Sand Timers in the Classroom

Sand timers are pretty much everywhere these days, and I honestly can't tell you how much of a God send they've been on many occasions! In this blog post, I'm going to tell you all about sand timers, how we use them in our class and how our students have responded to them.

If you work in Special Education you probably already have a collection of sand timers in your classroom, it's pretty well known within our field of work that the sand timers have so many uses and just how well the students respond to them, but they can even work in mainstream settings.

So, in our classroom we have a range of different sand timers, they are; 30 seconds, 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes. You can usually buy these sand timers online or in educational catalogues, each time usually comes in a different colour, once you've gotten used to the colours it makes it so much easier to grab one in a hurry.

Calm Down

Sand timers are a great way to help your students calm down, if something has upset a student and they start to become agitated or 'worked up', sitting with them (or giving them space if that's what they prefer!), showing them some visuals (or talking if that's what they prefer!) and having a timer can really help them. There's something very relaxing about just watching the sand move through on a sand timer, for this we usually use a 3 or 5 minute sand timer, depending on the student. It helps them to know that we're going to give them that amount of time totally on their own, having a relax and supporting them to calm themselves down independently.

Work Limits

One of the hardest things for our students to understand is how long they are going to be working for, they might have had one bad experience where they were sat working for ages and it's totally thrown them, or it could be a session where they need to work a little bit longer than normal, or one of their first sessions sat at a desk working and you're trying to break them in slowly. Just use a timer that is most suitable for your student and the task that you have set. Watching the timer will help them to see how long is expected of them and how much longer they have left before they can leave. 

Next Task

Have you ever had a student who wants to do something NOW? We've probably all been in that boat at one point, and sometimes our students just can't grasp that what they want IS going to happen - just not right this second! We have a student who would come in, knowing that the class would be going swimming, but he wanted to go NOW - swimming wasn't first thing so of course we had some time to kill first. We would put on some swimming songs on the computer and have a sand timer (30 minutes) - once the timer had finished he soon realised that that would mean it was time to get his stuff ready to go swimming - it made it much easier than trying to explain every 2 minutes when he would ask!


Have you ever had one item in your class that all the students decided they would want at the same time during choice sessions? Us too, don't worry! It can be so hard for our students to understand turn taking, so the sand timers really do come in handy here, we usually use the 3 minute sand timer for this so that each of the students has enough time with their choice activity. One the timer is up, they're asked to pass it to the next student and they choose something else - the first few times we did this, we had some hiccups, but as the year goes on and the students come to realise what it means, they get much better at handling the situation!

And that is how we use sand timers in our class with our students. Of course, one of the major bonuses of all of these ideas is that the students are being given the opportunity to start to understand the concept of time - something which is very difficult to teach, but sand timers really do help it become easier! 

Do you use sand timers, if so, how?

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