Time saving teaching, Work/Life balance

Time-saving teaching for time-pressed teachers

Charlotte Paine- Assistant Headteacher

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any teacher, in any school, is always in want of more time.  We go from standing at the photocopier at 8am to the bell ringing at 3:10pm in the blink of an eye, and in any case contrary to popular opinion amongst non-teachers – and in my experience usually expressed at parties beginning with phrases such as ‘ah you teachers, 3pm blah blah blah, long holidays blah blah blah’ – most of us aren’t going home for hours to come anyway.  In fact research conducted by the BBC and The Guardian show that teachers in England and Wales work longer hours than almost anywhere else in the world – at secondary level it’s an average of 55.7 hours per week, whilst our primary colleagues are clocking up a staggering 59.3 hours.

So, we’re busy people – which is better than the alternative of being bored – but that’s to be expected because we are also (contrary to popular opinion!) important people, in charge of educating, shaping and mentoring the next generation.  But, are we always using the time we do have in the most efficient way?

What follows are some time-saving tips, designed to help you maximise your working day, and perhaps even go home before it’s pitch-black outside.

Before we begin, here is a glossary of key terms:


Procrastinating The act of doing a lot of things that are not the job you actually have to do e.g. organising colouring pencils into rainbow order instead of marking Year 7’s assessments.
Faffing The act of taking a long time to do something that is, in theory, achievable in a very short space of time.
Stalling The act of putting off the thing you have to do, and creating a whole list of excuses in your head as to why you have not done it, whilst regarding your mounting anxiety in a detached yet terrified way.
Postponing The act of delaying, or putting off something, that you still actually need to do.  Similar to stalling.


Tip 1: Audit your time

On the face of it, this might seem like just another job to do, but completing a time audit for a day (or dare I say it, a week) can help you identify where you have pressure points, and where you have more time to play with.  It can also help you identify where you have time that you could use more effectively.  It’s simple to do – you just write down what you are doing at hourly intervals through the day, e.g. 8am – photocopying resources, 9am – teaching, 10am – teaching, 11am – planning.  Working out patterns or lost or wasted time can really help you to restructure your day.

Tip 2: Lollipop sticks

A set of wooden lollipop sticks can be used for many different purposes, not least, for grouping students quickly and easily, flexibly and on the spur of the moment – no planning required.  On each stick, write the student’s name in a colour – if you choose several different colours then you can automagically (apparently this is a word) group students into ‘colour groups.’  If you also write a number on the stick, then you have another option – ‘number grouping.’  Add a shape, and you have a third option – ‘shape grouping.’  Sticks can also be used to direct questions, or you can hand them out at the start of the lesson and gather them in when a student answers a question, or contributes to the lesson positively – at the end of the lesson you have a clear indication of who has participated, and who has not. It makes awarding achievement points much quicker too than writing names on the board and then rubbing them off, and forgetting who’s they were.



Tip 3: Google Forms for self-marking quizzes and questionnaires

Google Forms are a great way of setting up quizzes or questionnaires for your class, staff, or even parents/visitors to the school.  They can ‘self mark’ (once you have entered the right and wrong answers!) and you can add feedback to each question so students can see why they have answered (in)correctly which saves you having to write comments individually.  The results can then be exported to Google Sheets, and graphs will automagically (still a word) be generated again.  You can also ask your Google Sheets questions, and it will analyse the data to answer for you.  You can also use the same form again and again, either as a revision activity, or for next year’s lessons.  Plan once, use forever! For more info, head to Google and google Google Forms.  ‘Google’ is now noun and verb.

google cpe


Tip 4: Weekly meal prep

My husband still hasn’t managed to grasp the idea that teachers don’t have a lunch ‘break’ – instead, we have a unit of time in the day that is not technically a lesson, but probably still involves working.  If possible, set aside part of this time unit – 20 or 30 minutes – to have as much of a break as you can manage, but above all, prioritise eating.  3:30pm is not lunchtime, even if it is when many of us eat!  Prepping your lunches in advance of the week can be really helpful, as then each morning you can just grab the tupperware and go.  If this isn’t possible, or isn’t your style, consider eating in the school cafeteria.  It is a great opportunity to sit down to a proper meal, and to have more informal conversations with colleagues and students.


lunch cpe.png

Tip 5: Glossaries

This is essentially front-loaded lesson prep, but a well thought-out glossary can be a big time saver later down the line.  Properly used as a reference document, students can access the vocabulary that might otherwise hold back their learning, take up time in the lesson whilst you answer ‘what does xxx mean’ 15 times, and possibly even prevent disengagement leading to time-consuming behaviour.  Again, once constructed for a topic you teach every year, a glossary can be reused over and over.

Tip 6: Planning-free starters and plenaries.

Here are just a few ideas of flexible and adaptable strategies that can be used in lessons, as starters or as plenaries:

  • Last lesson learning (LLL) post-it note.  Hand out at the door.
  • This lesson learning (TLL) post-it note.  Hand out in class.
  • Thunks – questions with no answers e.g. is the past closer to the present than the future?
  • Mnemonics.
  • Key words – write down as many as possible in 2 minutes.
  • Students set a reflection question.  Answer their own, or peer swap.
  • Write an email/note/summary of the lesson for an absent peer.
  • Quiz – students write questions on slips of paper, and you then choose a set to make a quiz.
  • Draw it!  Visual representation of the lesson’s learning.
  • Metacognition – display an image/diagram/quote etc. students respond with ‘I am noticing’, ‘I am thinking’, ‘It reminds me of’, ‘I am learning.’
  • Keyword definition – you call out key words, they define them.



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