Starting lessons smoothly can be challenging. Missing equipment. Latecomers. Excuses for why homework isn’t complete. There are a lot of ways to address this. When I was struggling with having a smooth start to my lessons, I was given lots of different advice. Make students line up outside the classroom before coming in. Have them come into the classroom in silence. Use demerits. For various reasons, these things didn’t work for me. The solution I eventually found most effective was incredibly simple.

To set the context: I started using this with a Year 7, bottom set English class. There were around 15 students in the class. A lot of them struggled with organisation, which had a negative impact on the start of the lesson. I’d started out by trying the piece of advice to get students to line up outside the classroom. This wasn’t entirely effective because upon entering the classroom, students took their time taking out equipment and were still chatty.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective.

Then one day, I started writing down their names on the whiteboard. As students were silent with all of their equipment out on their desks, I put their names on the whiteboard. If they were talking, I waited to write their names down. With consistency, this became our routine. There was a teaching assistant in every lesson who helped out with this as well. There were several students who were always eager to get their names on the board first. Students were quick to point out if we’d mixed up the order by accident. Equipment being promptly out and students ready and waiting allowed lessons to start much more smoothly.

What surprised me the most about this strategy is that there was no reward or punishment for being first or last on the whiteboard, and yet every student went along with it. It may be that a different group of students would need that extra incentive – some kind of acknowledgement or reward of making a good effort to be ready for the lesson. For a larger class, you could use an Excel spreadsheet where you quickly type the order in a sheet pre-populated with students’ names. You could assign points that cumulate over a half term or term with a reward at the end.

This isn’t going to work for every class, but my point is that sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. And despite all the advice in the world, all the anecdotes of what worked for someone else, you have to find what works for you.

How do you ensure a smooth start to lessons? Do you have any stories of when an incredibly simple solution worked for you?

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