The First 5 Minutes: Getting students hooked in early

In this insightful and inspirational guest post, Hywel Roberts , a teacher, author and creative educational consultant, talks about the vital importance of the first 5 minutes of any lesson and getting the students ‘hooked in early’.

Hywel is also an associate of Independent Thinking and his excellent book Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally  is available on Amazon now.

Gone are the days of children sitting uniformly in rows hanging on the teacher’s every word. Hooking children into the content of your lesson is now part and parcel of the job, and we need to ensure that we have a repertoire of resources at hand to support us…and that can often be easier said than done. In the same way the uniformed rows of automon-like children may be a thing of the past, so has our expectation that every child loves our subject, or the particular topic we’re hoping to fire them up with. A lot of children experience school as learning being ‘done to them’ – they feel a disconnect from it – often school can say nothing to a child about their day to day experience of the world that they live in. It is our job to alter that; to bring the world into the learning – to help some children shift from being streetwise to worldwise.

The best place to start hooking children into learning is to begin with your greatest resource and take look in the mirror. Who do the children see when they walk into your room? Teachers need to have some basics which they often forget to mention at teacher-training institutions. I call them specific teacher acts:

  • Smiling
  • Laughter
  • Enthusiasm
  • Patience
  • Time

A neat acronym here maybe, but there’s more to it than that. I know I had to work really hard at these five things especially on a wet Friday afternoon teaching Year Nine Drama. There’s the spirit of inductive practice embodied in these acts – please don’t be fooled into thinking that these are soft skills. They are, in fact, sometimes very hard to muster. On Fridays I had to switch these specific teacher acts on. What are you switching on?

We can obviously help ourselves by ensuring that our rooms are places children don’t mind being. You don’t have to go far to find lots of advice about this sort of thing and these particular considerations work for me:

  • Rights (both of child and teacher)
  • Rules (and expectations)
  • Responsibilities
  • Routines

…and in big fat letters, underpinning everything: RELATIONSHIPS.

This list may well be familiar to you. If it is, what do these elements look like in your classroom? Something I had to do with some children in my classes was plan (and I do mean write down) how I was going to attempt to build positive relationships when it appeared all they wanted to do was dismiss the work – sometimes aggressively. I considered this to be differentiation by support.

There’s another R that perhaps we could add to the list: RAPPORT

Can you define rapport?

Julie Starr, in her great book The Coaching Manual, defines rapport as the ‘dance that happens behind communication’. I like that. And I get it. So, what dance do you do with your Year 7s? I imagine it will be different to the dance you do with your Year 12s? Or when you’re talking to an Ofsted inspector?

So you’ve got your own behaviour sorted. How then, do we make lessons worth behaving for? For me, it is the first few minutes. Following the meet and greet, we are in. What’s happening then? Do you have a settler (a task to settle) or do you let them talk whilst you figure out the register? What about :

  • A fat (open) question on the whiteboard – a new one everyday – 2 minutes to think, 2 minutes with talk partners, then feedback responses e.g. Why do we have bones? How can we reduce poverty? What are we going to do about the Big Bad Wolf?
  • A fascinating photograph – type rich poor contrast into an image search engine and you’ll see what I mean. This image stimulus can invite the same process as with the fat question.
  • On a pen drive, build up a collection of powerful images and questions that you can access quickly no matter what room you are in – this is particularly good for colleagues who supply or are on cover supervision
  • Have an appropriate piece of music playing e.g. in a recent Y7 project around PROTEST, I used songs by Billy Bragg, The Special AKA, Billie Holliday to name a few.

Stuck for ideas? Get on Twitter for starters.

It’s those first five minutes that show who you are as a teacher and what you expect from your children. Don’t waste them.

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