Building classroom routines

I have been considering classroom management this week for a number of reasons.  First of all, I am going to deliver a training session on it and I have been thinking about the focus.  I will certainly discuss de-escalation strategies and language- see this blog from Tom Sherrington- but another focus will be routines.  I think good routines are essential for calm classrooms and they are also essential to create the climate for outstanding lessons.  Often, school is the most routine thing in some of our students’ lives and, while they may never admit it, I am sure that even the naughtier students crave teachers where the classes are ordered and learning can take place.

Secondly, I have a couple of classes which I feel are not making the progress I would like and I can see that this is partly because, for various reasons, my classroom expectations and routines are not ingrained.  I filmed myself teaching one of these classes yesterday and it was clear that I wasn’t following my own routines.  (Also clear was the fact that I have to establish a healthy eating routine!) So part of the reason for writing this post is for me to develop these areas of my practice- to look at the routines that work effectively in most of my lessons and apply them to areas where they are not established.

Charles Duhugg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit, goes into some detail on how routines form, how they work and how they can be changed.  He speaks below about his own experience and the habit cycle: ‘cue>routine>reward.’

I suppose the reward is that classrooms are calm, positive, efficient places where students learn.  It does take time and concerted effort to make sure these routines take hold, however.  This post from Alex Quigley looks at the idea in a wider school context.

I’m not a fan of formal lesson observations but I do appreciate that they remain a part of teaching.  If you have your classroom routines established then you know that you have a good chance of a positive outcome.  Routines are evident in exercise books through good progress and I do know of Ofsted inspectors who have asked the students, ‘is this a typical lesson?’

So where do we need to build routines and what should these be?  Here’s my top ten:

Meet and greet at the door: Line the students up, make sure they are wearing the correct uniform but most importantly, talk to them and say hello.  Deal with any issues outside before they come in.  You are indicating that you are the sort of teacher that insists on the rules but that you are happy to see them too.  I appreciate that some teachers don’t have their own classroom so find it hard to get there before the students but there is still no reason why they shouldn’t be lining up and have a settled start.  Find ways that work for you.  I know of an MFL teacher who asks students to stand behind chairs.  It’s not for me but it works for her.  I will never ask a student to write down a learning objective but I know teachers who use this as part of their routine with difficult classes.

Transitions: Work out routines for moving from one stage of the lesson to another.  I love when primary school teachers clap in a rhythm and the students have to respond.  The old hand raise can also be used although I hate when this is used in teacher training to shut up teachers (but it does work!)  I like a leisurely count down from 5 to 1.  It goes something like this: “5…4…and just finishing off your conversations…3…and putting pens down…2…everyone facing me…and 1…brilliant, thanks.”  It is also good to move into position at the front of the room as a cue.  Some teachers use music and others use a call and response.

Active listening: When you are speaking to the class, insist on full attention with pens down.  Keep insisting on this and it’ll become established.  Nag nag nag about it and also expect them to track you as you walk across the room.  Don’t allow anyone not to show you they are listening.  Once you allow this, more will follow and you will have more and more students who don’t know what they should be doing.  This video, advertising Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion– a book full of routines- shows this in action:

Equipment: Art teachers have this nailed because the equipment is essential- they count out pencils and rigorously police the equipment. Go and visit them or a Technology teacher to learn their routines.  I am fortunate to have a set of laptops and use students to check them, count them, plug them in etc.  For students without equipment, there are a number of responses.  One colleague of mine makes students write in a brown pencil when they forget their pen.  It means that they can chase this up when marking if it happens more than once.  I also hand pens to repeat offenders which they keep in their folders.  The only surefire way to make sure students have the correct equipment is to chase every incident up but it is time consuming.

Handing out books: Work out your best routine for handing out and collecting in exercise books.  I have 7 tables.  At the end of lessons, they put them in table piles, then bring them to me as they leave.  It takes 20 seconds.  Then they can be handed out really quickly next lesson because they are in table groupings.  If you can reduce the time spent on these parts of the lesson, then you have more time for the proper stuff.

Acting on feedback: Establish routines for acting on feedback.  I go into some detail about my routines for the whole process here.  Make it a habit for students to read and act on feedback.  They really value this when they are accustomed to it and getting this right will lead to massive progress.

Teach group work: Bad group work is really really bad.  It is impossible for group work to be effective at all if students don’t know how to work in a group, what their roles are and how these roles combine into a productive group.  I like the following: ‘Scribe’-writes everything down; ’Reporter’-presents findings to class;  ‘Chairperson’-leads discussion; ‘Envoy’-sees what the other groups are up to. All students are involved in the discussion.  Kagan structures are worth exploring and jigsawing (from David Didau) is another routine worth teaching.  The key is to teach group work skills explicitly and revisit.

Marking: You need to establish routines for marking.  When should you do it?  I set aside Sunday afternoons for some of it but most of it I do the day it is handed in or before the next lesson with a class so it is completely fresh.  I have to plan for this so that I have time but I rarely have any of those days when I’m marking literally every waking hour.  Marking also makes it very easy for me to plan the next lesson, especially when much of it will be spent acting on feedback.

Questioning:  As an English teacher, I love a good class discussion.  To get this right, you need routines.  I use lollipop sticks to select students and they know that I won’t accept ‘I don’t know’.  This has forced them into a habit of thinking which some do not have in class discussions when it is hands up.  This blog from Rachael Stevens also has some great questioning routines.

Modelling: This one is less about classroom management.  In each subject there are methods which should be used repeatedly.  For example, as an English teacher, I am asking students again and again to respond to texts.  I show them examples but, more importantly, I model the process.  I don’t just do it once and accept it is learnt because students need to practice.  This goes for any other aspect of the subject that is required and doesn’t stop with the subject specific stuff.  We should regularly model peer assessment, redrafting, presentation etc.

Routines won’t make students learn anything but they will make it much easier for them to do so.  Oh, and if anyone has any good ideas for establishing good homework routines (or anything else) then I’d love to hear them.




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