welcome to the

opogo blog

Communicating to ALL in the first 5 minutes

Posted by Bernie Callanan on Tuesday, 2 October 2018
Bernie Callanan
Find me on:

"Good morning class. I need you to get your book, pencil case and planner out. Write the title shown on the board and begin the Starter activity in silence whilst I take the register. Any questions? (2-3 second wait) OK, get going."

Every day thousands of lessons will start in a similar way. One can understand why; the school policy for equipment, starters and completing the register has been followed and high expectations have been set.

The issue is that a high proportion of the students won't be able to follow all of the instructions given. Background noise levels are very high at this time. Chairs scrape along the floor, coats are being taken off etc and students should be forgiven for missing elements of the packed 10 second segment. 

Some might get their equipment out, but will be waiting for what to do next. They're not being awkward, they may have only processed the first piece of information. By chance, others will have started writing the title (because that is what most people are doing).

You'll be relieved to know  that there are alternative ways to start a lesson which will ensure everyone knows what to do, and will reduce the risk of confrontation.

The less fortunate will have missed  all the instructions because the teacher said them all at once and it confused the student. Maybe they heard "silence" if they were lucky, or perhaps they used their instincts not to talk because they've learned that's the best way to avoid confrontation.

Not all students will be so savvy, they will talk, and they'll likely be reprimanded by the teacher who might assume they're being obnoxious. "But I was asking a question about the work!" Very quickly a confrontation can occur and may escalate from there.

lady infront of class

Unfortunately, this happens far too often and some students learn that school is not for them. From their perspective, teachers are unfair and don't give them a chance to explain themselves and they're sick of being told off for 'not listening'

So how should I start the lesson? 

Before giving whole class instructions, wait for everyone to finish sitting down, wait until background noise levels are low. Most of the time lessons will start with "I need you to get your books, pencil case and planner out." Therefore have a pictorial poster showing this information and locate it next to your board.

If you want the class to write the title and begin the starter, have a numbered list showing this. Again point to it, and get a student to read them out. Repeat what they have said and then ask another student who is easily distracted to explain in their own words what the class need to do.

"By explaining it in their own words you'll know if they understand.""

From there, explain that you will be taking the register and will therefore require silence unless their name is called out. Use gestures to show this and reduce the volume of your voice. Remind those who have not processed this yet. Wait until everyone is focussed and silent before starting the register.

For the students who are generally focussed, make sure your starter has a tricky extension so they continue to be challenged. For those who still have missed elements of your instruction, remind them, and politely ask them to do whatever it is. Showing humility goes a long way.

This is the preferred approach because you have chunked all the instructions into single components. One at a time. You have also explained each instruction in different formats which will help meet the needs of verbal and visual learners and you have encouraged particular students to interact with the instructions to increase engagement and understanding.

Whilst you have met the needs of all those who struggle, you have also stretched those who don't with a challenging extension. The first 5 minutes have been calmer and all students have been included from the off- happy days! 


About our Community Expert


Bernie Callanan


Over 10 years of SEN experience in a number of settings. Developed whole-school approaches to ensure students with SEN are catered with the support they need.

Placing the student with SEN at the heart of all decisions made regarding their education, whilst liaising with all stakeholders involved.

Bernie is our education expert who provides SEN related content.

Topics: Teacher development


Opogo is a community platform designed to help schools attract and retain the talent that’s right for them. Our social hub is packed with rich content from our community experts. And through our ever-evolving Smart Match technology, teachers can be booked for work simply and quickly.

Sign up for FREE