Here are TEN effective ways to help teachers get control of classroom transition times. If you have ever dreaded transitioning your class from one center to another, or have regularly lost valuable class time just waiting for your kids to settle down and be seated after lunch or recess, then this is for you! Here are some of the techniques that have worked for me in Kindergarten, first, and second grade. Chances are, a few of the ideas here will work for you, too!
I think that the biggest problem with maintaining classroom control during transition times is that it takes energy, planning, intention, and TIME. If you are late getting your class off to recess, lunch, or anywhere else, then you may need to just tell them all to just GO! Just line up and GO! Of course, this happens to me, too. I’m only human! But on a good day, when everything is going as planned, there are definite ways to avoid these kinds of transitional problems. Some of these are just basic ideas that take no more than a few extra seconds. Others may take longer, but all of them should help you get your class prepared to sit and listen to your next lesson nicely, and hopefully give you more time for that lesson. And that’s the point, right? That’s what makes it worth a try- because the educational outcomes warrant the effort!
Ten Ways to Make Transitions Go More Smoothly
1. Don’t Let Them Enter Until They Are Quiet
When bringing kids in the door, get their attention first, and quiet them down. Tell them what they are supposed to do, such as put backpacks away, turn in homework, etc. THEN let them inside! If you try to tell them later, you’ll have to shout over the noise and at that point, it just seems kind of useless!
2. Develop Routines That Work for YOU
Things will always run more smoothly if you make them routines, because then your kids will be on “auto-pilot!” For example, I have trained my kids to bring their backpacks in each day right after lunch and pack up so that they will be ready to go home later. Anything that happens daily should become routine so that it can happen quickly.
3. Set Time Limits on Transitions- Try a Song or a Timer!
In my experience, some kids will take as long to get things done as you give them. So giving them a set time limit for getting things done makes a lot of sense, especially if you are trying to squeeze a lot of instruction into your day. My favorite way of doing this is by playing a song on my iPod, but a timer will also work. I tell the kids at the door that they have “just one song” to get inside and be seated- but NO RUNNING! (Just make sure that the length of the song is a reasonable amount of time for the children to accomplish it!)
4. Use Class Rewards
If the whole class is able to complete the transition within the given time that you’ve set, then consider giving them some kind of reward! The rewards will have to change fairly often to keep them fresh. I usually give the class a point worth something that we have agreed upon in advance. For example, these days my kids get one puzzle piece for each transition completed quietly and within the time limit. Once the puzzle is completed, we will get an extra recess! (Each puzzle piece has a magnet on the back, so it is on our whiteboard.) They could also lose a puzzle piece or point for an especially poor transition, if necessary. This Mr. Potato Head game is also fun; the children get one piece as a reward until he is built!
5. Make Special Line Up or Walking Arrangements for Children That Struggle
Let’s face it. There are just some kids that struggle with transition times because they can’t seem to get to their next places quickly or without an issue. Either that, or perhaps they entertain themselves by seizing any chance to “accidentally” push, bump, jump, tackle, poke, or otherwise bother anyone else in the class that might find themselves in their way. Whether this is caused by sensory issues, boredom, personality conflicts, or just plain, old fashioned mischief, there is always as least one in every classroom- and often more than one!
My favorite way to deal with this is to just acknowledge that we have a pattern forming with problems at certain times of the day with certain children, and try to solve it proactively. So rather than wait for these problems to arise, I solve the problems ahead of time by letting children who struggle with transitions go first and get settled into their spots before the rest of the kids. Or, I let them go last. Another alternative is to direct them to a different pathway in the classroom that is their own. For example, four children in the group go around the table to the right, and the child that struggles goes to the left. You’ll have to watch and make sure that the child or children in question are following your directions, but this takes less time than dealing with the fallout when kids are hurt or angry!
I have done this for certain children that could not seem to line up or enter the classroom without pushing or hitting anyone, because they simply HAD to be first! I drew a chalk circle on the ground outside my door where the child had to stand rather than line up with the others. Then I let him enter the classroom first and take a seat. After the other children had sat down, then he was allowed to join them on the floor. This really worked to solve the problem of constant pushing to get inside the door, which was a lot like watching an episode of the Three Stooges! Once I eliminated the one who appeared to be the instigator, the rest of the children were able to enter the classroom calmly. Unfortunately for the instigator, he HATED this arrangement, even though it did create a situation in which he always got to be first! Apparently, it just wasn’t any fun anymore without the element of competition.
