5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson

September 22, 2015 by

We all have interruptions in our classroom, so here you will find 5 creative ways to save a derailed lesson.  I’m super excited to be here and share ideas about how I like to try to save a lesson that goes off the rails.  I hope you’ll be able to use a few of the ideas yourself!

5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson
 Guest Post by Mary Beth from Brain Waves Instruction

We’ve all been there…fire drills in the middle of a poem analysis, a fantastic lesson that ends 15 minutes too soon, technology that just won’t work, a student having a disruptive day, assemblies, school announcements, or surprise interruptions.  There are so many things that can completely derail a lesson!


I don’t know about you, but I hate it when a lesson gets off track.  I mean, let’s face it, a lot of time, planning, and preparation goes into everything we do.  So, when a situation arises, whether it’s a fire drill, assembly, student misbehavior, or anything that interrupts students’ learning, it can be frustrating.  My least favorite part about a lesson interruption is that students lose out on critical learning time.  That’s why I’ve spent the last few years amassing a few resources that I can use as BACK UP PLANS in response to some of the most common situations that might derail my lesson…and today, I’ll tell you all about them…

Saving a Lesson When the Timing is Off
Let’s face it, sometimes even the best lessons end early, leaving behind unstructured time in the classroom.  When I’m left with unplanned-for time in my lesson, I love to play a game of “Stump the Student.”  It’s a classroom game that promotes reflecting on the lesson, reviewing critical skills from the instruction, and it couldn’t be easier!
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: Stump the Student
To play, all you have to do is copy some “Stump the Student” game cards in advance.  Then, when you need to fill some classroom time, pass a game card out to each student.  Explain that students will need to reflect on the day’s lesson (or unit of study) and develop a very challenging question.  Their ultimate goal is to create a question that would stump another student.  Then, have students get with a partner so that they can exchange their questions and attempt to answer their peer’s question.  Encourage students to discuss how they developed the question and to explain its answer.
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: Stump the Student
If we have even more time, we put on an actual game show.  It’s easy.  Just collect all the students’ cards, call up four students to the front of the room (three will be contestants and one will be the game show host), and have the host ask the contestants 3 questions.  Keep score on the chalkboard.  After 3 questions are asked, invite up more students to be the contestants and the host.  It’s fun and educational!
FYI:  The Stump the Student cards and all the ideas I’m sharing with you today are available for free at my store Brain Waves Instruction.  You can find all the information for this resource at the end of my article. 
Saving a Lesson When there is a Technology Malfunction
Technology?!  I seriously have a love-hate relationship with the technology in my
classroom.  When it works, it’s amazing!  However, working through technology issues in front of a classroom can lead to a management nightmare and loss of critical instructional time.  
After one particularly trying day with a technology failure in my classroom, I decided to make a Technology Debate activity to use as a back up plan.  The idea was to create something that wasn’t specific to any particular lesson (because I wasn’t sure when I would need it), but that could keep my kids thinking and working independently while I solved any technology issue.  Oh, and if the issue couldn’t be resolved, I wanted an activity that could easily extend into an entire class period. 
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: Have a Technology Debate
The first time I used the Technology Debate activity, it was magical.  My classroom projector wasn’t working.  So, I went to my file cabinet and pulled out the Technology Debate worksheets.  I simply handed them out to students, gave them a quick overview of my expectations, and they got busy formulating and supporting opinions about technology.
When I was still chugging along fixing the projector, I had the students get with small groups to share their opinions and support.  Then, as it became clear that my projector
wouldn’t be operational any time soon, we hosted a class-wide debate.  It was so cool!  The Technology Debate activity absolutely came to the rescue!
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson
Don’t get me wrong, I think emergency drills are super important.  However, I still get bummed every time that buzzer goes off.  I just hate the thought of spending 10-15 minutes outside of my classroom.  So, much to my students’ chagrin, I created a “Learning on the Go” worksheet that my students can take along with them on fire drills.  It’s a
simple worksheet that challenges students to think creatively.  


On our way out the door, I have the kids grab a clipboard and I bring along some pencils. Then, while waiting outside, I hand out the worksheets and they continue learning.  Oh, and not only is it a way to extend their learning, it’s perfect for keeping them quiet while waiting in line! 

5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: Have a Learning on the Go Printable Ready for Students
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: An Outside Interruption
Besides fire drills, I’ve found that there are a ton of other outside interruptions that can derail a perfectly good lesson.  When something stops my lesson in its tracks, or takes my students’ attention away from the task at hand, I like to bring them back with a simple “Let’s Get Focused” worksheet.  
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson: Let's Get Focused Printable
It’s set up in a 3-2-1 format and encourages students to reflect on what they were learning before the lesson got off track.  I tend to keep a bunch of these photocopied and ready to go throughout the school year.  I love them because they’re quick and effective!
As teachers, we know that we can never underestimate the power of one student’s misbehavior to completely derail a lesson.  It’s crazy how responding to and taking care
of a student that is having an off day can stop every bit of learning in the classroom for the ENTIRE group of students.
A while ago, I read about behavior cards and decided to give them a try in my classroom.
To prepare, I just made two sets of behavior cards. One recognized kids doing the right thing in class (“Keep it Up”) and the other requests that students making a poor choice stop what they are doing (“Stop”).  Then, it’s all about handing out the behavior cards seamlessly during instruction.  That means getting in the habit of handing out the “Keep it up” cards all the time.  
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson
Then, when a student is making a poor choice, just placing the “Stop” card on his or her desk.  So simple.  And guess what?  It works! It’s an easy way to manage student behavior.  And the best part is that when a student is misbehaving the lesson still stays on track and all students keep learning! 
5 Creative Ways to Save a Derailed Lesson
Well, there you have it…all of my favorite back up plans.  Typically, I get them all copied and ready at the beginning of the school year.  I store my behavior cards and Stump the
Student cards right on my desk.  And I keep a class set of everything else in my file cabinet.
They’re my arsenal of back up plans, and I’m so glad I have them!
If you’d like your very own set of Back Up Plans, you can find them for FREE at my Brain Waves Instruction Store HERE

I hope you and your students like these resources!  If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on your favorite social media platform, or pin it so your teacher friends can see!

Thanks for letting me stop by! -Mary Beth

Mary Beth, from Brain Waves Instruction, is a teacher-author with years of experience in the middle school classroom.  When she’s not creating student-centered, teacher-approved curriculum for the upper elementary or middle school classroom, she’s busy laughing with her silly sons, finding sweet deals at estate sales, dreaming of tropical vacations, and hanging out with her favorite people. You can see what else she’s up to at her TpT StoreBlogFacebook and Pinterest!