Pacing and Transitions

For Mentors to Share

Do these scenarios sound familiar … 

Students are enthusiastically finishing up the final activity on your lesson plan. They’ve been engaged and keen for 45 minutes. You look at your watch, there are still 12 minutes left in the lesson, you look at your plan … NOTHING … Students are packing up … you look at your watch … 11 minutes … you look at tomorrow’s plan – that’s a great starter, you don’t want to use it now …  you rack your brain for a revision activity … NOTHING …  look at your watch – 10 minutes … students are getting up from their seats … you’re standing in the doorway … these will be the longest 9 minutes of your day …


Students are engaged in great discussion, the conversation is on-topic and you can literally see the lightbulbs switching on … You call for their attention and refer them back to the shared document for recording their thinking … great ideas start to appear but there is a discrepancy that needs discussion … you look at your watch … WHAT?!? Where did the lesson go? … some realise the bell is about to ring and start packing up … you clarify this key point over the rising bustle of bags and scraping chairs … “Got Tech Miss, can’t be late.” … you trail off to retreating backs … 


The next activity is designed to activate prior knowledge. You unveil a new wall display – an outline of Mount Everest, the first peak labelled with the question: What we know about mountaineering … Students pair up and you distribute post-its … “You have 5 minutes to note down what you already know” … You circulate … most of the pairs are silent … After a minute you begin to hear conversation … about tonight’s rugby training … You ask them to stick up the post-its … three appear, one says “You do it on mountains.” … You look in your planner, the next activity is: Use prior knowledge to craft research questions… 

All of these scenarios highlight the importance of timing and pace. Pacing is about the rate of instructional activities but it is also about the momentum and engagement within the lesson. Denham (1980) identify three kinds of time in their research:

Allocated time: The amount of time teachers plan to spend on each activity in a lesson.

Instructional time: The amount of time that is actually spent on that activity.

Engaged time: The amount of instructional time during which students are authentically engaged in the activity.

Identifying these three aspects of time allows us to consider two key factors in pacing and planning:

Discrepancies between allocated and instructional time.

Issues in pace being too slow or too fast become evident where there are big discrepancies between the allocated and actual instructional time.

To improve pacing, identify and eliminate discrepancies. This requires you to firstly plan thoroughly, with each activity annotated and allocated time, and to then carefully review the actual instructional times taken. This process allows you to identify exactly where things have gone off track.

Common discrepancies occur around: 

  • discussion time or working time – allocating too much or not enough
  • oral instructions or organising resources 

As you plan and review, you will identify other pinch points.

Engaged time is the gold we are after.

Our planning and pedagogical choices should be focused on creating engagement. Creating purpose and momentum in a lesson helps to engage students. What follows are a number of resources designed to support you with this – the planning sandwich, some useful tips and some great resources.


In the Pātaka post on Planning we discussed a useful routine – the planning sandwich. 

Using this routine can help to get our pacing sorted as it provides the bun into which you load the filling of the lesson.

In a planning sandwich each lesson will have a short starter that establishes the learning intentions and engages students in learning. And each lesson will end with a  plenary that you know will take a definite amount of time. The plenary is crucial as it gives students the opportunity to reflect and cement their learning. No matter where you are in the main body of your lesson, you should be ready to transition to your plenary at the allocated time. 

Between the starter and the plenary you then have a more defined period of time to allocate.  

Some useful tips to maximise engaged time: 

  • Have written/visual instructions available to speed transition and  for reference.
  • Use time that students are working independently to prepare resources and organise yourself for the next activity.
  • Have groups prearranged and a system that students are familiar with to move quickly between individual/pair/group work.
  • Ensure that students understand the purpose of each activity and that activities logically build on their learning so that the transitions make sense and have purpose

The resources below are packed with helpful ideas that might be just what you need to tweak your pacing.

And remember, you won’t get it exactly right all the time because not everything is in your control. Even the most experienced teachers have right-off lessons sometimes! But keep working on it.


This youtube tutorial from Teach Like a Champion is a great example of planning for pace and transitioning between instructional activities. (Please excuse the jokes!)

This article from ascd gives a detailed account of pacing and transitions.

This article from Edutopia reiterates some useful considerations in pacing and transition. (Please excuse the typos!)

See the Pātaka  Planning resource for context and further guidance.


Denham, C., & Lieberman, A. (1980). Time to learn: A review of the beginning teachers evaluation study. California State Commission for Teacher Preparation and Licensing.

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