Routine! Routine! Routine!
by Naomi Moir, author of Starting and Ending Lessons, part of the Oxford Basics for Children series.
In my first blog about classroom management, I mentioned the importance of creating a safe and secure learning environment – one way of doing this is through establishing clear routines. There are 3 points in a lesson where routines are particularly important:
- Starting the lesson
- Transitioning between stages/activities
- Ending the lesson
The obvious reason for using a routine to start your lessons is of course ‘start as you mean to go on’! If you want a calm, well-managed class, this expectation needs to be conveyed from the very beginning. There’s also another reason…when exercising the body it’s important to warm up, if you jump right into the main physical activity you might hurt or strain your muscles, and this can stop or discourage you from doing more exercise later. Well, learning is like exercising the brain! Without a proper warm up, the brain will feel the strain, which can put children off learning – the last thing we want to do!
Here are a few practical suggestions to help ease students into their English lessons:
- Have the children make a line outside the classroom door, greet and make eye contact with each one as they enter the room. If lining up outside the class isn’t possible, get them to form a line down the middle of the class instead. Then walk along the line, greeting and making eye contact before directing them to sit down.
- Ask the children to sit/stand in a circle on the floor and to greet each other in turn.
- Start the lesson with an activity that’s familiar and relatively easy, such as a game they particularly like.
- Put a word or number puzzle on the board for students to sit down quietly and try to solve as they come into the class.
- Ask a different child each lesson to write the date on the board.
- Encourage the children to be involved in any set up that’s required (moving furniture, handing out supplies etc.)
- Establish a routine for where they should put their books, pencil case and bag etc. Children are easily distracted by ‘things’, so it’s better if they can be somewhere out of sight/reach until they need them (e.g. along the back wall, or the windowsill).
Transitioning between stages/activities:
It’s easier said than done to get a class of primary students to stop one activity, pay attention to the instructions for the next and get started on it at roughly the same time! However, not doing so properly, can mean classes come undone at the seams! Students get left behind, you end up repeating yourself and noise levels (not the good ‘on task’ variety) go up. So what can you do to make these transitions run more smoothly?
Here are a few ideas:
- Use a transition marker to get everyone’s attention. This might be clapping your hands in a particular rhythm for the students to join in with, it might be saying a chant, singing a short song or as simple as ringing a bell or standing with your arms folded at the front of the room.
- Plan instructions carefully and fully – include visuals, demonstrations and questions to help them understand and to keep them involved.
- Give instructions in stages, checking they have understood and have the necessary equipment as you go. For example: “You need a blue pen. Show me your blue pen. Good! Now, turn to page 23, show me page 23…” and so on.
- Expect and wait for attention when you call for it – moving on without it will only teach students that they do not need to do as you say.
- Don’t raise your voice to go over the top of their noise – there are more of them than you – they can always be louder! Instead, go quiet and whisper, this way they’ll have to be quiet to hear what you’re saying.
- Have a menu of lesson activities/stages on the board. Focus the class on the one just completed, ticking it off together, before drawing attention to what comes next.
- Factor in time for them to wriggle a bit, chat briefly to their neighbour, relax and breath between activities – they need it – learning (and concentrating) is hard work!
I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the feeling of the lesson ‘running away’ – there is rarely enough time and things often become a bit rushed and unfinished as the lesson draws to a close. Just as it is necessary to ‘warm-up’ the brain, it is also a good idea to cool it down. This way your lessons will end on a positive note ‘I like English and I can do it!’, rather than ‘English is hard and I can’t do it’ – this is very important for motivation!
The following are some ideas for closing lessons:
- The last activity of the lesson should be relatively easy and something they can do without a great deal of concentration and effort – this is when their brains are at their most tired!
- Don’t shout the instructions for homework as they walk out the door. Write it clearly on the board and make sure there are a couple of minutes at the end of the lesson for them to copy it down and to check they understand what they have to do.
- Make sure they have left the room tidy and as it should be before allowing them to leave the room (rubbish in the bin, chairs pushed in…) – good life skills!
- Stand by the door, and once they’ve packed up their things and pushed their chairs in, they can come to the door. Get them to make eye contact with you and say goodbye before letting them leave. Alternatively, asked them to form a line down the middle of the room.
- Ask students to think of one thing they’ve learned in the lesson. It could be an item of vocabulary, some factual information or a sentence using the grammar point that was covered. Each should share this with you as they leave the room. This encourages them to think about the lesson and reflect on learning.
- Repeat the activity from the start of the lesson or close with a favourite game, song or activity.
- Don’t start the last activity simply because it’s on your plan, unless there’s time to do it justice. Save it for the next lesson!
I hope these ideas will get you thinking about what you currently do and what you might think about doing differently. I would love to hear more suggestions for these 3 stages of the lesson – the more ideas the merrier! As with my first blog post on classroom management, I think it’s important to close with the following:
Good classroom management takes time, patience and consistency!
2 November 2010 at
Thanks for sharing these useful tips. One other thing I do at the start of the lesson, as well as writing what we’re going to do today on the board, I write what the kids will need (notebook, colouring pencils, blank paper, etc). They then go to their lockers in 4 small groups with 30 seconds each to get everything. This saves so much time as everyone is ready in 2 minutes and it cuts down on the ‘Can I get my …. from my locker/bag?’ requests). It’s a great way to recycle classroom vocabulary as well!
5 November 2010 at
Thanks for the tip Dave! Ensuring they have what they need – and are not being distracted by the things they don’t need is a good way of helping lessons run more smoothly. And making classroom management a language opportunity is definitely a good idea it should be considered part of the lesson.
Thanks for sharing your idea.
10 March 2011 at
Thank for your advice
22 October 2015 at
Really very very good idea and useful.