How to Pace your Lesson like a Pro and What to Do When Things Don't Go as Planned

Updated: Oct 1

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One of the questions I get asked frequently from people who are beginning their teaching journey is "How do I pace my lesson?", and "What do I do if I finish early or run out of time?". If you've caught yourself asking yourself these questions in the past, then this is the blog post for you!

It can sometimes be difficult to predict how long it will take to teach a new lesson. Thankfully, the more time you spend with your students and the more you familiarize yourself with the content the easier this becomes but, for your first few classes it can feel a bit overwhelming. Have no fear! There are things you can do during the lesson prep and planning stages that will make you feel more confident entering the classroom!

How do I pace my lesson?

Putting some thought into how much time you want to spend on each stage of your lesson before your class begins does wonders to ease pre-teaching anxiety. When I first started creating my own curriculum I would write up a complete breakdown of my class as a part of each lesson plan. I would separate my lesson into 5 different sections and estimate how much time I thought it would take me to complete each section. I could then use this as a guide to keep me on track and in check as I progressed through the lesson!

And remember, this lesson breakdown does not need to be set in stone. It is simply a guide. As you begin your lesson students may have questions or a section make take a bit longer or shorter than you had anticipated. This is okay. Take a mental note of these deviations and use this knowledge to come up with a plan for the next time you teach the same lesson or do similar activities in the future. The more you teach, the more data you can collect on the amount of time it takes your students to complete certain activities. This information will make it easier to anticipate your pacing needs in the future.

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What do I do if I finish a lesson early?

The answer my friend is extend, extend, extend. If you finish earlier than expected it is time to look into your teacher toolkit and extend your material. Here are some easy ways to do this...

  1. Ask follow-up questions related to the lesson material or spend time reviewing lesson content from previous classes.

  2. If you completed a group activity earlier in the lesson complete it for a second time with slight variations.

  3. Flip the table and have some fun with a role reversal. Have your student or students run the activity and you can pretend to be the student. They can ask you different questions related to the lesson and then let you know if you answer them correctly.

  4. If you have time during the lesson planning process, design a few backup activities so you can rest easy at night knowing that you have some additional activities and games you can complete if you go through the lesson quickly. If you create these games and end up not using them during the class period you can always assign them as an optional exercise to do at home.

What do I do if I run out of class time?

First, take a deep breath. You are not the first teacher to run out of class time and you will certainly not be the last. Sometimes we get so excited about a lesson that we fill it to the brim with activities and we don't have time to complete them all, other times students have questions and it takes additional class time to address them. Whatever the reason is, it is okay. Here are a few things you can do if you get caught in this situation.

  1. If you are able to stay a few minutes later with students to wrap up an activity - go for it.

  2. Take a look at the next lesson you plan to teach to this group of students. Consider if there are any areas of this lesson you can condense to create a few extra minutes to complete the remaining content of the lesson you were unable to complete.

  3. If you did not have time to complete an activity or exercise consider assigning this activity to be completed independently as homework.

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