The first 5 minutes in the classroom can be stressful as you get your bearings, take the register and get yourself in the zone for kick-starting your teaching. This is a prime time to use a “to do now” exercise to keep your students settled whilst you deal with several issues that can be present at the start.
What is a “to do now” exercise?
It is a piece of work that should take no more than 5 minutes for the students to complete and where appropriate you can collect them, mark them and then feedback as a class exercise.
A "To do now" exercise should be ready for the students as they sit down – a sheet on the desk, an exercise on the chalk board, smart board, or a sheet on a table to pick up on the way into the classroom.
Explain to the students that this is a non-negotiable part of the lesson and that it is your expectation that all students participate.
Students must be able to undertake the exercise without having to ask for any clarity so it is vital that your instructions are very clear and that the students can do it on their own. It may be the case that you can use your teaching assistant to further assist or answer any questions your students may have.
What should it contain?
Some people suggest it should be subject specific, i.e., a quick maths test to see if the students understood the topics from last week.
Others suggest it should vary to maintain interest and prepare the students for learning. It could be a piece of creative writing surrounding a famous quote or a current news item. On the day homework is set, it could be to ensure the homework is clearly recorded within the student planner.
It could be a short quiz which is completed on an individual basis. However as your class develop and follow your expectations, this could be done in teams in the future. In the early days I would use this time to establish your class student/teacher charter.
Be creative but ensure you know if your school has a set agenda already in place, such as silent reading.
Can it be done in small group?
Yes, it can. Be careful not to introduce it too early on. If your class is responding to your hands up expectation every time, then why not let them work in groups! The only warning of this is that the room may get a bit noisy. However if you can control the noise levels without stress, raising your voice or arguing, it will help you build a respectful relationship with your class.
Is it worth my effort?
It certainly is! Done well it gives you the time to do your register, sort the student who is very stressed or upset about matters not connected with the classroom and deal with students who may require reminders of classroom expectations or school expectations. Last but not least, it will enable you to start your outstanding teaching in the correct environment!
Other benefits in the early days!
It again gives you the opportunity to learn quickly about your students. Some will embrace a "to do now", whilst others will not. Therefore, it is important to collect and spend some time with them, don’t just bin them!
Those students that do not participate in this exercise give you with an opportunity to quietly engage them in a conversation where you can start to build a respectful relationship.
You may not get a positive response from the student on the first go but persevere and keep going. Often, having one-one discussion time with a student enables you to learn far more about your students than first perceived.
About our Community Expert
Former Detective Inspector
Community expert and former Detective Inspector, Paul Raynor has direct experience in teaching educators how to better manage behaviour within secondary education. He is an expert in his field.