It’s just a matter of time

Using timed challenges in the classroom

As teachers, our time is unfortunately finite, but there are ways that we can use time in the classroom to have a positive impact on learning, progress, attitudes and mindset. In this article, I hope you will find something that will really resonate. It is important that you carefully discriminate and find the new tips that work for you. After all, we don’t have much time.

I’m known for my knowledge of all things technology and certainly, there are lots of tools you can use linked to time in the classroom. For example, try going to Google and typing ‘Timer X seconds’ or ‘Timer X minutes’ etc. Google will display a timer and it will be counting down straight away. If you have access to an iPad in the classroom, why not swipe up to bring up your control centre and jump into the Clock App where you have a stopwatch, countdown timer and even a lap counter.

Using and limiting time in the classroom can aid children massively when it comes to them completing work. Without timings and clear structure, children can sometimes take what seems like forever to complete even the most mundane tasks. Cutting and sticking being a classic example! Give them a short space of time and often you’ll find they will complete more than they would have in a longer period.

If you have ten minutes at the beginning of your lesson in which you want children to complete a certain task, such as curating some research, rather than giving them the full ten minutes, just give them two. As teachers, you know they actually have ten minutes. At the end of the two minutes, ask them if they would like some more time. They will always say ‘Yes’. Give them six more minutes and then allow an additional two minutes for feedback. You will most likely find that they will have completed more work in the eight minutes than they would have if they had just had ten minutes left to their own devices.

Digital timers are often easier to find online and there is an abundance of free tools to choose from. However, analogue and other timers can be equally effective. A friend of mine once purchased a huge 4-foot sand (egg) timer from a car boot sale and used that in their classroom to time activities and was used in numeracy in lots of different ways. For example, tests were five turns of the sands of time, while getting ready for the start of the lesson was one turn of the sand of time. The sands of time were even used as a writing prompt for science fiction creative writing. You might not be lucky enough to find one of these in a car boot sale, but you can always buy a more reasonably sized one to use with your class.

Healthy competition is something to be embraced in education. We all have things we can excel at so why not put some time into it and have some leaderboards in your classroom.

Just a few ideas:

  • Who can do their times tables the fastest?
  • Who can spend the longest on their homework?
  • Who can tidy up the quickest?
  • Who can get to assembly the quickest?
  • Who can volunteer to help out the most?
  • or even… Who can come up with the most number of questions the quickest.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be about academic skills, but putting time into things can help to raise the bar in terms of standards in your classroom across the board without isolating individuals.

Audio timing can be used too. For example, we all know the Countdown theme tune and the 30-second version. If you search on Youtube you will find that people have made lots of different durations of that timer. Why not use one of these as your representation of time. The sense of urgency that this particular piece of music brings is huge. Liz Allton (@lizsaddler) has discussed how teachers can use their own theme tunes for the start of lessons. As with all theme tunes, these can be very short. Why not have your own theme tune playing as the class enters your room which signals to them how much time they have to be sat down and ready to learn?

Different children will need different amounts of time to work on different tasks. You can also make use of open-ended time. If the culture for learning in your classroom allows for it, why not ask children to choose how long they should take for a particular task or set of tasks. You might be surprised at their response as they may be forced to be more realistic with time constraints when they are asked to take ownership of their own learning time frame.

I have worked in some schools where some children like to be spoon-fed and are therefore very demanding of your time. You can promote independent learning by giving children time chips or counters (like poker chips or the counters you get with Connect 4) where each chip is worth a certain amount of time and support from you as a teacher. Using your professional judgment, you can distribute chips in such a way that different children with different needs get chips or counters linked to the level of support they might need. Have you stopped to consider who is taking up most of your time in the classroom and why? It could be on a lesson by lesson, project, or weekly basis – you decide.

How you spend your time is down to you and the needs of the class. Maybe by spending that extra time thinking about how to be smart with it, you might just start to see a difference… in less time than you think.

This article first appeared in our free April 2016 UKEdMagazine, which is available to view by clicking here.

Mark Anderson @ICTevangelist is a former assistant headteacher with more than 20 years in schools. A self-confessed teaching & learning geek, Mark now works with schools and speaks at conferences sharing his ideas and vision all over the world. Mark is also a best-selling author and award-winning blogger of

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