Like Clockwork

TECHNIQUE #30:  Work the Clock

16bigben_3009747bI really do like the manner in which Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ continually adds up the minutes & hours saved by using some of these techniques.  Granted, one of the best ways to save time in the classroom is advanced planning, of which the text promotes consistently. “…time is the greatest resource you as a classroom teacher must manage, measuring that time intentionally, strategically, and often visibly is a critical skill in shaping both your work and your students’ experience in the classroom.“,(p.220)¹.  Work the Clock describes a few practical, and I feel indispensable, tips towards creating ‘time well spent’.  All too frequently, as teachers, we tell ourselves or the class, “Let’s spend about 10 minutes” completing such and such a task; before we know it, 15+ minutes have elapsed and now we’re forced to eliminate 2 or 3 other tasks we had hoped to accomplish.

Show the Clock:  Deliberately indicate the countdown to students; “OK, I’ll give you threetflisvert minutes to complete the two word problems I’ve just given you.”.  Then, using an LCD stopwatch that you can project onto the board or a wall, start the countdown.  Immediately, students are aware that they need to pace themselves and the task has begun.  Here are some very valid reasons to show the clock:

  • Showing the clock gives rise to a time-sensitive culture
  • Showing time also allows you to narrate time less
  • Showing the stopwatch  “…encourages students to embrace time management and develop time management skills by setting up opportunities for them to complete tasks during a block of independent time.”,(p.221)¹


Use Specific, Odd Increments:  Not unlike Pavlov’s experiment, the trick is to not reinforce consistently, but at intermittent intervals and strategies.

  •   Use variations for allocations for different activities.  For example, every instance of timed independent work should not always be a set 5 minutes.  Using random timed tasks, such as 4minutes 30seconds, instead of ‘plain minutes’.
  • Time tasks that are not independent, at random intervals, such as, “Let’s set the time for our discussion activity” or “We’re going to set the timer for 6minutes for our note taking”.  Keep ’em guessing!
  • Don’t ‘Show the Clock’, at odd intervals, set a timer that is not displayed.
  • For that matter, use a variety of different timers/online stopwatches for different tasks.  I found some unique timers; here is a link to a wide array:


Using Countdowns Effectively:

TLAC encourages the frequent and consistent use of a timer or a countdown .  The following list of Do’s & Don’t s lays out a very cohesive framework for the effective use of a “stop watch” in the classroom towards managing and saving time:


  • Draw students attention to the remaining time.  Ask students to tell you how much time they have left for the task at hand.
  • Use the lowest countdown possible.  Give students enough time to do something well.  In advance, analyze the number of items/problems/questions in relation to the amount of time you want to allot for the task.
  • Occasionally narrate compliance, benchmarks or exemplars during a timed task.  (e.g.,”Nick is really making efficient use of the clock” or “According to our clock, we should be close to finishing up #3”).


  • Refrain from “narrating” the clock.  Avoid calling out the time remaining too frequently, or informing the class “You have 2minutes 30seconds left”; your goal is to help them develop a sense of awareness and time management, not to make them feel the “pressure” of being timed.
  • Do not “Stretch” a countdown.  If you establish 4minutes for a task, try to refrain from giving them extra minutes despite pleas for more time.  “If you do, it means that the students own the countdown, which defeats the whole purpose.”, (p. 223)¹.
  • Don’t use excessively short or long countdowns.
  • Try not to compliment countdown compliance when a task is over.  Your goal to make the countdown a commonplace component of the classroom.

When I began using a stopwatch for classroom activities is was almost akin to discoveringtflies1track the convenience of sliced bread.  Recently as a substitute, I was forewarned (which I deplore), about a particularly “difficult” group of students.  The online timer was the first tool I mentally pulled out of my bag of tricks.  Although the “unruly” group of students was not accustomed to being timed, they took to it like a charm.  One student exclaimed, “This is fun!”, as we “raced” to complete all the tasks that the regular teacher had left for them to accomplish.  Another student, in a spirit of excitement hooted, “This is kind of giving me stress, but good stress!” and I replied, just as enthusiastically, “I know, me too!”.





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