How to Manage Timings in Your Online Lessons

December 15, 2020

The lesson that looked perfect on paper is far too short or overruns. You’re left quickly thinking of filler activities or ditching the task you spent ages preparing. This is one of the top difficulties Wacom users tell us about.

So how can you get it right?

Here are five common timing problems and our easy solutions for you to use.

Problem 1: Running out of activities

In the classroom, you plan the perfect amount of tasks to fill the lesson. Now you’re online, you’ve finished everything in half the time. Where are you going wrong?

Are you rushing through new concepts? It’s easy to look around a classroom and measure the confused faces. Because you have less student interaction online, it can be difficult to see when to slow down and repeat.

Or are you not planning enough? Online games and activities rarely hold their interest for as long as you’d thought.


  • Use formative assessment after each task to measure student understanding. Try using red, amber, green (RAG) rating or a simple thumbs up/ thumbs down to measure confidence levels.
  • Allow time at the end for a plenary. Ask students for feedback and co-create the next steps of learning.
  • Look at planning documents before you teach and note down the next steps. You can move onto this if the students seem ready.
  • Plan double lessons. Mark where you get at the end of one lesson and pick up from the same point next time.

Or perhaps you don’t have a problem at all. No one’s waiting for you to deal with low-level disruption or distracted by their neighbour. You’re teaching right in front of them with engaging activities and games. This might be why you feel you’re racing through the usual content.

Virtual lessons don’t have to be the same length as classroom teaching. Try adjusting a typical hour’s lesson down to 30 minutes and provide an over-learning task for them to complete before the next lesson.

Problem 2: Finishing on time

You planned this great activity, but now there’s only five minutes left. You’re tempted to squeeze it in and risk finishing a little late.

It’s frustrating not using an activity you’ve planned. But it’s time to stop being precious about your lessons.


  • Be picky about the activities you use. Avoid ones that duplicate learning.
  • Put activities in priority order. Start with the essentials and keep others in reserve in case you have time.
  • Set leftover activities as homework or add them to a student resource bank.
  • Allow time for demonstrating a new activity.
  • Send out login details and website addresses before the lesson.
  • Run the class you planned over two sessions.
  • Time limit student discussions and give them a clear focus.

When you plan, drill down to the essentials. What must the students understand? Be ruthless. Cut anything that doesn’t deliver. It will streamline your lesson and improve learning.

Problem 3: Activities that don’t match time estimates

The game you planned took 20 minutes rather than 10. Or an activity you were sure would keep them busy finished in minutes. It’s annoying when our estimates are out.


  • Test activities you’ll use before the lesson begins.
  • Create a list of go-to website and games you know well.
  • Model how to do an activity so they can start quickly.
  • Have an extension task/ reflection ready for early finishers.

Games with different challenges and levels are likely to keep them engaged for longer than a blanket activity for everyone.

Problem 4: Losing pace

You planned a quick, lively debate, but it’s dragged on. You’ve barely covered half of your lesson plan.

Work out what is derailing the pace of the lesson. Are you talking too long or allowing a few students to dominate conversation? Finding the problem will help you apply the best solution.


  • Write predicted timings against your lesson and record the actual timings to see any discrepancies.
  • Set a time limit on discussions.
  • Use key questions to keep everyone on track.
  • Tackle low-level disruptions.
  • Think of creative ways to boost student engagement.
  • Avoid talking for long blocks of time- never more minutes than the age of the students.
  • Draw visuals and diagrams using a pen tablet.

Keeping a good pace is difficult in the classroom. Online, it’s even harder. Everything slows down as you navigate websites, explain tasks, and encourage students to engage.


Problem 5: Waiting for students to join live lessons

There’s a trickle of students joining your lesson late, needing you to explain what to do. It’s easy for the start of the lesson to drag on.

You could keep everyone in a waiting room with a task in the chat bar. But you want to get students learning as quickly as possible, rather than hanging on for someone who might never arrive.


  • Have a holding task that learners start immediately as they join.
  • Send out time reminders before the lesson.
  • Plan protocols to follow if they are late.

If certain students are always late, talk to them about it. Find out if there’s a valid reason. You could try shifting your timings to accommodate their needs.

Final thoughts

Timing might be something you’ve always struggled with. Even experienced teachers often feel lessons run away from them.

Streamlining classes will help you stay focussed. You can keep activities in reserve if you need them. If you finish early, build in opportunities for formative assessment to gauge student understanding. This will show you where you need to slow down and explain again.

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