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Beat the Clock


  • All Subjects
  • Physical Education


  • K-12

Brief Description

This activity helps limit time wasted by routine classroom transitions such as organizing students into cooperative groups and mastering cleanup.


Students will be able to accomplish routine classroom transitions in an efficient way.


time management, transitions, classroom management, life skills, motor skills, teamwork, cooperation, cooperative groups

Materials Needed


The Lesson

This activity is not really a lesson plan, but it can be used to transition from one activity to another; in addition, it teaches important lessons in life.

A lot of lesson time can be wasted by getting kids organized into groups. This activity offers a way to motivate students to group themselves quickly so they are ready for a lesson. It can also be used to motivate classroom cleanup at the end of a lesson or the end of the day too. The activity saves time for the teacher -- and wear and tear on the vocal cords! And it fosters a positive class climate -- a climate of mutual acceptance, teamwork, and community.

I use this activity in my P.E. classes (it involves lots of motor skills and movement), but it can be adapted for any subject. Its a nice activity for teachers of specials who work with many grades and classes within a school, because they can set up a competition between grades or between classes in the same grade. Students learn quickly that the trick to success in this activity is to be willing to work with people with whom they normally might not work in order to help the class "win."

The Activity
Begin the activity by asking students to reflect on a time when they were left out or "rejected. Invite them to describe a time such as that (all the better if that time took place in the past or someplace outside of school). Use that discussion as an opportunity to introduce the idea that it is important to work well with others in PE (or in your class).

Explain that you want to share a game that you will use often in class. Introduce the idea that the best way to win at this game is to be open to playing with anyone and to be willing to work in a group with classmates you might not normally work with. In this game, hurting someones feelings by not letting her/him into your group is not allowed.

Explain that you might use this game at anytime during a class. You might do it at the start of a class. You might do it near the end. You might even use it to ask kids to regroup in the middle of a game. Tell students that at any time you might blow your whistle and raise three (or any number of) fingers. That is a signal to students that they have 10 seconds to arrange themselves in groups of three. Can students beat the clock and form groups of three before 10 seconds is up? Students must sit when they are in a group of the proper number.

Save your vocal cords. Never shout out the number. Expect students to train themselves to look at you when the whistle blows and to look to see how many fingers you have up.br
You can choose any amount of time you wish. Ten seconds makes this activity a real challenge. When you first introduce the activity, you might give students 30 seconds. Each week or month thereafter you might deduct five seconds until you reach that 10-second plateau.
The key to the activity is that students must learn to form groups quickly. If someone doesn't immediately have a group, he or she should run to the middle and yell "Help! Help!" while waving his/her arms. If students are looking for another member to make their group of three, they will look to the middle to "save" someone.

If students end up having a group of four, they cant sit either. I try to teach the students that one student in the group of four is going to need to be a "leader in life" and voluntarily -- and quickly -- leave to find a new group in order to achieve the class goal.

If, at the end of the time limit, the students are all sitting in groups of the correct number, they have achieved the class goal and earned a point in the competition against other grades/classes. You might keep a chart on which you record points for each class.

If they didnt achieve the timed goal, you might ask students to share things they might have done to achieve it. How might others have shown their leadership skills to help the entire class accomplish the goal? Students might suggest that some groups took too much time looking for a friend to round out their group instead of welcoming someone they might not know as well; or that a couple groups spent too much time arguing who should leave the group instead of someone stepping up to the plate and willingly going into the middle so the goal might be met.

When fewer than the required group size remain in the middle, those final students will become a small group.

More Suggestions

  • If you use this activity in a self-contained classroom, you might give the entire class a reward (e.g., a night without homework or a 30-minute reward time for games) every fifth (or tenth) time they accomplish this activity successfully.
  • You might discuss how this game is intent on teaching valuable life skills. Being a leader in life sometimes means going out of your comfort zone to make new friends.
  • This game is great for getting any class routine quickly executed. For instance, in art class a teacher could say, "If the art supplies are all stored away in 2 minutes while walking, you will earn a point." Or, in history class the teacher could say that she wants everyone to get a book, pair up with a partner, and turn to the right page number before 2 minutes is up.
  • If you notice students are just sitting with their friends, and not in the specified number of people per group, then you need to re-teach the directions and stress that they sit with different students each time.
  • If students do not know one another well enough, you might need to do a "Name Game" or another icebreaker to get them more acquainted before continuing with "Beat the Clock."

    Its surprising how much teaching time you can gain back by saving time with some classroom routines. Slow transitions can be real time-eaters.


    If students have not earned a point after doing this game three times, re-teach the game directions and goals. Have a class discussion about what students can do to be more successful at the activity.

    A scorecard/chart on the wall can serve as a motivating tool. A chart provides a visual reminder of students success. If you use this activity as a classroom vs. classroom competition, the chart enables students to quickly compare themselves to other classes.

    Submitted By

    Submitted by Cheryl Rains, Kingswood Elementary School in Sacramento, California

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