Ever run out of things to do five minutes before the end of class? An important lesson management skill is to make your material perfectly fit the lesson time. When you observe some experienced teachers it can almost look like magic: activities wind down and end neatly just as the lesson finishes. It's almost as if they can control time itself. Yet there are some fairly simple tricks for usefully extending an activity so that things just beautifully fall into place.

General hints on timing

  • Don't start on a new activity with less than five or six minutes left in the lesson (unless it really is a super-fast stage). Better to use an extending technique (see below).
  • Most teachers allocate their time forwards, starting from the beginning of the lesson (e.g. 'Activity one will take 10 minutes and then I'll do activity two which will take 15 minutes …' etc). A more fruitful strategy is to plan time backwards from the end of the lesson, especially as the most important work tends to be in the key final stages rather than the lead-ins and warm-ups. Start calculating what you want learners to do in the final activity, and decide how long that might take to do. Then calculate back to the stage preceding that and work out that stage's time – and so on. This allows you to think more realistically about how long you have for the early stages.

Extension strategies (to help activities take up a little more time)

  • To extend a discussion activity, towards the end, ask each pair or group to prepare a brief report back to the rest of the class on the most important or interesting things that have been said. After preparation time (1-4 minutes), students will listen to (and perhaps comment on) each other's reports (another 5+ minutes).
  • Towards the end of a grammar exercise, ask students to write one (or more) new grammar questions in the style of the ones they have been answering (3-5 mins). They can then swap these with other students and try to answer their questions (3+ mins).
  • When you are reaching the end of a listening activity, pick one suitable sentence (10+ words, spoken quickly if possible) and ask students to listen and write down every word they hear completely correctly. Play that small section of the recording a few times – then let students compare and agree with each other. Check together at the end.
  • If you have studied a reading text to death but still have some minutes left, ask students to put away the text and then tell them you will read it aloud – but with ten differences. They should listen carefully and spot what has changed. With weaker classes, just change key facts (e.g. names, actions, etc). Stronger classes can notice exact words and expressions that have changed (e.g. idioms, phrasal verbs). Let students compare ideas and discuss – then let them revisit the text to check.