An article of mine in the latest edition of MET (Modern English Teacher magazine) – available here to read for free!
Ways to not waste extra classroom time when you are lucky enough to have it.
Earlier in my career my greatest fear was running out of materials five or ten minutes before the end of class, maybe with any other activities that I did have up my sleeve needing much more time than that – or even needing those five or ten minutes just to set up! Although I do still have nightmares about this when I have high pressure classes such as observed ones, nowadays in my normal lessons I’m usually actually happy when an activity comes to a natural end a few minutes before the end of the lesson. The main reason for this is that it leaves me with time to do some of the useful things I mention below, things that I far too often neglect otherwise.
Constructive uses of the last few minutes of the class include:
– Reflection on the lesson
– Reflection on the course so far (or a particular part of it such as a week or term) and student progress
– Preparation for the next lesson/ Explaining what’s coming up in the course
– Discussing and/ or taking a vote on future lessons, e.g. whether they are ready to move onto the next topic or want more work on something in today’s lesson
– Self-study tips, e.g. for people who found that lesson particularly difficult or useful
– Asking about future plans, e.g. for that evening, the weekend, future English studies or future use of English
– Picking language from the lesson to learn at home
– An extension on the previous activity
– An actual filler activity, e.g. a revision game
– Starting the homework activity (to show them what to, e.g. how to use the answer key and ask questions afterwards)
There is also the possibility that only having time to just set up the next activity is not as much of a problem as you might think. For example, there’s nothing wrong with doing the fun and communicative lead-in tasks that can only be done in class at the end of the lesson, then the actual reading (and sometimes listening) at home. The post-text speaking tasks (discussion questions, roleplays, etc) can then be done in the next class.
Of all of the things in the list above, I find the things which are most useful and which I most often otherwise neglect are self-study tips and reflections on the lesson or course, the latter being useful for me too as I can learn about the students’ impressions of the lessons. Reflection and self-study tips can obviously be tied together by asking students what they found challenging and potentially useful, then talking about what they can do outside class to improve those things. If students are unlikely to come straight out and say those things in front of the class, you can put discussion questions for group speaking on the board like “What was most difficult about this lesson/ week/ month/ term and why?”, then get feedback from the class. If they still won’t speak out much at that stage, you can get feedback with just a show of hands (perhaps making sure everyone raises their hand to at least one of the options that you give them).
There is also the possibility of preparing short reflection and self-study tips activities on worksheets that you always keep at the back of the class folder for when they are most useful, e.g. a list of questions asking for advice like “I’m worried that I sound flat and boring when I speak” that students can ask each other before asking for similar advice on their real language learning problems. With less time available and/ or classes who are less willing to speak, you could simply tell them why what they have studied is important and suggest extra practice.
Especially for classes with a real need for English such as ESP (English for Specific Purposes) classes, asking when and how they are likely to use English next and/ or before the next lesson can be even more useful. Simply asking about next weekend is also often appreciated, if only because everyone likes talking about themselves. To make it more useful than simple free conversation, you can give them some extra language they can use to describe their plans – language which hopefully they will be able to use again when they describe how their weekend was in the next lesson. This could again be done with a worksheet that you keep at the back of your class file for exactly such situations. Even better, if you keep this likely conversation in mind when planning your lessons, you can make sure that you present grammar, vocabulary etc that could be useful for this classic end of lesson conversation in one of the classes early in the course.
What extensions on the last activity you can do depends on what you were doing. For example, with a reading or listening transcript they can test each other on information in there with questions like “How did the argument between Mr Jones and his mistress start?” With a listening transcript of a conversation they can also roleplay similar conversations, e.g. starting with the exact same conversation then adding more and more different information (changing names, times, responses etc) each time they read it out. They can also cover up more and more of the transcript each time, starting with just the last two lines covered, then the last four lines covered, etc, with the conversation continuing each time from memory and/ or with their own ideas.
Students can also test each other on the spelling, number of syllables, stress etc of vocabulary from the lesson, but again this is more useful if you have already presented suitable language, in this case classroom questions like “How do you spell…?” and “How many syllables does… have?” (perhaps again with an emergency backup worksheet kept handy for that purpose). They could also define words from the lesson (perhaps with extra information like number of syllables and vowel sound) until their partner guesses which one they are speaking about.