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Mastering Time Management on Cambridge CELTA courses

In over ten years of CELTA training experience, the most common problem my trainees have claimed to have is time management.

From the beginning of the course until the final TP, there is no more common phrase on teachers’ self-reflections than “I couldn’t manage my time correctly.”

And for a long time, I had trouble helping candidates with this problem—until I realized that it wasn’t a problem at all, or rather, that what candidates (and most trainers) were calling time management was in fact something completely different. In fact, time management, within the context of EFL, is a myth.

For the purposes of teacher training, time management doesn’t—or shouldn’t—exist.

Time Management and Bad Fashion: Same Combat

To be clear, time management does exist, to the extent that it is something that is recognizable. That said, as an overarching concept, it isn't particularly useful for language teachers.

A good way of looking at this would be to think of someone you know who has no fashion sense. This person cannot dress well to save their life—you are dealing with a plainly, incontestably, unstylish person, but it is your duty to help this person improve their appearance. (If any of you have met me, you might have an idea of why I have chosen this particular flaw to focus on.)

How helpful would it be for you to tell this person: you don’t know how to look good.

Not helpful at all.

You might, however, teach this person the theories behind color coordination, or advise them to choose one person whose appearance they would like to emulate, or train them to differentiate between types of socks and why they go well with different types of footware, or how to adapt your dress to specific situations or people.

The Truth Behind Time Management: A Series of Discrete Decisions

In other words, looking good is not a single thing that a person does, it’s a combination of numerous disparate elements that combine to create a desired effect. Exactly like time management.

In the language classroom, these disparate elements can be divided into two types: lesson planning and classroom management. So instead of telling trainee teachers to manage their time better, I get them to focus on specific planning and management decisions that caused their time management to lapse.

Poor time management is a consequence. In order to give teachers agency, identifying the consequence of their actions is not enough: they need a framework to understand the relevancy of those actions, and specific guidelines to help them master that framework.

A Framework for Time Management: Stages and Stage Aims

The framework for evaluating decisions related to time management (i.e., the amount of time spent on any part of your lesson) is lesson staging, and in particular awareness of individual stage aims.

The guideline is: a stage should last as long as necessary, and no longer than what is necessary, for that stage’s aims to be met.

The primary decisions that will impact time management are therefore:

·       While planning: how much time should be allotted to each stage of the lesson;

·       While teaching: should a particular stage of the lesson of the lesson be shortened or lengthened in function of whether the aim of that stage is achieved.

This framework, and this guideline, will help you evaluate your discrete planning and teaching decisions so that you can make the right ones.

The Impulse to Help Students Should be Controlled

Let’s look at a typical example.

Say, for example, you want to help students practice reading, but all you manage to do in your lesson is get them to speak to each other, and then pre-teach vocabulary—you never get to even present your text to the students, because the first stages of your lesson took too long.

When you planned those first stages, though, it felt like you were planning things that would be helpful to your students. And when you were teaching, it didn’t feel like things are going on for too long—or else it felt like the alternative—cutting an activity short—would be even less helpful to your students.

So what did you do wrong?

Extending a lesson stage almost never comes from a bad place, and can almost always be placed under the sign of “things were going well” or “the students needed more time.”

After all, isn’t wanting to help students the basis of what makes a good lesson?

The simple answer to that question: no.

The foundation of a good lesson is meeting your lesson and stage aims, and decisions when planning, and while teaching, should be bound to those aims.

Stage Aims Versus Everything

To return to our example, the aims of a lead-in stage are two-fold:

·       To set the context of the lesson;

·       To raise students’ interest in the content of the lesson.

Teachers who have long lead-ins are almost always trying to accomplish more than those two aims; when forced to articulate what they were trying to do, they say things like: give all the students the opportunity to speak; give them a glimpse of language that we will be looking at later; get to know the students better.

All of these are good impulses, but not the right ones for that particular lesson stage.

Tips for Planning and Teaching

Here is a checklist to help you with both planning and teaching for effective time management.

·       While planning:

o   Make sure you are aware of the stage aim for each of your lesson stages.

o   Reread your procedures to see if you are accomplishing those aims in each stage.

o   Eliminate anything from that stage which is not helping you to reach that stage aim.

o   Take into account interactions patterns when guessing how long a stage will take (the more people working together, the longer a stage will take).

o   Plan ways to shorten lesson stages when necessary, e.g., giving students fewer practice exercises, using answer keys instead of nominative feedback, etc.

o   Plan ways to extend lesson stages (i.e., always overplan!).

·       While teaching:

o   Keep an eye on the clock while teaching (wrist watches are great!).

o   It’s okay to interrupt your students, so long as you are polite and explicit about why you are doing so.

o   Keep your lesson plan close to you (so you don’t forget your backup plans!).

o   Calculate how much time you’ll need to cut from later stages as a result of extending initial stages—and then stick to your calculations.

Like everything, all of the above is easier said than done—which is why we’re here to help you do it. Feedback on your teaching practice is key.

To find out more about us visit our website at

Here’s where you will find our list of upcoming CELTA courses:


1 Comment

I have the same problem. And I have been working on it for a while. Thank you for this rich and eye-opening information.

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