Tip #11: Pupils off task? Accurately predict and time activities.

CC - Tip #11 - Pupils off task- Accurately predict and time activities.

If pupils are off-task in lessons or produce poor quality work, it could be that they’ve been given either too much or too little time for activities. Accurately predicting task durations and communicating these with pupils will allow for greater accountability and improved quality.

How long’s a piece of string?

It’s hard predicting how long a task will take. There are so many variables that it’s bound to go wrong. We’ve all had occasions where an activity we thought would last hours is chewed up and spat out within 3 minutes. This allows opportunities for off-task behaviour. Perhaps more concerning is that regularly giving too much time sends the message that hard work and complete focus aren’t always required.

Then there’s the opposite issue: if too little time is allocated, pupils will be unable to complete tasks and frustration will become the norm. This can lead to rushed, unfinished work that’s a nightmare to mark.

Either way, poorly predicted timings can lead to a stress-filled class climate. Therefore, timing tasks accurately and communicating these to the class is critical for your pupils to be able to meet your expectations.

How can you judge how long an activity will take though? There are a few things you can do to be much more accurate.

From a huge meal to a series of mouthfuls

CC - Tip #11 - Pic 1
Break your activities into smaller chunks to accurately predict task durations.

First, break the activities down in smaller chunks. A whole sheet of maths computations or problems is very difficult to judge timing for, but if there are 6 questions, and you think that each question could take 3 minutes to answer, you could allow 20 minutes: 6 x 3 = 18, rounded up for safe measure.

In English, if you are expecting half a page of writing, consider how long a line may take. If you believe a line of writing may take your class 1 minute, 16 lines would take 16 minutes. Rounding it up to 20 minutes will allow time for a quick transition and factor in any variability in pupil’s work rate.

It’s important to note that these predictions need to be age (and child) appropriate. You wouldn’t expect year 1 children to work this fast, or indeed many children with SEND allowances. Your accuracy won’t be spot-on at first, but having a system to consider will help you hone your expectations.

Explain your reasons

Once you have your time allocation decided, communicate this with your class, explaining why you’ve chosen the length. Use a consistency script (more examples here) such as:

‘I’d like you to write half a page, which is 16 lines. I think you’ll take no more than 1 minute a line, but I’ll round it to 20 minutes to make sure you all have enough time.’ [Possible year 6 expectation].

‘You have 6 questions which I think will take you 2 minutes each. That’s 6 x 2 which is 12 minutes. I’ll round it to 15 to be fair. That means you’ve got until the minute hand is at _____ on the clock.’ [Possible year 2 expectation].

Google timer and the game of two halves


CC - Tip #11 - Google Timer
Google timer is a simple way to keep track of time. Just search for ‘Google timer’ in Google.


Using Google timer is a simple way to keep track of time. (You can either click on this link here or type ‘google timer’ into Google.) Stopping halfway through an activity will enable you to check progress and allow your pupils to judge whether their pace is appropriate (a vital skill in this SATs-obsessed world). If an Ofsted inspector is in, why not call this a mini-plenary? It can sound as simple as:

‘You’re now halfway through, so you should be on question ______. If you are, well done. If you’re not, let me know so I can help you.’

Doing this gives pupils responsibility and a measure to be accountable to (in a similar way to communicating why bad behaviour is bad). Any frustrations and secondary behaviour will be minimised and your marking will become easier because you will be able to judge better whether the quality is appropriate for the time given. After a while, it’ll be a normal part of your planning and your class will thrive off the routine and responsibility.

If you’ve tried these ideas or have any other ways you judge the time it takes to complete an activity, please comment below. It’ll be great to hear from you!

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