If you need to designate a separate spot for a child to line up inside (making sidewalk chalk impossible,) then consider using SitSpots (very sticky Velcro shapes that do not damage rugs) on carpet, or tape down an index card with packing tape onto a tiled floor. It doesn’t even have to have the child’s name on it, as long as you both know that this is his or her spot.
Creating a “Line Up Order” for your whole class might also solve many problems. I have done this before, but it was recently suggested to me by a team mate of mine who teaches second grade. She said that since her students were continually breaking the school rules by running across the blacktop to be first in line after recess, she created a permanent line up order for her class so that it would not matter when they arrived. I started doing the same thing, and this also helped us to walk (more) quietly within the school as well, since I was able to permanently separate certain children that kept “accidentally finding themselves together,” even though I had already told them that they could not walk together. This line up order turned out to be extremely useful on a recent walking field trip, and also solves problems in the cafeteria line. Plus, if someone “takes cuts,” you’ll KNOW it! LOVE this! (We did rotate the kids through who got to be the line leader, though.)
6. Before You Release Them, Make Sure They Know WHERE They Are Going
One thing that I always did, especially during the first trimester in Kindergarten, was to ask the children to point to what center they were going to before they moved on to their next spots. This was extremely useful to me, because I could immediately tell who was “lost” before they ever started moving. All you have to do to fix that problem is tell another child to help the one that is confused find the correct center. My kids names are posted next to the center that they are going to.
At the beginning of the year, or if you change your routine, you may need to “practice” changing centers with your class ahead of time so that everybody really understands what you mean. This works wonders with children, and I can tell that even my second graders have benefitted from this technique. For example, everyone goes to the center where they would be working, but does not actually DO the work. They “pretend.” We say, “Work, work, work.” Then I ring the bell or give the signal that will be given to stop. Then we figure out where we would be going to next, and go there. We continue switching and pretending to work until we make it through each center and the rotation is finished.
7. Release Children to Move to Their Spots One Group at a Time
A sure fire way to make sure kids move quietly and calmly is to release them to move to their new centers just one group at a time. If you say, “Let’s all see how quietly the Green Group can walk to their next center,” then they will probably all show off their best behavior to you and anyone else that is in the room. This is my favorite trick when I’m being observed! If you release the entire class at once, nobody has a chance to “show off,” so you’ll probably get less than model behavior. Be sure to spread on the praise pretty thick when they get it right!
8. Ask the Children for Suggestions to Help You Solve Problems
If you are having a problem with a transition (or any other behavior, really!) see if the class can help you generate a solution. They may have an answer that you haven’t thought of! Kids can be very creative, and collectively they have had many different classroom experiences. If you ask them what their previous teachers have done, you may get several great ideas very quickly! Plus, those are likely to be ideas that your class will buy into because they helped think them up.
9. Only Make Rules and Consequences That You Are Willing to Enforce
This is a vitally important thing to think about when making up your classroom rules: what are you truly willing to follow through with? Many of us went into teaching because we have a soft place in our hearts for children. This can make it hard to do things like take away recess, or give everyone in the class a sticker except just a few children. So before you make a rule, try to visualize yourself making a child sit and watch while everyone else plays or gets a treat, etc. If you really don’t think you will follow through with it, then don’t go there! It’s important to be honest with yourself, because if you are not consistent with your students, they will soon realize this and then NOTHING you say will matter! And actually, I don’t think that a consequence has to be SEVERE to matter to a child and be effective- at least not for most children. A couple of minutes in a chair to think might be enough.
The video clip below is the “Follow the Rules” song from my Classroom Management DVD. These are the rules I use in my classroom.
10. Get a Bell or Signal that Means STOP- No Matter WHAT!!!
There will surely be times when your class is loud, happy, and excited, but you need to get their attention. Do yourself a favor and be ready with some kind of signal that will get everyone’s attention in any situation! I used a bell in Kindergarten religiously, but “Call and Response” attention getters seem to work best in my first/second grade combo class. I think that the reason is that they must all respond with a spoken word, and this stops their conversations immediately. Ideas for these are all over Pinterest, but here is our current favorite. The teacher calls out, “Tootsie Roll…” and the children respond with “Lollipop, we were talking, now we stop!” Since call and response techniques work best with my first and second graders, when I ring a bell, I just start singing, “When the bell rings, FREEZE!” and the children continue with “STOP! HANDS UP!” This is a line from a song of the same name on our Classroom Management DVD shown below. 🙂
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