Whatever grade level you teach, the first few weeks of school are crucial for developing the smooth running of a class! If you have high expectations and introduce your kids to clear routines and classroom procedures at the beginning of the year, you will be able to run a streamlined and efficient elementary classroom for the rest of the year. Have high expectations of your class and the level of respect that you expect from the very first day of school… and your students will not only respect you for it, but they will also respond!
However, for this to happen, I cannot stress enough the importance of classroom routines! One of the biggest mistakes that both a new teacher or a veteran teacher can make is not spending plenty of time establishing important classroom routines. In order to create a positive classroom community and classroom culture, it is essential to take the time to train your kids with all your routines and expectations in the first weeks of school. Spending time teaching classroom routines and effective classroom procedures will significantly improve learning time, build positive relationships and establish a positive classroom climate for the year ahead.
This post includes examples of classroom routines and a classroom procedures checklist to help you start off on the right foot at the beginning of the school year.
So, where to start??
Creating your classroom expectations and rules
In the first days of school, I begin by introducing our classroom expectations or basic classroom rules. I personally like to use existing three school expectations: being SAFE, being RESPECTFUL and being a LEARNER. Every other classroom rule can fit under these three umbrellas (e.g. walking in the classroom is being SAFE, not calling out is being RESPECTFUL, trying your best is being a LEARNER).
If you want to create your own rules, I suggest following these guidelines:
- Make sure they are POSITIVE in expression e.g. “put your hand up to speak” rather than “don’t call out”
- Keep them FEW IN NUMBER
- Fit with your school rules or expectations wherever possible
You might also like to follow OMPUA guidelines when creating your rules:
- O = Observable
- M = Measurable
- P = Positively Stated
- U = Understandable
- A = Always applicable
Teaching your classroom expectations and rules
Teaching each rule or expectation can range from a teacher directed discussion, to role play, creating anchor charts or using example/non examples.
However you wish to introduce your classroom rules, it is a good idea to separate them across a number of days and explicitly teaching each expectation or rule. This is particularly important if you are teaching young children, so that you can make sure students have really grasped each expectation.
For example, on Day 1 I will introduce being SAFE. We will discuss why safety is important and brainstorm specific examples of what it looks like to be SAFE. I use my positive behaviour picture cards as prompts or guides. Once we have done this, we select one example that will be our behaviour goal for the rest of the day… or if they’re struggling, make it the goal for the week!
We do the same for being RESPECTFUL and being a LEARNER.
A range of positive behaviour choice posters can be found at Mrs Learning Bee. They include versions from the Holly Sanders Jagun Collection, Deb McNaughton Wonderland Collection, and Kasey Rainbow Beeyond the Rainbow Collection.
For older grades, I recommend making it fun wherever possible. Some ideas could include:
- Taboo cards with your behaviour expectations. E.g. the kids have to explain ‘walking in the classroom’ without using any of those words.
- Teacher modelling non-examples (always gets them laughing!)
- Mind maps/brainstorms e.g. what does being respectful look like, feel like, sound like.
For younger students, there are some great story books for introducing classroom rules and expectations. They model both good choices and poor choices.
Classroom Systems and Routines
Throughout the first week of school, I also gradually introduce my entire class to our various classroom systems, and provide children with explicit examples of daily routines.
The explicit teaching of classroom systems and routines will allow for the smooth running of the class, because students will know exactly what is expected of them for every aspect of your classroom day. It is important that all of these routines for daily tasks are explained, modelled, rehearsed, and ENCOURAGED/POSITIVELY REINFORCED.
I do not do introduce all these routines at once, as it will completely overwhelm students. I do a mix of incidental learning as and when something comes up, and explicitly setting aside some time to focus on and teach an explicit system. Where needed, we practise a skill… often repeatedly.
Taking the time to explicitly teach classroom systems and routines may take a lot of time, but it will ensure that your classroom is a well-oiled machine for the rest of the school year!
There are many classroom systems and important routines that I ensure I’ve covered with my kids include. Some examples of routines include:
- Morning procedures e.g. lining up at the start of the day when the bell rings
- Entering and leaving the classroom
- Morning routine or morning work routines
- Everyday classroom learning routines e.g. what to do with finished work and what to do when you are finished
- Classroom equipment- where it is stored, how to use it safely, what belongs to individual students and what is communal, where to find everything.
