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Supply Teaching: First Five Minutes


As any teacher knows, the first five minutes of your new class in a new school are critical and daunting, indeed with any new class, even in a familiar school. We want to build positive relationships, remain professional, set boundaries, learn personalities, and above all, get students learning. And the first five minutes can make or break this. The start can be smooth, organised, relaxing, fun, or friendly, with challenging, engaging learning taking place; or it can be chaotic, stressful, confrontational, slow, and boring. As a supply teacher, this first five minutes is much harder given the small amount of time to prepare, and the lack of knowledge about the students and the school.

However, with prepared ideas for those important initial moments, that can be adapted to any subject or setting, you can start confidently and engage students quickly.

Sometimes students push the boundaries with a new teacher, just to see where they are, and we know that despite our very best intentions, there are sometimes things beyond our control as a new staff member that can add to the unsettled feel. No cover work, no class lists, or seating plan. No logon for the PC, not being able to find exercise books, children are late, or pretending to be in the class when they’re not - the list goes on.

Thankfully, it is rare, given that the agency work with good, organized schools and often other teachers are present to help with setting work, and to get things moving as a familiar face with some settling down. Still, having some off the shelf starter activities, with little or no prep, will help you start the lesson confidently and quickly, and set the tone for learning early on. All you need are a few bits of basic stationary and a little imagination. Meaning that even if things go wrong beyond your control, your first five minutes is something you can control.

Rule number one:

Make sure you’ve got a whiteboard pen or three, a set of post it notes, and an idea what the topic of the lesson is. Then, get ‘thunking’....

‘Thunks’ are funny little questions to get you thinking; like ‘what colour is Monday?’ or ‘how many bricks makes a wall?’ And students love them. Plus, there are no wrong answers! Just as long as the students can give a good reason, then everyone can play.

And that’s it really.

There are tonnes of them here and in the original book, here.

They can be broad and general, or you can adapt them to the specific subject or topic. They can be silly and fun, or serious and thought provoking.

- Food tech: ‘Is a potato really alive?’

- Maths: ‘Could we live without numbers?’

- PE: ‘Should exercise be compulsory for adults?’

- MFL: ‘Would one universal language be better for the world?’

- Hamlet: ‘Is it ever ok to kill a killer?’

- Fractions: ‘Is it really good to share?’

- Genetics: ‘Should we be able to choose the gender of a child?’.

Rule number two:

Get a Thunk visible as soon as you can for when students come in; with the instruction: ‘bags and coats away and equipment out; be ready to answer with a good reason in 4 minutes’. Write this instruction up so you aren’t repeating yourself, then you are free to sort other things while they think on the thunk. I would even let them know the signal for when the thinking time is up. Write: ‘When I stand in the middle of the room with my hand up, we’re all quiet and ready to work’.

Rule number three:

If you’re teaching Dance or PE, or another lesson where there might be no whiteboard, then take some pre-written instructions on paper or laminates. Teaching SEND? Use simpler agree/disagree statements. EAL? Try music or a timer as a cue to stop thunking.

Rule number four:

You can then take answers by random or hands up. You can give out post it notes and ask everyone to write an answer and stick them up on the board. (Often I will say write your name in capitals along the top too so you can learn names quick and use as reference through the session). You could ask all students to speak an answer as part of the register. Either way, it puts the onus on the children to get thinking and working, not you. Otherwise, they’ve a tendency to sit back and wait for you in a ‘he doesn’t know what he’s doing’ kind of way.

Rule number five:

While students are ‘thunking’ you could:

• Tidy up litter or left-over stuff from other lessons (don’t forget to tidy up after yourself at the end)
• Greet students at the door
• Smile and say hello
• Give out sticky labels for names
• Hand out books (better still ask a student to do it and reward them)
• Find resources
• Bring up the register (ask a good kid to help with any difficult pronunciations)
• Talk to the TA or Ed Support
• Find a relevant video on the topic of the lesson
• Open / Close windows
• Reward students who settle quickly
• Relax (!) 

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