I have to admit, when I was in the classroom I was obsessed with classroom routines! The more my students knew what to do, when to do it and how to do it, the more independent they could be and the more time for learning we all had. Now that I am out of the classroom, I love going in to other teachers’ classrooms and helping them develop routines that meet the needs of their students. So I thought I’d share some of my all-time favourites here, with all of you too!
Here are 20 of my all-time favourite routines…
Start of the Day:
- The meet and greet – I would stand in the door way and greet every student by name with a “hello” and “how are you today?” It took some practice about how to politely respond, but eventually it shifted and I would stand in the door way and the students would greet me!
- The daily warm-up – Each day I would have a few tasks written on the board so the students would know exactly what to do and how to get ready for the day. Early on in my teaching journey this started as closed-tasks- worksheets and assignments – but eventually it morphed into some of the best inquiry time of the whole day!
- The morning show – I pressed play on the 45 second “Hawaii 5.0” theme song and students would tidy up and head to the carpet. We greeted each other, we talked about the date, talked about the weather and then came the special guests of the morning show – a few students each day who came ‘on the show’ to share news, sports or entertainment. For the first few months I was the host of the morning show, but once we were in a routine I transferred that responsibility over to students and they each took turns being the host!
- The transition song – Whenever moving from the carpet to desks or desks to the carpet, we always used the same transition song. Students became familiar with the chunk of time they had to either tidy up and move locations or move locations and get learning materials prepared. By the end of the song everyone was expected to be where they were supposed to be… And if we had extra music to spare, we rewarded ourselves with a dance party to use up the remainder of the song!
- The squiggly, wiggly spider – if I was waiting for my students to settle down and get ready for a lesson or instructions I would use my squiggly, wiggly spider to play catch with my students. The squiggly, wiggly spider only likes to get thrown to students who are ready to go… And low and behold, once I start throwing that thing around all of the students want a turn and get themselves settled!
- Clean, quiet and _____ – In order to ensure our classroom community was properly cared for, before going out for break I would dismiss them one group at a time. Each day I would say, “I’m looking for a group that is clean, quiet and ______” and which ever group met all 3 criteria would be dismissed first and so on. To keep it fun, each day I would change the third criteria…. Some days it was “clean, quiet and happy” other days it was “clean, quiet and asleep” other days it was “clean, quiet and statuesque!”.
- Gems – it was really important to me that my students were respectful of people learning and working when we walked through the halls… But to be honest, that is a big ask and often needs a little extra support. Before leaving the class, once all students were in line, I would count down… Sometimes from 5, sometimes from 10… And I would stop at whatever number the entire class was straight and silent by. I would hold up that many fingers for our entire trip (to the gym or the library) and if I heard a sound I would go down by one. If I was really impressed, I might also go up by one! How ever many fingers I held up when we got to our destination was the number of gems we would add to our gem cup. When the gem cup was full, we would decide as a class, how to celebrate our accomplishments!
- Simon says – Simon says is a great quick-and-easy body break that allows students to stand up, jump around, reach for the sky, touch your toes and sit back down. It’s also a great way to shape listening behaviours: “Simon says sit criss-cross”, “Simon say hands in your lap”, “Simon says eyes on the speaker”.
- If you can hear my voice – I love this one because you never need to go louder than a whisper! You start out by whispering a direction, “If you can hear my voice touch your shoulders” only a few students will hear at first, so then you do it again with something different, “If you can hear my voice touch your head”, when you know you have a few students that are participating make sure the next instruction is sound-related, “If you can hear my voice clap three times” or “If you can hear my voice say cha-cha-cha”. This gets the attention of the other students, but does not require you to raise your voice!
- Make it rain – This is one of my secret favourites! The first few times you do it, structure it like follow the leader – the students copy exactly what you do when you do it. After your class has done it a few times, all you will need to do it start rubbing your hands together to signal the beginning of the rainstorm and the class will join in. This is really effective because it allows students to get out some energy with the clapping and stomping, but then brings the energy right back down to a calm atmosphere. Here is a what it looks like in action:
- Red dot, yellow dot, green dot – Before each learning task we would decide as a class which colour dot would best help us learn. A red dot which means silent, a yellow dot which means whisper voices or a green dot which means indoor voice. Throughout the activity we would reflect on whether we made the right choice and whether or not our volume matched the dot we chose.
