Needs Focused Teaching

How to maintain your lesson’s flow


When students experience boredom, frustration or an interruption of any kind, varying levels of inappropriate behaviour can start to emerge. Their attention wanders, they start to work mechanically without giving much thought to what they are doing or they start fooling around. Once this happens, the teacher is going to be spending valuable time and energy regaining control and getting students back on task. In this blog we’re going to look at some ways to help keep students on task and minimise disruptions.

Use activity checklists

An activity checklist (or lesson outline) is simply a list of the activities that will be taking place during the lesson. What makes it work as a way of maintaining appropriate behaviour is when the list is on display and tasks are ticked off as they are completed. Boys, in particular, benefit from knowing exactly where they are up to in a lesson and what’s coming next, and a checklist on display enables them to tell at a glance what they have achieved so far and what there is left to do.

Here is a very simple example of an activity checklist which you might stick up at the side of the board – it essentially consists of the main tasks associated with your lesson plan. It can be very calming for students who have problems maintaining attention to see the lesson progressing task by task.

  • Starter – 5 minutes
  • Video – 10 minutes
  • Teacher demo – 5 minutes
  • Pair work – 20 minutes
  • Game – 10 minutes
  • Plenary – 10 minutes

Once you have gone over this list, you can then direct the students to their next activity as and when they finish the preceding task. When they know what is com- ing next, the transition is much smoother.

Stockpile emergency activities and early finisher tasks

All lessons go wrong from time to time, but with a tough group it is highly likely that an activity you have spent all night planning will completely bomb. When this happens you need to have other suitable ‘emergency’ activities ready to hand to occupy idle, bored or frustrated minds. Fun, meaningful and engaging activities can be compiled for any topic using the Internet and/or teacher resource books. You can issue a pack of these activities to each student for them to work on when- ever they have spare time, or keep them to hand for when a planned lesson task doesn’t work out. Create two or three differentiated versions of each activity to make sure that students at all levels are able to access these resources and practise their skills.

Use frequent structured breaks

Brain breaks, stretches, energisers, water breaks and serotonin moments (e.g. jokes, quick games, novel/quirky stories, funny videos) all have an important place in a lesson with a noisy class. Tough kids often have short attention spans, and even if you are fortunate enough to have found an activity on which they are totally focused they will need occasional structured breaks of some sort every 20 minutes or so. These can be used at the beginning of a group session as well as in the middle or at the end. They are also a wonderful way to build group cohesion and stimulate interaction because they depend on the group’s cooperation and participation.

Please don’t make the mistake of discounting energisers as a waste of time. You will waste far more time having to deal with students who are bored, listless, lacking in energy and in need of an activity change. Energisers, when used appropriately, can maintain the attention of an otherwise troublesome class by providing the means to quickly refocus and re-engage jaded or irritated young minds.

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