Instructional Skill: Pacing

Simply put, pacing is the speed (or lack there of) with which you move through your lesson or parts of your lesson. Strong pacing gives students the illusion of speed – that the lesson is unfolding just quickly enough to keep up. The instructional skill in pacing is to create this perception for students. Doing so gives students a sense of progress and change so that they know they are gleaning important new ideas and information. There are several ways to improve pacing. Take a look at the ideas below!

1. Change the Pace: Using a variety of activities, all directed at the same objective, can help to create the illusion of speed in a lesson. This does not necessarily mean changing the topic, just the way in which students engage with the topic. Here’s an example of a quickly paced lesson:

  • Start with a quick warm up activity as students enter the room. Have it posted and ready to go for students to use as they enter so that that no time is wasted in getting to work.
  • Move from the warm up into a mini lesson around the same topic.
  • Break into a quick group or partner activity on the topic.
  • Debrief with a whole-class discussion on students’ findings.
  • Guide students through a practice session with the topic.
  • Break into some independent, guided work time on the topic.
  • Ask students to recap what they learned about the topic as a group.
  • Finish up with an exit ticket, which will ask students to reflect on the topic.

2. Every Minute Matters: Time is an instructor’s most valuable resource. Think about all the moments of lost time you might experience in a typical session: while you get your lesson set up, as students transition in and out of activities, and when you finish the lesson just a few minutes early — just to name a few. Avoid wasted time by making it a point to be ready to teach before students arrive in the classroom, setting a goal to work on tight transitions, and keeping a few short learning activities on hand for those times you are left with a few minutes to spare.

3. Look Forward: To make your lesson build and keep momentum write a clear agenda on the board, in addition to objectives. This way, students have clear landmarks by which they can follow the lesson. As you go through the lesson, make an effort to reference what’s coming up with language like, “Stick with me for this tricky part, you will see why this makes sense in just a moment” / “When we are done with this part of the class you will be able to” / “This is the first step in a skill that you’ll really want to show off later.”

4. Work the Clock: Let students know that you have a fast-paced plan for the day’s lesson by parceling out classroom activities into highly specific increments and counting time down for students. This looks like saying to students, “You have 3 minutes to come up with a solution… ok 1 minute left… we’re going to come back to talk about your solutions in 30 seconds.” You can also tighten up transitions this way by saying, “Let’s be in groups and working in 5-4-3-2-1” or “Please stop your conversations and be listening to instructions in 3-2-1.”

These things will help you to keep the class focused, create a sense of urgency, and make the most of the time you have in the classroom.