- Red cup, yellow cup, green cup – What a waste of energy it is to sit with your hand in the air until your teacher comes over to help you! So students would have a stack of 3 cups and place the colour on top that signifies how they are doing. Green means we are rolling along. Yellow means we think we are on the right track but might need a quick check in. Red means we are stuck and need help ASAP. The best thing about this system is that once you put your colour cups up, you have all your hands and energy to spend on continuing to try at the learning task!
- Washroom – if students needed to go to the washroom, whether it was during a lesson, a guided group, or a one on one conference all they had to do yes make a ‘W’ with their fingers and I could either give them a thumbs up if they had permission, or thumbs down if it wasn’t a good time and they had to wait a moment or two.
- Drink – same thing for a drink of water, but a ‘D’ instead of a ‘W’
- “Me too” – students want you to know when they did something the same as another student, or thought the same as another student, so instead of having 20+ students always yelling out “me too” they would just snap their fingers and myself and the other students would automatically know that whatever had just been said by another classmate also applies to them… With interrupting the speaker or the flow of the lesson! A wink or a thumbs up is great way to non-verbally acknowledge the students snapping their “me too”.
End of the day:
- The mystery item game – Each day I would pick one object that was out of place. Sometimes it was a big object, like a desk or a chair. Other times it was a small object, a pencil shaving or an eraser bit. Students had the length of the Love Inc. song “You’re a Super Star” to try and find the mystery object and put it where it belongs. When the song was over, if all students were back in their seats I would reveal the mystery item of the day and the detective who found it and put it back where it belongs!
- The pack up challenge – Every time students packed their bags at the end of the day, they tried to do so in order to leave enough time for one, fun thing. Sometimes if they packed their bags with 5 minutes to spare we would play a quick game of Sparkle or Desk Top Dodge Ball. If they were all packed up and ready to go with 10 minutes to spare we would read a chapter of Wizard of Oz. If they packed up with no time to spare, sadly we had to line up right away with no time for a fun activity. Each day I gave them the same amount of time (12 minutes) and the leftover time for fun was completely in their hands!
- The hand off – whether dismissing from inside the classroom or out on the playground, students had the choice of saying goodbye one of five ways: high five, hand shake, fist bump, chicken wing or hug. It differed from student to student, it even differed from day to day, but was so important to send them off smiling!
Just for fun:
There is SO much great thinking and learning to celebrate each day, I always liked to mix it up with a few of these fun alternatives to clapping:
- Round of applause – students clap their hands in a big ’round’ circle
- Crab clap – students interlace their fingers and clap together the heels of their hands
- WOW – students make a W with each hand and the O with their mouth and say “WOOOOW!”
- Standing ‘o’vation – students actually stand up, make a giant O with their arms and say “O!”
- Power whoosh – teacher count to 3 and everyone says swoosh and pretends to throw their positive energy in a classmate’s direction.
The tricky thing with procedures is that they don’t ‘just happen’, they take a lot of thoughtful planning and a lot of practice with students. When I was developing routines with my students I would always follow this simple framework: Rehearse. Remind. Redo. Whichever routine I wanted to establish I made sure we had time to practice before we actually needed to use it. I would often model it, then we would rehearse as a class, then I would invite student ‘actors and actresses’ to show what it would look like in an actual situation. Once I was sure all students had ample time to rehearse the routine, I would start using it in class. For the first few times, I would ‘remind’ students who forgot about the routine we had practiced, “Don’t forget we have a secret code for that where you….”. Eventually I would invite individual students or the entire class to ‘redo’ something according to our special routine, “Let’s try that again the way we practiced.” These three steps are not linear. If I ever noticed we needed a lot of reminders and redos, that was often a clue to me that we might need to go back to the rehearsal phase. These three phases happened everyday, all year long, but the investment of time really pays off! The independence of my students and the amount of learning time these procedures allowed was worth every rehearsal, reminder or redo.
So where do you start? My advice, is to sit down and think about your teaching day. What parts of your day are taking up a lot of learning time? What parts of your day require a lot of ‘discipline’? What parts of your day drive you nuts? These are often clues that a procedure is missing!
Then what? Once you have a list of all the procedures you would like your class to have, prioritize them. Which ones are absolutely essential to begin practicing? Which ones can wait a day, a week, a month? Take it slow. Work on one procedure at a time. Wait until your students have mastered it, then introduce the next procedure on your list.
Here is a 6 minute video of an actual class: How many procedures can you spot? How much learning happens in 6 minutes because of the procedures? Which procedures might you want to adopt in your own teaching practice?