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Teaching Strategies for Disrupted Lesson Plans

Janelle Cox

We all have experienced interruptions in our classroom at some point or another, disruptions like when your students are working together so nicely and quietly, then all of a sudden the fire alarm goes off. Or, just when you think you found the perfect activities or teaching strategies to keep your students engaged, and the students complete them ten minutes before you had planned. Lessons can go wrong for many reasons; it’s the way that you react to them that can make all the difference. Luckily, there are a few teaching strategies you can use when these situations occur. Here are a few teaching strategies that you can use when your lesson plan is disrupted or goes awry.

Teaching Strategies for When a Lesson is interrupted By a Fire Drill

For many students, the sound of a fire drill isn’t something scary, it’s something exciting, because the sound means a much-needed break from their schoolwork. While your students may get excited whenever they hear that fire drill sound, many teachers dread the extra 15 minutes of interrupted class time. An innovative way to save your lesson when this occurs is to have students continue to work outside of the classroom while they are waiting to come back into the classroom. All you have to do to make this happen is to have a class set of clipboards next to the front door with pencils and a worksheet already clipped onto them and ready to go. As students walk out of the classroom door, all they have to do is grab a clipboard and go. Not only will this help them to continue learning, but it will also help keep them quiet as they wait in line outside.

When a Lesson is Interrupted By a Person

The thing about interruptions is that you never when they are going to happen, especially when it’s from someone outside of the classroom. You never know when a surprise guest is going to knock on your door, or when a student is going to get sick inside of your classroom. These interruptions can really derail a lesson plan quiet quickly. A creative way to get your lesson back on track is to get students refocused by discussing what they have already learned in the lesson. Students can go into small groups or discuss with their neighbor three key ideas from the lesson, or take turns asking questions that they still may have about the lesson. This is an easy way to continue your lesson without making too big of a fuss about the unexpected interruption that just occurred.

When a Lesson Finishes Too Early

As you know, teachers put a lot of time and effort into their lesson plans, and when a lesson finishes too early, many think that they must have done something wrong. In actuality, some of the very best lessons may not last as long as you intended them to last, but they usually always go as planned. For those lessons that were great, but finished too early, you can do many things to fill in the time. One of the easiest things you can do when a lesson finishes early is to create a “Top 10” board. On the bulletin boards, create a list of things students must complete when they have finished a lesson. For example, finish any uncompleted homework assignments, complete a task card, write spelling words in a sentence, or write in your journal. Anytime your lesson finishes early, or any individual students finish early, students must go down the top 10 list and complete items one at a time. This “Top 10” board gives you the freedom to never have to think of something off the cuff when you are in jam again. It’s a real lifesaver.

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When a Lesson Goes Awry

As much as you may have planned ahead for you lesson to go smoothly, sometimes things just don’t go as you planned. A great example of this is when you finally got your new Smartboard to work, just for it to stop when it was time to start your lesson. Now, what are you going to do when your whole lesson was based on using that Smartboard? A backup plan to save this lesson can be to have a classroom debate. Split your classroom into two teams and challenge each team to discuss the topic that you were going to teach them. Then, have a classroom debate on the topic. It’s a fun way to take up some time, and your students are using their social and critical thinking skills as well.

In order to save a disruptive or derailed lesson plan, you must plan ahead for every unforeseen scenario. Keeping clipboards with worksheets by the doorway for fire drill days, creating a Top 10 board for early finishers or when your lesson plan ends early, and having a variety of games and activities ready to go when you are in a pinch can be a lifesaver. Always have a backup plan and remember not to overreact -- then you will be able to get through anything that comes your way.

What are your teaching strategies for when your lesson plans get disrupted? Please share your tips and ideas in the comment section below, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at

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