Mastering the MINI lesson

Teachers never have enough time.  Ever.  What can we do? A lot, actually.  

Focus on what you can control. 

Minimizing student transition time is a big one, for example, as is not spending time on things that don’t matter.  I share other ideas for saving time in the classroom in this post.  But there’s even more we can do!

Here’s a really big one:  master the MINI lesson.  

A lesson in any subject area needs to be short, sweet, and powerful.  This ensures that your students will get the maximum amount of time to independently practice what you’ve worked so hard to plan and teach.  At the same time, your small group and/or conferring time is protected, so you can move kids even further.  Who doesn’t need that?

5 Key Tips:

There are some common mistakes with easy-to-implement fixes you can put into place to help you master the 7-12 minute mini lesson.  I’ve learned these ideas over the past two decades through my training with Teacher’s College, my own experience, and what I’ve seen as a coach.  I hope they help you, too!

  • Don’t start the lesson with “Who can remember what we talked about yesterday?” or any version of that.  This is where the clock starts ticking, and this tactic usually becomes a “guess my thinking” game.  Kids often don’t remember, and you end up wasting time moving from student to student, praying that someone will remember.  Just tell them what you want to remind them of and move on to connecting that previous learning to today’s goal.  This should take less than a minute.
  • Keep a predictable structure.  Your phrasing and routine acts as a signal to students.  They come to know what’s coming next, so they know what to focus on and what their role is.  I’m a workshop teacher, so my lessons always, always follow the same format:  connection, teach, active involvement, link.  The specific methods I use for some of those parts might slightly vary, but every day, this is how lessons go in my class, no matter what subject.  Students are never lost, and are never wondering what’s going on.  They know it’s time for business, and we get right to it!
  • Be sure your lesson is focused on ONE thing.  This is probably the challenge I hear most often from teachers.  They want to tell their kids everything, or just one more thing, and before you know it, your lesson becomes about 5 things, not just one.  

This is problematic for several reasons.  First, it greatly lengthens your lesson time, which always translates to less independent work time for kids.  They cannot apply what you’re teaching if they never have time.

Second, it confuses kids.  Your goal is for your lesson to really hit home.  Whatever teach point you’ve decided is the ONE THING your students needed at this moment in time, stick to it!  When you add in one more thing (which more often than not leads to more “one more things”), your students are left confused about what it is they’re supposed to know and be able to do.  This will lead to you feeling frustrated that “you’ve taught it but they just didn’t get it.”  Your explicit teaching should be just a few minutes long.

  • This pitfall is a big one.  While we definitely want the lesson to be conversational and natural, this is your time to explicitly teach.  Refrain from calling on kids throughout the lesson.  This is often another time wasting, “guess my thinking” hamster wheel, and a major time suck.  

It also only tells you what that one student knows.  That won’t help you at all when you’re trying to teach a whole class.  You’ll save a ton of time and learn infinitely more by utilizing response methods like turn and talk, where you can listen in to many partner conversations. This will give you a much better picture of what your class understands, gets all students involved, and is a very efficient use of time.  

Active involvement in some way, shape, or form is KEY to any lesson, so the majority of the lesson time is spent here.  This is that bridge from “I do” to “you do,” and really helps to solidify the learning.

  • Use a timer.  By far, this simple trick has been key for more teachers than I can count-including myself!  Let your kids know that you’re working on keeping your lessons short so that their work time is protected.  You don’t want kids themselves timing you (you want them to focus on your lesson), but letting them know that you might not finish the whole lesson as you’re learning the timing shows them that you’re a learner, too.  Set a timer on your phone for between 7 and 12 minutes.  It’s easier in the younger grades to stick to less than 10 minutes, and harder in upper grades.  But it can–and needs to–happen.  

Time yourself for a week or so, and see how it’s going.  Most likely, you’ll realize you’ve fallen into the trap of some of the pitfalls above and can make some easy adjustments.  Or have someone script your lesson–or record it yourself–so you can play it back to see where you went too long.  This feedback is critical in helping you figure out what you can streamline.  

Before you know it, you’ll begin to feel in your bones what that 7-10 minutes feels like.  This will be super helpful when you’re planning lessons, too, because you’ll end up rehearsing them in your head.  (If you’re not already doing this, that’s a bonus tip!)

Mastering the mini lesson takes time, and it’s a skill that must be practiced.  It will never go perfectly every single day, so give yourself grace.   But with conscious effort and intentional teaching, your mini lessons will truly be efficient and powerful.  Most importantly, you’ll maximize the time spent where it matters most–independent work time for students, where you can meet with them 1:1 or in groups to stretch them even further!

Related Posts:   Are You Inadvertently Causing Your Own Time Frustrations? Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later

Want help learning to master the mini lesson?  Contact me to set up a coaching callso we can think it through together!   And,  join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators! 

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