and (b) being on task and seriously doing the Catalyst right away. This gets students to work right away, another big time saver..

7. I have a Turn-It-In Box. This is a distinctly-colored box on a table by the door. All work gets turned into this box as the students exit the classroom at the end of the period.

8. Students must use pens. No pencils. This (a) helps me save time when grading because it is easier for my old eyes to read and (b) saves class time and reduces distractions because no one is getting up to go sharpen their pencils.

9. I use a website (really just a blog through WordPress) in which I make daily entries with assignment, instructions, downloadable PDF copies of handouts, videos, sound clips, etc. Students know that if they are absent, they must make up the work on their own. They can go to the school library, read what they missed and print if necessary, or they can stop by my room after school to do this. It saves class time, teaches students responsibility, and gives everyone a fair chance to make up work they have missed.

10. No passes during class. Our principal has very strict rules that are designed to maximize class time, so I just enforce what he has in place. This includes no passes during class time (students must be responsible just as adults are for making sure they can take care of their personal needs during their personal time, not during class time), and no one enters after the bell without a valid pass of some kind.

11. Vocabulary is pre-loaded as homework. I use a technique for vocabulary that gives the word and definition, then asks the student to draw a picture (not free choice; I give them a prompt, such as "Draw an entomologist studying an ugly bug through a magnifying glass", and asks them a critical thinking question about some aspect of the word, such as "In what ways do entomologists help our society?" Students actually kind of like doing these, so I get a high rate of return and it only takes a few minutes to go over it the next day.

Well, that's my list and current practice.

Luria Learning's picture
Luria Learning
3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

One thing I've started doing is making sure that I plan my prep time. If my prep time is well planned, I have more time to make sure that I am maximizing student learning during my teaching time. Here is how I plan my prep time:

I also spend a lot of time teaching routines at the beginning of the year and after breaks. The quicker the routine, the less wasted classroom instruction time. Here is how I teach procedures at the beginning of the year and after breaks:

Finally, I try to make sure that I'm using effective strategies for instruction. I've started doing Fluency Idol presentations to build fluency skills. This has a lot of research to back it up, brings some poetry into the classroom and doesn't take much time.

Thanks for the post!

Елена Огородникова's picture

Here in Russia we have the same problem - lack of time, especially in April, May. Just some ideas - surely, not new but working:
- planning absolutely everything (including differentiated and extra tasks)
- being ready with whiteboard support
- being ready with handouts
- using familiar forms of testing (no need to explain the procedure)
- spending less time on some formal procedures
- giving individual homework depending on abilities and interests with the following presentation of the results in class
- having "working" classroom board: further lessons plans, current lesson plan with the homework (ideal if put on the whiteboard for students to follow it during the lesson)
- using one's own site (blog) to support the lesson and the learning process in general is very important today
- but probably the best time-saving thing is to give a good start for the lesson for students to work with interest and desire)

txengteach's picture
20 years valley English

Why does it always fall to the teacher in the classroom to fix things by modifying what THEY do in the classroom and being made responsible to be the big "time savers?" Shouldn't those mandating all this testing be getting some suggestions on how they can safe-guard instructional time???

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Excellent question! You are correct in protecting the current classroom time with students who have been absent. It makes no sense to take learning time from all the students to allow just one or two to make up an examination, nor does it make sense to isolate a student from learning in order to take the test while you go on ahead with the rest of the class.

Certainly if students are absent, it is their responsibility to make up missed work. They should do it on their time, not classroom learning time; before school, lunch, or after school. If this is not possible, then break up the test and give the student parts of it in free time until the whole test is completed.

Also, you can be proactive and call the parent and let them know that a quiz or test needs to be made up by a certain date and work out arrangements that way.

If the test is formative, then you may want to make a different version of the test and send it home with the student to complete at home. Won't they cheat? Maybe, but in a formative exam, students must learn from the process. If they have to look up the answers, something has a greater chance of sticking in their brain. Depending on how much learning time they missed, this may be the only option.

All of these need to be established before the school starts so that everyone understands and there is no confusion or gray area.

I hope this helps.
Best Regards,
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

[quote]What's the best strategy for having a student make up a quiz or a test? I hate to take class time to do this because then they are missing the day's lesson. Some of my students do not have a study hall. Any suggestions?[/quote][quote]What's the best strategy for having a student make up a quiz or a test? I hate to take class time to do this because then they are missing the day's lesson. Some of my students do not have a study hall. Any suggestions?[/quote]

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