- How to sit on the floor
- How to move to desks
- How to use flexible seating furniture
- Classroom displays- what they are for, how we will use them.
- What to do when you want to go to the toilet
- What to do at break times and how to line up after break times
- What to do if you have a question
- How to use hand signals
- Small group and group work routines
- Correct/incorrect uses of common classroom equipment e.g. pencil sharpening procedures,
- Routines for independent work
- End of the day procedures
- Appropriate noise levels- I introduce quiet critters, noise level lights etc (The noise level lights are $2 light switches from Kmart and the template is a freebie on my website)
For an incredibly detailed list of ALL the classroom systems and expectations that you want to think about trying to cover, I recommend checking out Our Creative Classroom’s free document!
Other successful classroom routine ideas:
The Open/Closed sign trick is simple - it's one I learned from Cassie Stephens. To avoid the MANY questions and comments that Kindergarten will want to share when she is explaining something, Cassie has a sign that she switches to ‘closed’. When she’s ready for questions, she will switch it to ‘open’. It can be an simple visual cue to help remind kids to hold in their questions and comments so that they actually take in whatever instruction you are giving them!
Exceptions: My students know that an ‘emergency’ overrides the open/closed system. For us, an emergency is one of the ‘3 Bs’- are you busting, belly-aching or bleeding?!
Fast Finisher Systems
It is important to have systems in place for when students are finished. I like to use a Must Do, May Do system. A few different versions of these posters are available for free at Mrs Learning Bee.
“No Hands Up” Routines
There are many positives to the “no hands up” questioning technique:
- It increases engagement because students can be called upon at any time, so they know that they need to be paying attention.
- It shifts focus off the same kids who are always keen to share an answer, and instead allows you to see how ALL of your kids are understanding a concept.
BUT— how do we utilise it in a way that won’t make kids feel anxious?
It is important to provide students with scaffolds to use when they don't know an answer. This helps to reduce anxiety and also provides alternatives to "I don't know".
I display these question prompts with visuals to support students who can't read the prompts. We review these questions before every 'no hands up' session so that these prompts become ingrained and second nature.
See 3 Before Me
Another freebie download that can help to set up effective classroom routines at the beginning of the year! It encourages students to take ownership and problem solve.
I like to keep my classroom helper system VERY simple. I know that many teachers like to use a classroom job system where each student has a different job e.g. pencil sharpener, bell ringer, white board cleaner, messenger, line leader. However, any time I’ve tried to have lots of different classroom jobs, it just becomes such a big effort to have to change them every week! So, I have a King and Queen (or Superheroes, Minions etc) who are in charge of ALL the jobs for the week.
Whatever system you decide on for your own classroom, you'll need to train your kids up in how to be effective classroom helpers! These templates (as well as some other alternatives) are a free download from Mrs Learning Bee.
I recommend using different colours for each of your books, so that they are easy to keep track of. Another tip that I’ve seen is to use coloured washi tape on the spines of different books.
These book covers are available at Mrs Learning Bee. They include covers for the smaller landscape exercise books that are often used in Kindergarten.
Top tip: if possible in your school community, ask parents to help with the process of book covers. I would provide parents with a set of covers & books, and there were always some lovely parents who were more than happy to help out!
A good classroom routine includes having a system for your classroom equipment and how students will keep track of their items. In Kindergarten, I number resources. Each student in my class gets a mini whiteboard, eraser and marker. But I re-use a lot of this equipment the following year so I can’t name them. So instead, I give each student a number. This is the number of all their classroom equipment for the year.
For older grades, this may not be totally applicable. But have a plan in your own classroom for how and where students will keep track of their own equipment.
Have a designated place for everything, and teach students how to put things away properly. Think about easy access points/storage systems so that your kids can do a lot of the pack up themselves. You’ll also see I have three sets of whiteboard markers/rubbers- these are a great thing to have ready to go that you can just place on a table for different rotation activities.
We used a Class Dojo point system at my last school, but in the past I’ve used paddle pop sticks that the kids collected in little colourful envelopes that were displayed at the front of the classroom. Whatever you choose to do as individual reward systems, make sure it is EASY to maintain (I gave up on sticker charts a long time ago for that reason!) and EASY to understand. Also, whilst reward systems can add a bit of fun into your classroom, remember to not base your classroom behavior management around them.
