Students working independently in a classroom.

Calling all teachers: Who’s up for the 1,000-word challenge?


What if you had just nine minutes for whole-class instruction?

How might a lesson run if the teacher were allowed only 1,000 words of whole-group instruction each class period? Speaking 1,000 words at an average pace takes about nine minutes, which means that a teacher could only use nine minutes to address instructions, misconceptions, management, and assessment for an entire class.

I believe that if teachers and professional development leaders took this challenge on a regular basis, it would drastically change the way they plan, the tasks they ask students to do, the way they manage behavior, and the way they would differentiate for each student in the classroom.

Implications of the 1,000-word challenge on planning

First, it is important to note that the 1,000 words only count in whole-group instruction. I am not advocating for a teacher to spend their words and then sit at their desk while the students work. The 1,000 words do not include conferring or small-group instruction.

In regard to planning, having 1,000 words would first necessitate that the learning target, agenda, and assessment were so clear that students could internalize it and hold one another accountable to the process for the class. It would also necessitate that the written instructions for the activity or lesson were clear, student friendly, and had clear steps for a student to follow. A class in which the teacher is not the keeper of the process would also necessitate students being willing to be models for their peers and to explain their misconceptions and understanding to one another.

Related: Here’s my secret for better classroom management

Having only 1,000 words would mean that a teacher would be responsible, perhaps, for just the launch of the lesson, the expectations for behavior and productivity, and for specific times to check for understanding and clear up misconceptions.

The 1,000 words could not be spent repeating instructions and clarifying the task, but rather on setting expectations and objectives for the class, clearing up misconceptions, and clarifying how students will reach the target by the end of the period. In short, having only 1,000 words would necessitate a deep level of planning, clarity on the task, and turning the process of learning over to the students.

Implications of the 1,000-word challenge on the task

If a teacher had only 1,000 words to spend, then that means the students’ task would have to be engaging, extended, and meaningful. Students would have to be in a workshop atmosphere working on reading, writing, projects, or collaborative group work—not a sit-and-get classroom.

One way I used the 1,000 words in a class was during writer’s workshop periods or in project-based learning in which students had the prompt, the materials, the rubric, and the assessment criteria readily available. Students would be writing, giving feedback to each other, or be creating art or artifacts that they could engage with for a long period of time. With only 1,000 words to spend, the lecture would be replace by much deeper inquiry-drive work.

Implications of the 1,000-word challenge on classroom management

The 1,000 words would go quickly for a teacher who is constantly putting out behavioral fires. To pull off a class in 1,000 words, your students would have to self-monitor, self-regulate, and keep one another accountable to the work for the period. It would mean that students were so bought in to one another and to the task that off-task behavior would not be part of the class. There is a lot that goes into this level of accountability (trust, relationships, goals, momentum), but getting there means that the community (not the teacher) manages their time, productivity, and momentum.

To have a class that is so bought into their peers and the task also requires a level of co-created and internalized working norms and a belief that every member of the classroom community matters and is accountable to one another to grow, develop, and succeed.

Implications of the 1000-word challenge on differentiation

Having 1,000 words would mean that students were supported with the tools they need to succeed. Which tools are available to every student (scaffolds, vocabulary, exemplar pieces, mentor texts, student work) if they get stuck in the process, and how can students be taught to use the tools openly, freely, and with confidence? Students would know exactly where to go in the classroom, either to their peers, the walls, or a tool station, to keep going on the task.

Related: 5 technologies that support differentiated learning

If a teacher had only 1,000 words to spend on the whole group, then they would spend the rest of their time conferring with individuals or small groups. It would mean that the teacher not only plans the task but anticipates where students might get stuck and communicates where students can go to find the necessary tools to finish the job.

The 1,000-word challenge would change the way teachers plan, manage, and differentiate. It would mean that teachers cultivate a classroom community that encourages, keeps account of, and challenges one another, and it would mean that the teacher is just the facilitator and not the driver of the learning experience.

Calling all teachers! Are you willing to take the 1000-word challenge? Weigh in on Twitter with the hashtag  #1000WordChallenge 

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