I always run out of time!

image taken from dreamstime.com

Interestingly enough, when the majority of EFL/ESL colleagues reflect on their lessons – especially on teacher training courses, such as the CELTA or the DELTA Module Two, where reflection is part of their assessment – one area seems to ‘rule them all’ as a main weakness: time management.

This tends to be a problem in itself because time is rarely an issue per se; it is a symptom; it is the consequence of a number of things which will remain cloaked in darkness if we don’t dare take our reflection a step further and squeeze our brain to figure out what really didn’t work.

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario of a 45-minute lesson in which the main aim is to help learners practise their gist and intensive reading sub-skills:


The teacher shows the learners a video to get them engaged and elicit the theme of the lesson. Then, the teacher shows the learners the title of a text along with some vocabulary taken from that text. The teacher presents the meaning of the vocabulary and, then, asks the learners to work in pairs and predict the content of the text taking the video, the title, and the lexis into account. The learners start exchanging ideas in pairs. When the learners finish, the teacher invites them to share their answers and a discussion follows. Sounds good so far.

However, when the time to read the text and do the gist and intensive reading activities comes, there is only 15 minutes left in the lesson. So, the learners end up being rushed, and the feedback they get on these activities is poor with the teacher merely giving the learners the correct answers when they make a mistake.

After the lesson has finished, the teacher says that the main problem was time management. So, based on the assumption that time management is the symptom and not the actual problem, let’s look at some possible causes that did not allow the teacher to achieve the aim of this lesson.


Lesson planning (staging an activity):

The teacher may not be aware of the different stages an activity entails and, therefore, they may not know how much time a specific activity is expected to take in the lesson; quite frequently, we underestimate the time learners need to complete an activity because we ignore the steps we need to take to set-up and run an activity effectively.

Choice of material and activities:

A number of activities may have been redundant. For example, the video in our hypothetical reading lesson above, may have been too lengthy or unnecessary in the course of the lesson. It may have been really enjoyable, of course, but this doesn’t mean that we should include it no matter what.

Not having a clear view of the lesson aim:

The teacher may be unaware of what the main aim is and, therefore, cannot decide which activity matters most; as a result, the teacher cannot make an informed decision as to which activity could be modified or even be completely skipped. Sometimes, we do fall in this trap because there are too many things to focus on in coursebooks.

Class management (poor monitoring):

An activity may carry on for too long because it’s fun and the learners are enjoying it. A teacher may feel that if an activity keeps the learners happy, talking and having a good time, it is enough to deem their lesson successful.

Poor preparation:

The teacher may have forgotten to prepare/organise the appropriate handouts, to turn on the classroom equipment, or check that it works properly, and a number of other things that seem to be too trivial to deal with, but can get in the way of the pace of the lesson and, accumulatively, waste invaluable time.


Lesson planning (staging an activity):

Imagine you have a listening exercise; the audio is two and a half minutes long. How much time do you think it should take? Any answer at this point seems to be arbitrary if we don’t consider the stages involved. For example:

  • Giving instructions (1’)
  • Checking understanding of instructions and clarifying if necessary (30’’)
  • Providing an example (30’’)
  • Giving learners time to familiarise themselves with the activity (1’)
  • Playing the audio: the learners do the activity (2:30mins)
  • Replaying the audio if the learners need to listen to it a second time (2:30mins)
  • Allowing time for the learners to compare their answers in pairs (2’)
  • Doing feedback on the exercise replaying bits of the audio to make sure all learners understood why certain answers were right or wrong (2’-3’)

Suddenly, what initially seemed to be a (more or less) 5-minute activity is now in fact a 10-minute one at best.

Keeping your lessons material-light:

Avoid choosing/designing material to make your lesson as full as possible. Remember the famous ELT aphorism: less is more. Don’t choose material that does not, in one way or another, help the learners achieve the aim of the lesson. Even if you’ve found let’s say a hilarious video, don’t use it if it does not contribute to achieving the aim of the lesson.

Making appropriate decisions in class:

Even if the learners are obviously enjoying a speaking exercise early on in the lesson and want to carry on talking, do stop them and move on to the next stage/activity; you can always go back to it towards the end of the lesson, after you have covered the main parts of your lesson to achieve the aim. Contrary to what we may sometimes feel, the learners will appreciate the fact that a specific aim will have been achieved – don’t forget that one of our roles in the classroom is to help them remain focused on the main aim, not just to keep them happy.

These are some of the main conclusions I have reached so far, but I’m certain there are plenty more reasons that lead to not having enough time to achieve our lesson aims. If you have noticed anything else, do leave your comment!