The Opening Minute

November 13, 2017

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

What do students anticipate when they walk into your classroom?

Are they excited with a sense of curiosity and adventure or are they detached and subdued automatons or—even worse—resistant, off task, and disruptive or insubordinate? The opening minute of a lesson often sets the tone for the remainder of the class period!

In If You Can’t Manage Them, You Can’t Teach Them, Kim Campbell and Kay Herting Wahl offer some important insights into the initial moments of a class period:

Students bring tremendous energy into the classroom. The teacher has about one minute to re-channel that energy before it splinters into chaos … Ninety-five percent of discipline problems occur during the first or last five minutes of class (pp. 111-112).                                                          

Similarly, John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, notes, “You win or lose the battle to hold your audience in the first 30 seconds of a given presentation” (p. 141).

So, how do you win this metaphoric battle?

1. Use an invitational and/or adventurous title for the opening segment of your class/lesson (e.g., “Lesson Launch, ” “Mind Bender,” or “Parachute Opener”) as opposed to the banal or authoritarian titles sometimes selected (e.g., “Class Starter,” "Daily Focus,” or “Do Now").

2. Maximize high interest openings, such as Discrepant Event Inquiries, Teasers, Provocative or Compelling Questions while minimizing procedural, review, and/or repetitive opening segments.

3. Avoid downgrading the opening segment of class by making the Lesson Launch merely a device to manage students.  As Karen Seddon has rightfully observed, “If the students suspect that your bell ringer is only a means to keep them quiet, they won’t take bell ringers seriously” (

4. Make sure the opening segment of your class is a meaningful and relevant part of the day's lesson, which points toward a major concept to be learned in the current unit.

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