Here are some examples of the sorts of rewards I have when students reach a certain number of Dojo points. I moved away from ‘prize boxes’ a few years ago because they are just unnecessary plastic! You can find these at Mrs Learning Bee.
Whole Class rewards
There are lots of fun ideas for a whole class reward- I love to use a brownie point system in my classrooms. Once the kids have filled up the whole brownie tray, we get a whole class reward. I use a proper cookie tray for collecting points- it really adds to the fun!
Two different versions of brownie points can be found at Mrs Learning Bee.
Consequences & Reflection
Disruptive behaviour and other behaviour problems will inevitably happen at different points throughout the year. Establish an incremental process that works for you in your classroom, and stick to it consistently. Whatever system you choose to use, it’s important to wipe the slate clean regularly (at the end of each session or at the very latest each day) and conclude every session/day on a positive note.
It’s important to provide students with opportunities to reflect on their negative choices, the impact it had on themselves and/or those around them, and how they could make more positive choices in the future. Here’s an example of what this might look like in Kindergarten.
Visual timetables are one of the most important procedures for an effective classroom management system. By providing a visual representation of the day's classroom schedule, children can know what to expect for the day ahead.
The beauty of visual timetables lies in their ability to alleviate stress and anxiety, effectively curbing any related disruptive behaviours. Instead, they foster self-regulation, encourage active engagement, enhance focus, and contribute to the creation of a positive learning environment.
It’s essential that your kids know what to expect throughout their school day- as adults, we feel unsettled when we don’t know what’s coming, and kids are exactly the same. Given your kids won’t be able to read when they first start school, it’s important that your timetable has pictures.
I unpack all the benefits of a visual timetable, as well as top tips for maintaining visual timetables, in this blog post.
"But I don't have time to maintain a visual timetable..."
Visual timetables can be quite a hassle to keep up with. Not only do they require a considerable amount of upfront preparation, cutting and creating all the necessary pieces, but they can also be a real pain to change over each day. And let's not forget about the frustration of misplacing crucial parts of the timetable! To top it all off, our carefully planned days often end up being completely shuffled around anyway, making those timetables feel like a wasted effort.
Fortunately, there's a fantastic solution that will save you from the visual timetable struggle!
Introducing the Hive visual timetable – the ultimate customisable and editable tool designed specifically for your classroom. Say goodbye to the tediousness of traditional timetables and embrace this game-changer!
With the Hive visual timetable, you have complete control. Adding, removing, or editing activities is a breeze. Simply adjust the schedule to fit your evolving needs. Thanks to the drag-and-drop feature, you can effortlessly rearrange items within each day, accommodating any unexpected changes that come your way.
Get ready to unleash your creativity with a wide selection of images to choose from, including options with or without children. Plus, you have the power to assign different colours to each subject or item. It's a colour-coordination paradise!
But here's the icing on the cake: once you've set up your Hive visual timetable, it will save each day's schedule automatically. That means you can reuse it week after week, making minor tweaks as necessary. No more starting from scratch each day – the Hive visual timetable is here to make your life easier and more organised.
Say goodbye to the frustrations of maintaining visual timetables and say hello to the Hive visual timetable – your new go-to tool for seamless scheduling and flexibility in the classroom.
Some final tips for establishing classroom expectations
Remember that every class is different- some classes settle quickly, others may remain in the establishment phase for the whole term, or require regular reminders of behaviour expectations- weekly, or even daily.
Begin and end the day positively, no matter what has happened!
Balance correction with encouragement. Find things to encourage wherever possible e.g. “thanks for walking in quietly”, “thanks for pushing your chair in”.
Have high expectations of your class, and the level of respect you demand. Your class will respect you for it, and will rise to meet the challenge!
Remember the importance of following through on consequences- both in the classroom and playground. Students are far more likely to respect/listen to you if you follow through. It ensures fairness for all students.
Ask yourself questions and reflect on what is/isn’t working. It’s ok to make changes!
- Is my seating plan working?
- Do I talk over noise to establish class attention?
- How do I claim students’ attention in the middle of on-task time? Have I communicated clearly about what I expect of my students at critical points in the lesson?
- How do I move the students from the floor to their desks?
- Do I need to spend some discussion time with my class to remind them about specific rules or expectations?