If you want a lesson to engage learners effectively and maintain energy and focus, you need to pay some attention to managing pace. When you plan a lesson, it is helpful to consider the methods you will use to manage pace. A lesson that is conducted at the same pace throughout can risk students switching off and losing focus. Rushing through stages of the lesson can also lose learners and mean that you have to teach remedially later on because they missed key points. An interesting exercise is to review your lesson plan and draw a curve to indicate changes of pace. A flat line isn’t ideal…..! You can then consider where pace changes may benefit the learning process within that lesson.
So how can you vary pace in lessons? There are many ways to do this linked to class management approaches and also task design. In presentation stages, it’s important not to rush through PP slides without pauses for reflection, questions to check learning and time to internalize content. It can be good to pause your PP and give several quiet minutes of think time for learners to note down key points or questions before you respond to them and then carry on with the presentation. This helps avoid the common trance state we’ve all experienced during presentations, where we switch off and float off into infinity….
You can use time limits and time warnings to keep students on task and focused. Say “OK, you have 10 minutes to do this and so start now…” then “ There are only 5 minutes left so make sure you are now moving onto…” When observing teachers, I have noted that they sometimes set a time limit but forget to use the time warning and can then end up with several groups not having finished by the feedback stage, which affects learning. Your language and energy when you give instructions also create pace in a lesson, e.g. compare “You’ve got 10 minutes to do this” with “ OK is everyone ready? This is a quick activity so you need to concentrate together. You only have 10 minutes. Go!”
The time-keeper role in group work is also a helpful one. Allocate a range of roles within group work activities (e.g. note taker, time keeper, turn taking monitor), so that one student within each group has to keep the others on task and on time.
As part of the feedback process with your learners, ask them how they find the pace of the class in general and for that lesson in particular. You can add these questions to the one-minute paper feedback slips you give to individuals at the end of a lesson, to gather in a range of views. One teacher I know was truly surprised and interested to see how many students felt the pace was sometimes too quick and that they wanted a bit more time to reflect on learning. She then built in stages for this as part of planning, which they enjoyed and found useful.
Certain tasks lend themselves to a snappy, energised pace, e.g. a mix and mingle exercise where students get up and gather information quickly from classmates. Or a running comprehension exercise where information is presented on the walls and questions on the desk and one partner can run to the wall and find answers to dictate back to their partner who is sitting at the desk. Quick quizzes with time limits and a clock counting down on screen can also be energising and a good way to focus attention and add variety to lessons. In all of these cases, the focus is on quick gathering of information or recall, and not on deep reflection or complex learning, so they are appropriate choices as a quick activity.
When you consider the flow of stages in your lesson, it’s worth asking yourself these questions. They can also be used by coaches who are working with staff to reflect on lesson plans or an observed lesson:
- How does pace vary in this lesson?
- Do I have a lot of static, sit down activities that may drain learners? How can I break them up with relevant activities that have more pace changes and movement?
- Where might I need to increase pace and energy and how could I do that in an appropriate way for learning?
- Is there a complex, challenging stage that would benefit from a slower, more reflective style of delivery?
- How can I use roles within group work to keep up a good pace and help learners stay on track?