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.

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