Time-saving starter activities: DO NOWs

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One of the biggest issues I have with online teaching is time management. In school, I have 45-minute lessons, which feel short, but nowhere near as short as they feel during virtual learning. I think I lose the most time at the beginning of the lessons and then I struggle to catch up with my plan. Even though most students join the meetings on time, there are always a few who are late. And every time someone new joins the lesson, I have to sacrifice valuable time to catch them up. While in the face-to-face classroom I could easily get them to join in the ongoing activities, it’s much more difficult in the virtual environment. Links need to be sent, instructions need to be repeated, newcomers need to be assigned to breakout rooms, and so on!

I have been experimenting with different things that can help maximise synchronous teaching and learning time. One of the biggest time savers for me has been the DO NOW activities that I set at the start of each lesson. In our school DO NOW activities are one of the non-negotiables of good practice. Teachers need to be ready to engage the students from the moment they enter the classroom. These activities are meant to be self-explanatory so that the students can get on with them independently. While the students are working on these, the teachers can take the register, pull up their slides, check in with the student who had missed the previous lesson, just to mention a few things. Giving learners a DO NOW also means that the student who is running late won’t miss the introduction to the new material.

How to manage DO NOWs online

Just like in the face-to-face classroom, I set DO NOW activities online too. I have found two effective ways of doing this:

  1. I let each student into the lesson from the waiting room when they arrive. As soon as the first student arrives, I share my screen with the DO NOW activity. When the new students arrive I ask the ones already in the lesson to quickly catch them up. When everybody has arrived and looked at the DO NOW, we quickly check the answers. I do this in the quickest way possible and I don’t let the DO NOW run longer than 5 minutes.
  2. Instead of letting students in one by one, I message them in the waiting room with the link to the DO NOW activity. Of course, the instructions need to be clear and the material should be revision instead of something new. When everyone has arrived to the waiting room or when 4 minutes have passed, I let everybody in and we quickly check the answers.

Starting my virtual lessons with these DO NOW activities means that all the learners are ready to focus on the learning objective of the day at the same time. However, no precious learning time had been lost as they were busy with a task that in one way or another prepared them for what I’ve planned next.

Like most things, this takes training too. The first time you set a DO NOW, allow more time. However, once the students have gotten used to it, these activities save you valuable minutes at the start of each lesson.

Here’s a list of my favourite DO NOW activities:

  1. Vocabulary: it’s always valuable to revise key vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson. Some of my go-to activities are matching terms and definitions (which I usually copy-paste from Quizlet), defining key terms and asking students to find images for the key vocabulary. For this last one I use Jamboard: students get the link to the Jamboard with a list of key words. They use the Google Image function to add images related to the terms. They basically create collaborative collages, which are great for revision.
  2. Grammar: quick controlled practice activities are great as DO NOWs. Ask students to fill in some gaps in a shared Google Doc or on a Jamboard then just paste the answers in when you are ready to move on. Grammar expansion and error correction activities work really well too!
  3. Reading/listening lessons: I like sharing images with the students prior to a comprehension lesson. They look at the image on the Jamboard and add their questions. Now they have a real reason to read/listen in the lesson since they want to find answers to their own questions. If you want to learn more about working with student-generated questions, check out my post about the QFT here.

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