The 8 Minutes That Matter Most


by Brian Sztabnik

I am an English teacher, so my ears perk up when writers talk about their process. I’ve found the advice handy for lesson planning, too. That’s because both writing and planning deal with craft.

In writing, you want your audience to be absorbed. You want them to care about your characters. You want them be delighted by the suspense. That’s not easy to pull off, and it’s just as hard in the classroom. So when writers pull back the curtain on what they do, I pay attention. I look at the ways in which they create drama and tension. I study how their twists and turns pace a story much like the transitions of a lesson. I am also fascinated by rituals.

John Irving, the author of The Cider House Rules, begins with his last sentence:

I write the last line, and then I write the line before that. I find myself writing backwards for a while, until I have a solid sense of how that ending sounds and feels. You have to know what your voice sounds like at the end of the story, because it tells you how to sound when you begin.

That is the crux of lesson planning right there — endings and beginnings. If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don’t know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell.

The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.

Here are eight ways to make those eight minutes magical …

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