The beginning of school can be chaotic. But with proper planning, you can establish five key classroom routines that will help ensure a smooth start to the year. By knowing ahead of time how you want to handle these classroom routines, you can save yourself stress and reduce chaos in your classroom!
I have a whole blog post on how I teach classroom routines to my students. I would follow those steps with each of these routines. Before school starts, think about how you want the routines to look. You’ll want to think with the end in mind. If the routine flows perfectly, what will the students be doing and how. You’ll also want to plan for potential areas of difficulty for students. Will there be traffic jams in the classroom if everyone goes at once? How can you mitigate that? You’ll also want to make sure that students can complete the routine as independently as possible.
It’s also important for new teachers to remember, that classroom routines can change. What you implement at the start of the year does not have to be set in stone for the rest of the year. If it’s not working for you and your students – change it! You still want to follow the steps for implementing a new routine and I would definitely give it a chance before changing it completely.
With these thoughts in mind, here are the 5 classroom routines you should plan ahead and how I use them in my classroom.
What jobs will your students need to complete in the morning? Where should they put their stuff and how should it look? How will they show that they are present in school – or will you take attendance verbally? Do they need to order lunch ahead of time? Will you be doing a morning question to share at morning meeting?
These are the questions you need to consider when planning out your morning jobs classroom routine at school. In my classroom, this is how my morning routine works. First, the students hang their backpack up and coat up in their locker. Second, they put their back-to-school folders in the back-to-school folder bin, which is right above their mailboxes. Third, they order lunch, which is right next to the folders. Fourth, they sign in. This is right across from the lunch ordering. Signing in serves two purposes – one, they practice writing their names, and two, it helps me know who is here for attendance. Their final morning job is to answer the morning message question. This is an important part of our morning meetings each day (learn more about kindergarten morning meetings here).
I like having all my morning jobs in kind of like a tunnel for the students as they are first arriving in the classroom. It significantly reduces the likelihood that they will get distracted by something going on in the classroom. I also have a morning where students are trickling in one at a time. If I had all my students entering at the same time, I might want to spread out my morning jobs a bit more around the room. That being said, if there ever is a bunch of kids coming in at once, they can spread out and do sign in, lunch, and morning question at the same time (they don’t have to go one before the other).
Teaching Morning Jobs
I teach my students these classroom routines on the first day of kindergarten and then we practice for a very long time. I also have visual reminders for those that need it. After kids do their morning jobs, they go and play. This gives all students an easy entry point to the day. It also makes students much more excited and happier to come to school when their day starts with play. Additionally, play is something my students can do independently (with a few problem-solving issues that pop up here and there), which means that I can be available to help with morning transition issues. There are always bound to be an issue or two first thing in the morning!
Finished or Unfinished Work
What do students do when you say it is time to clean up and move on to another activity? What happens if they aren’t finished? Consider the traffic flow if every single student has a completed worksheet. How do you check for students that have a lot of unfinished work?
For my classroom routine, I have a finished work bin that students put their finished work in. It is located away from other areas of high traffic but on a shelf that students can easily form a line to get to if everyone is going there at the same time.
If students aren’t finished when the activity is over, I have unfinished work mailboxes for a classroom routine. I tried the folder system where students put their unfinished work in a folder, and I hate it. There’s no easy way to check and see which students are piling up unfinished work! I also use the unfinished work boxes for students that are coloring in the morning and want to come back to it later. It’s easy for them to look and see what they have. Although we do go through this regularly and send optional work home or recycle it.
But what if students finish an activity early?
What to Do if they Finish Early
I set up my classroom activities in a way that there really aren’t too many issues with students finishing early. In reading, they are taught to read books again if they finish reading their books. If we are doing an activity in reading and they finish early, then they can read their own book or the classroom display books. What if they finish a story in writing? They are taught to either add more details or start a new piece. If they finish a math activity in centers, they just go to another math center. If we are doing a math activity and they finish early, I usually pick a favorite math game that they can play on the rug while others are finishing up.
I personally don’t like the idea of a fast-finishers bin or set of activities. It’s too much for me to manage and set up and I just don’t see the need if you have some go-to back-up activities for when students finish early. For me, it’s do unfinished work or read on the rug. Easy. Many students have work they need to finish, but if not, there’s a ton of books on display and they can also take from the classroom library. If needed, I can also offer coloring to students. This is a classroom routine that I would have a plan for, but I wouldn’t stress or overthink it. As you get to know your curriculum and routines, you can decide what makes the most sense for your students.
How will you regularly communicate with families? How can they communicate to you? Do students send home finished work – if so, how? In my classroom, we use back-to-school folders, also called take-home folders for a classroom routine. When students come to school, they put their folder in the folder basket. Then, during the day, my assistant or myself checks their folders for any notes from families (families can also email me). Then, we put inside any notices from the schools, the weekly classroom newsletter, and any finished work that we are sending home.
I send home any work that I do not need to keep for class books, to put on display, or to save for their portfolios. If a work is not that important and is not done with best effort, sometimes I just recycle it. Although sometimes I also want families to see what their student is doing at school.
After we fill up the folders, we put them inside of the students individual mailbox. I like to put numbers on my mailbox and assign students a number at the start of school. This saves me from rewriting names year after year on the mailboxes and unfinished work bins. At the end of the day, students take their folder from their mailbox and put it in their backpacks and take it home.
What to do if a Pencil Breaks
It’s inevitable that in the middle of an activity, students will come up to you and tell you that their pencil broke. What if I told you, you could avoid that altogether, or at least avoid stopping what you are doing to get them a new pencil with this classroom routine. One way to avoid pencils, crayons, and colored pencils is by buying Twistables or mechanical pencils. I tell you all about these materials in my must-have kindergarten supplies blog post. The other way to avoid this interruption is to have a stock-pile of ready-sharpened pencils in a container that says, “Take one” and then an empty container that says, “Sharpen me” where students can trade out a broken pencil and get a new sharpened pencil, without even having to ask you for help!
If you think about these 5 classroom routines before school starts and have a plan for how they will look in your classroom, then you can save yourself some chaos and stress when these issues come up in the first weeks of school. It’s better to be prepared than be caught off guard your first weeks of school!