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How to plan a lesson – Ending lessons successfully

We often consider how to kick off lessons, yet pay less attention to bringing them to a conclusion...

  • How to plan a lesson – Ending lessons successfully

Use pre-warnings

We all know how irritating it is when we are asked to stop something in the middle. Yet we do this all the time to children. Instead of saying, “Pens down, finish what you are doing”, try giving children time warnings, so they know when they will be expected to finish a task.

By pre-warning pupils, we enable them to prepare for a smooth transition. There are many useful timers that can be displayed on interactive whiteboards to show the countdown to the end of any activity.

Have clear task endings

We often tell children to “finish their work”. This instruction carries with it the implication that the child knows what this means. For most tasks, the expected finished result is flexible. Writing for 20 minutes will look different for different children. Most pupils can manage this degree of uncertainty, but not all.

The majority of children will benefit from understanding your expectation of the finished activity. This can be a modelled example or clear instruction, such as: “Complete ten sums” or “Write to here”, shown by a mark on the page, and so on.

Finished means finished

Setting a clear end to a task can be more complex than it first appears. When we set out a clear expectation for an activity, but a child finishes before the end of the lesson, it’s all too tempting to add an extension task.

Often this is the right thing to do. But for those children who are highly routine- or rule-bound, this creates confusion. For others, it tells them that if they complete their work they will just get more, so it is better not to complete it.

To counter this, be clear what your expectations are, or the unexpected presentation of an extension task can feel like a punishment and become a disincentive to complete the first one.

Plan end-of-lesson routines

Exactly what your finishing routine will be depends on the lesson and the age of your children, but what is clear is that it needs attention.

Think about including support for: ensuring children have their belongings and are organised enough to be able to pack them away; helping children manage anxiety and sensory overload; a clear and planned route to help children reach their next destination safely and within the time limit.

Mark the stages of the lesson

Reception, and sometimes infant school classes, often use ‘tidy up music’, at the end of lessons to gently remind children to finish what they are doing and encourage them to tidy up. It provides a clear auditory cue and support for transition. Many children need this kind of support long after we stop using it.

Consider age-appropriate ways of using visual and auditory signs to mark the stages of the lesson, so not only is the lesson end clear, but the journey through the lesson is clear as well.

Consider the use of a marker on lesson slides to display ‘Starting activities’, ‘Teacher input’, ‘Group activities’, ‘Individual learning’ and ‘Summing up’, for example.

Be aware of particular anxiety points

For some children, particular times of day or week may be triggers for increased anxiety.

Many children (and adults!) begin to struggle as they move towards lunchtime. For many, as they become hungry, particularly if this is combined with anxieties such as managing lunch routines, having sufficient time to eat or bullying from others, their ability to manage the end of the lesson successfully will be reduced.

At the end of the day there can also be anxieties about being picked up or managing the transition into an after-school activity. Be cognisant of these anxieties and enable children to share them so you can support them to manage and hopefully reduce their anxieties.


Daniel Sobel and Sara Alston are the authors of The Inclusive Classroom: A New Approach to Differentiation (£16.99, Bloomsbury). Follow Sara on Twitter at @seainclusion.

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