31/10/2012
Expert advice for NQTs on how to set effective cover lessons and how to avoid the dreaded wordsearch!

As a newly qualified teacher, you’re expected to set cover work for the supply teacher that will be supervising your class in your absence, if you’re on sick leave.

How to structure the lesson

Begin with something short to stimulate the students’ minds and get them settled, such as a blank word passage to recap the previous lesson or a brainstorming session if the class aren’t too disruptive.

Then move onto a main activity that will take the bulk of the lesson. It should be appropriate to the topic and allocated time, and keep the pupils engaged. Prepare extension work for several different abilities so those who finish quickly aren’t left unoccupied. If they get bored, either because the work is too easy, difficult or unclear, they will get distracted.

Finally, have a plenary to bring the class back together, especially if they have been working individually. Make it interactive, so the cover teacher doesn’t feel simply like crowd control; focus on how what has been learnt that day links to the previous lesson and the lesson to come. This gives the students some direction and continuity; they won’t feel it’s a ‘wasted’ lesson or that they aren’t progressing in the course just because their regular teacher isn’t there.

Suggested tasks

Try a whole class quiz. This will get students enthusiastic and competitive, and helps drum in what they’ve already learnt. It engages everyone by having teams and the cover teacher interacting with the students; a pro-active teacher who isn’t simply babysitting will make the students better behaved and participate more. You'll find hundreds of quiz templates to download on TES Resources.

Short tasks that involve writing or drawing and then speaking and listening. Variety is key – get the pupils working using as many different skills and senses – this stops the lesson becoming dull and their minds wandering. Try Teachers TV for resources.

Why word searches are not the answer

  • Be prepared for unexpected absences by having a stock of cover work in hand. Experienced teacher Lorna Smith suggests setting up an ‘Emergency Cover Drawer’: “It all takes a little while to set up," explains Lorna, "but the joy you feel when emergency cover is produced in seconds, and there's the satisfaction of knowing [students] will actually be doing something useful.”
  • Don’t set them textbook copying work. This can be beneficial and related to the course, but the students won’t thank you for it and they can learn more effectively in other ways.
  • Avoid the easy way out. Easy lessons are things like word searches vaguely linked to the current topic, or completely unrelated to the work such as creative writing in a Maths lesson. It may be easy, but it’s not right. Whilst, in your ailing condition, it can be tempting to give the supply teacher an ‘easy’ lesson, this is doing both yourself and your class a disservice, as well as making life a bit harder for the cover teacher. Why? Because ‘easy’ lessons encourage disruption. The pupils aren’t engaged, complete the tasks in a short amount of time and are in the frame of mind where they act as though this lesson is free time.

Differences between cover lessons and your own lesson plans

Whilst the cover lesson has to benefit the class, it’s important to remember the supply teacher isn’t you. They won’t have the same teaching style, may not be familiar with the subject and don’t care about the class progress as much as you do. “Only set debates, role plays, drama activities, discussions, and controversial or medically sensitive subject matter if you think that the particular group would react well to it being led by a complete stranger” – ‘magic surf bus’ [TES Forum ‘Eight cover lessons I have learned to hate’].

Give the cover clear instructions, enough resources and notes about where to find particular textbooks or how to log into the computer. Flag up any students who you know are persistently disruptive, trustworthy students to help them out and the names of senior teachers who can hand out serious discipline if necessary.

Tell them what the usual procedure in the classroom is and your rules of discipline. Cover lessons are real lessons, “quickly communicate your expectations to them” – Tom Bennett [Experienced teacher and TES behaviour expert], so make sure the class is aware that the usual sanctions apply and will be followed up. Pupils can be fond of switching names or insisting that the teacher usually lets them sit on the desk when they have a cover teacher. Give them a seating plan, if you have one, and any other information they might need to make the lesson go smoothly.

Signs of a good cover lesson

  • The pupils leave with new and worthwhile knowledge related to the course.
  • The supply teacher hasn’t got high blood pressure.
  • The classroom isn’t in a state of disarray.
  • The pupils take the work they have produced that lesson with them.
  • The students don’t rush out of the classroom like a stampede.
  • The teacher can ask them what they did whilst the teacher was away and get a meaningful response.
  • The teacher can pick up the topic where they left off, developing on the pupils knowledge gained whilst the teacher was absent.

 

Where to go for more information

Design Technology cover lesson resources

Discussion about what makes a good cover lesson by Cover Supervisors.

Teachers TV provides audio/visual resources across a range of subjects, and these can be used as part of cover work.

Emergency Cover Worksheet for KS3 English, you can download a free sample.

Eight cover lessons I have learned to hate’ TES Forum discussion. A list of ‘worst offending’ activities set by a teacher for a cover lesson, compiled by a supply teacher.

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