General Guidance for Teaching

This applies to schoolteachers rather than adult educators, but maybe there are some lessons for adult educators too!

The first few minutes of a lesson are crucial. They set the tone for what is to come. Here are ten tasty tips for getting off to a smooth start:

  1. Act as “gatekeeper” – stand at the door, letting pupils in one at a time. You can smile, frown, have a quiet word, give a warning, hold a pupil back, separate pupils, direct pupils to particular seats, instead of letting them come in en masse with all their “baggage”.
  2. Have a simple task for everyone to get on with as soon as they enter’ the room – expect everyone to settle immediately. This gives you a chance to deal with individuals and get your head together. Introduce the lesson only when you are ready.
  3. Have learning objectives that are expressed in the form: “By the end of this lesson you will be able to …” This suggests to pupils that the lesson is purposeful and that they will have experienced success by the end. Have them written up on the board or on a handout before the students come in.
  4. Link the learning objectives to the “big picture” of their learning – what’s gone before and what’s coming after and how it all adds up to success in the forthcoming assessment. This helps students to see the relevance of the current work and to open their reticular activating systems!
  5. Have learning objectives that are differentiated, using, for example, the must-should-could model (see “Upwardly Mobile” on page 234). This lets pupils know that they will be able to achieve, and it encourages them to aspire.
  6. Have the lesson plan written up on the board or on an OHT as a flowchart, timeline or time circle (like a clock face), showing the time scale. Talk through the plan with students and ask them to help you keep to time.
  7. Instead of standing at the front, position yourself near to the potential troublemakers and introduce the lesson from there.
  8. Ask one or two pupils to explain to you (and therefore to the whole class) what everyone has to do before anyone is allowed to start.
  9. Give a tight deadline for the first task. This creates a sense of pace and a sense that the teacher is firmly in charge. Make sure you’ve got a clearly visible clock in the room!
  10. Give upbeat messages about the students’ abilities and the learning planned for the lesson. Say things like, “I know today’s work is challenging, and I also know we can all master it, so let’s get cracking” and, “I’ve designed some exercises that will stretch you, but once they’re done you’ll feel really good about what you’ve achieved”. Don’t give the impression that you are reluctantly accepting learning that is being forced on the class from above: “Oh well, if I had my way we wouldn’t be doing this …”. Instead, let the students know that you are in charge and have reworked national curriculum or GCSE obligations, designing tailor-made activities just for them.
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