Getting them ‘doing’

Faced with a misbehaving class and feeling like you are losing control, it is very common to simply ‘react’ and attempt to shut down unwanted behaviours in the classroom right away through discipline techniques. In English classrooms, to truly keep control teachers must be prepared to ignore this reactive instinct and instead do the opposite: use ‘Do Now’ activities to reduce teacher talk and get the students DOING.

‘Do Now’ or starter activity:

Try and use ‘Do Now’ activities to get the kids thinking straight away, and take focus away from the bad behaviour. Try to plan challenge questions for the ‘Do Now’ activities as your class may well be quite mixed in terms of engagement as well as ability. This could also cause boredom and lead to bad behviour so ensure you always have something you can ask the quick finishers to think about – even if it’s just in your head! 😊

It can sometimes be helpful to use a ‘Do Now’ activity that does require the students to use their books – so worksheets, mini whiteboards etc. can be useful. This means the activity can be done quickly and they can resume their learning without having to find books, borrow a ruler etc.

‘Do Now’ activities should take a maximum of 10 minutes including feedback time. If the questions are harder or require students to write down lengthy working out, then the feedback needs to be short and snappy. Using pre-written answers could speed up feedback time and students can quickly mark their own work. This is great as teachers don’t need to spend additional time providing feedback on these activities. With ‘Do Now’ activities it is essential that the lesson content is delivered without delay.

Manage activities like writing down the date and title (and keywords) by thinking about what students are doing once they are finished. It’s important to consider that some students write faster than others and that these tiny transition points within the lesson can be the difference between a smooth flow into the first activity, or a lesson being spoiled by students getting distracted and beginning to talk. A simple way to manage this is by having the date and title displayed on the second slide (after the Do Now) and then on the third slide. This makes each task slightly shorter and you can display the LOs for a student to read aloud so all students have something to do and the pace is maintained. This is just one example, but it’s important to think of points throughout your lesson where students need this strict direction and not allow the behaviour to slip due to students not having anything to do.

Learning activities:

Students in England are not used to sitting and listening for extended periods of time. They will respond well to short, concise examples and then extended time to put their new knowledge into practice. Teachers should aim to give simple examples of methods to demonstrate the skill the students are working on. If a method is complex or has too many steps it is a good idea for the teacher to break this down into smaller sections, allowing students to practice independently between each one.

It is crucial for engagement and behaviour management that students are allowed to work on their own questions without the teacher leading them from the board. Textbooks are a fantastic resource for this, and teachers can simply pre-select questions and display an example method on the whiteboard. Make sure that you use the school’s lessons, but go through them thoroughly before class to ensure they are suitable for your students and consider if they are the best activities for the learning time available. The main things to remember are that your students need:

  1. Precise direction and strictly controlled activities. Students crave structure and need it in order to succeed. Don’t give them freedom with their learning, such as deciding whether to do work in pairs or individually. Give really clear instructions and write these on your slides as well. With less able students or a new topic, you will need to model an example e.g. how to draw electron configuration, how to construct a line graph, how to set up a certain practical. Do not fall into the trap of doing all the answers as a class!
  2. Activities need to make the most of the learning time. Activities should be as active as possible while making good use of the learning time. Don’t ever feel that you should do practical or active work for the sake of it (although doing practicals and experiments with the students is a good way for them to learn in a hands-on way IF this is strictly controlled and the learning value of the practical activity is clear). It’s important that the students understand WHY they are doing it and that they are taking part in a way that makes the most of their learning time in the classroom. Take this example : In Science, students are given a set of equipment and they have to figure out from a circuit diagram (that they’ve drawn in the Do Now) how to make a series and parallel circuit. When delivering this lesson, we would check each group had managed to make the circuits, and then gather all the students around one group to demonstrate the differences. Questioning can then be used to elicit responses from students: ‘Which of these is a parallel circuit?’ ‘How can we tell?’ ‘Can someone show me how we would add another bulb to this circuit in series?’
  3. Assessment to ensure that your students have understood. Don’t rely on individual questioning, because it doesn’t give you the opportunity to screen the class for understanding. You can use mini-whiteboards or true/false activities etc. to screen the whole class. It’s tricky to get the students used to this but it’s really important so it’s worthwhile putting in the effort to train them. Plus it’s a fun little activity for the kids which helps keep things interesting! Let me know if you need some whole-class screening tips.

Taking notes:

Remember that writing doesn’t equal learning so having copying activities should be avoided. Even though the students would have good notes in their books, consider the use of learning time and if you are maximising the time in lessons for active learning by the students. Copying doesn’t make for the most fun for the kids either!

Ways to ensure students have good notes from the lesson are whilst making the time active learning are:

  • Providing sentence starters
  • Giving questions to answer in full sentences or displaying a list of keywords from the lesson
  • Asking the students to write a paragraph including all of the keywords (you could display some ‘challenge’ words for those higher ability students that need pushing). In this way, you are summarising the lesson and having a nice calm and silent section for each student to show you what they’ve learned, and gives you some work to focus on when you are marking. (Remember that all work in the students’ books should be marked, so make sure you consider what you are asking them to write in terms of learning value, maximising time during lessons and ALSO how much marking you are generating for yourself!)

Teacher input:

Allowing students to practice skills independently frees up the teacher to circulate the room and this is incredibly important in order for the teacher’s awareness of all students. If a teacher discovers that individual students are making mistakes or getting stuck, they can address this on a one-to-one or small group basis while the other students continue. It can create frustration with higher ability students if the whole class is asked to stop look and listen if they are not struggling. While the teacher is circulating, adjustments can be made to behaviour by giving encouragement to those who are stuck, praise to those students doing the right thing, and direct instructions of what to do from those students not meeting expectations.

Sometimes, there is no getting around it – you will NEED to show the students how to do something and explain a concept from the front of the room. We do not advocate overuse of ‘teacher-talk’ or too much teaching from the front, but clear modelling of a skill or concept is essential for some topics. When you do need to explain something (like the difference between energy transfer in series and parallel circuits in my example) you need to make sure that the students are giving you their FULL attention. Make sure you demand the attention of everyone and don’t start your explanation before giving all of the students’ eye contact and ensuring they are listening.

Get them to give you all the info and do the explaining by asking questions: ‘Ryan, how many energy parcels do the electrons drop off at each bulb in the series circuit?’ ‘Kenisha, how is this different in the parallel circuit?’ ‘Alice, what’s the difference between how bright the bulbs are in the two circuits?’ ‘Chris, why do you think the bulbs are brighter in the parallel circuit?’ ‘Put your hand up if you think you can explain the difference between the two types of circuit.’

Making students stand in silence before you dismiss them at the end of lessons is a good idea as it can be a potential trigger point for poor behaviour to arise. Make sure your students are leaving the classroom on your terms – it all speaks to the perception of the room being your space, and that they are not in charge. Teachers should be acutely aware of time and ensure students take responsibility for clearing up, delivering books to the appropriate place and then students should be asked to stand behind their chairs in silence. Students should be standing with chairs pushed in and ready to leave, so that the teacher can dismiss them row-by-row without any noise of scraping chairs and so that the students can leave swiftly.

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