New ESL teachers often find that one of the hardest parts of the job is managing the timing of a class. It’s a newbie’s worst nightmare to find they have run out of activities with five or ten minutes to go. This is something you naturally get better at with experience, but there are some things you can do to make to get better at time management. Make a note of the advice below and incorporate it into your next lessons.

1. Have Extra Activities Planned

It’s better to have too much than too little planned. If you can’t finish everything in class, you can always assign it for homework or do it next time, but if you run out of activities early… well, it can be difficult to think of something new on the spot. Make sure that you plan out your lesson with a few extra activities that could – if needed – be skipped.

2. Have a Go-to Activity Ready

This one sort of comes with experience, but if you’re a naturally creative person, it might be easy for you. Rather than doing the above and actually planning out a lesson, many teachers just have certain activities in their head for events like this. Rather than dragging out a grammar lesson when it’s already run its course, have a productive activity to follow-up. Certain tasks are universal, like asking students what they plan to do later or how they feel about something. If you can tie some sort of discussion to the previous work, that’s perfect.

3. Plan Carefully and Realistically 

This is sort of a no-brainer, but it really is important. In your lesson plan, make sure that you time everything well. Be aware, of  course, that the best plan often go awry… but you have already built that into your lesson, haven’t you? Be flexible but realistic in your planning. Don’t expect a group of intermediate students to have a thirty minute discussion on an abstract topic. Likewise, be aware that sometimes an activity may prove more interesting and worthwhile than you anticipated, and that you may need to continue it for the students’ benefit.

4. Don’t Drag Things Out

It’s really tempting sometimes when you know that you’re coming to the end of a class to drag out an activity in order to fill the allotted time. Instead, follow the above tips. Dragging a speaking activity out can be a massive mood-killer in the classroom as students run out of things to say and simply sit in silence. You don’t want to end the activity because you know you have time to kill… so you let the silence run on and on. It’s awful. Avoid that by giving them a new task.

5. Divide Your Lesson Into 15 Minute Periods

My classes are 90 minutes long and the school mandates a 10 minute break at the 45 minute point – so basically 2x 45 min lessons. I like to break those 45 periods into 3x 15 minute units. This may sound silly, but it really makes planning much easier! Of course, activities run on and others fall short, but breaking it into these groups of 15 minutes really makes it easier. Within that 15 minute period you may have several activities or one longer one… but it helps you structure it in your head and manage it during the class.