A Surefire Way to Keep Students from Asking “What Are We Doing in Class Today?”

I hate it when students enter my classroom and ask, “What are we doing today?” Even worse is the dreaded, “Are we doing anything fun today?” I used to get some variety of those questions almost every day. But after I discovered the trick I’m about to share with you, students never asked me that again.

About a year ago I went to a teacher inservice featuring Sandy LaBelle, author of Teaching Smarter and Teaching Smarter II. Sandy specializes in helping teachers ease the stress and burden of paperwork, classroom procedures and grading. She covered a lot of ground during that inservice, and she was such a good speaker that when it was all over I plunked down $40 of my own money for two of her books!

I incorporated many of her ideas into my classroom routine last year, but the tip that made the biggest impact was the idea of putting a lesson outline on the overhead each day so students could see what we were going to be doing. Here’s an example an outline for a typical day:

Welcome to Literature

Date: 9/15/2006

Early Work:

Paraphrase the following quote: “Reading without writing is like cooking without eating” Tom Romano


  • Early Work
  • Read-aloud: The Thirteen Clocks, continued
  • Socratic discussion of The Hobbit
  • Homework: Review and mark up chapter 13 of The Hobbit

I made an overhead for each class, and filled it in every day. It worked miracles. Now when students asked me what we were doing in class, I could point to the overhead. After about two weeks they stopped asking.

The outline also gave students a structure around which they could organize their notes. And at the end of class I turned the overhead on again so they could copy the homework assignment into their notebooks.

When I first began to use the outline I wondered if it would take too long to write each day, but that turned out to be no problem. First, I printed a template on an overhead transparency with the main headings: Welcome, Date, Early Work and Schedule. That way I didn’t have to rewrite the whole thing. Second, I made it a point never to put more than four or five bullets under the schedule. My lesson plans were more detailed than the outline, but students just needed a general roadmap. There were days when I quickly filled out the transparency just seconds before the students arrived for class, and some days I filled it out as they took their seats.

I was surprised at how much my students loved these outlines. But everyone likes to know where they’re going. That’s why students ask that question every day.

The thing that surprised me most, however, was how much the outlines helped me to clarify my goals for the day. The outline actually helped me to streamline my lesson-planning process. And what’s more, students could see that I was organized, something that’s not always apparent to them. Even if I made a last-minute change to the lesson, it still looked well-planned because it was on the schedule.

Sandy LaBelle’s tip was a great help, and it took almost no effort to implement. Give it a try this year, and be sure to check out Teaching Smarter and Teaching Smarter II.

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