In the Classroom: The Power of Routine

It was inevitable. My voice was leaving me slowly but surely. The crud that had been going around my classroom had made its way to me, and my voice was sounding more and more hoarse as a result. I knew it was heading towards a whisper.

My kindergarten kids went to PE and when they came back, I remarked, mostly to myself, that my voice was “going away”.

All chatter and activity ceased and they stared at me.

“But what will we do if your voice goes away?” a sweet boy wailed.

“Well,” I whispered matter-of-factly, “We will do what we always do.”

What we always do. The routine.

When our day is going so totally wonderfully, we follow the routine.

When our day is a hot mess, we follow the routine the best we can.

When someone checks in late, we welcome him or her and continue with our routine.

When there is a fire drill or tornado drill, we stop the routine to practice, and then we come back in. And we follow the routine.

When someone gets sick, we fix them up, take a sanitizing break, and then continue with our routine.

When I have a substitute, we follow the routine.

When I don’t feel like it, I follow the routine anyway, and then I ALWAYS feel better.

See the pattern here?

Routine is so important in the classroom. Knowing that expectations and procedures are going to be mostly the same gives children a sense of structure and security like nothing else.

At the beginning of the year, most of my kids ask me over and over throughout the day, “When is lunch? When is snack? When do we go outside? When can I go home?”

They want to know the routine. They want the assurance of what’s to come.

One year I posted a picture schedule for a particular student who needed a visual of our daily routine. I didn’t realize at the time how much the picture schedule would impact my entire classroom management system, which would, in turn, impact my teaching. Gone were the “When do we…?” questions. Gone were the “Is it Library Day? Do we go to Computer Lab today?” questions.  Instead, I referred to the pictures of our daily routine, and I implemented it. Every day.

I simply took pictures or printed clipart to represent our activities for the day, put the pictures in order of our routine, and stuck a magnet dot beside the pictures. Our Helping Hand gets to move the dot as we complete each activity for the day. If we are doing something special, like Library, I post a star at the time of the special activity.



I know this probably sounds like a no-brainer to most seasoned teachers, and there is no magic trick to making your daily routine. It’s as simple as it sounds. You do what you say you are going to do in order pretty much at the same time daily. And then,  the magic happens when you stick to your routine.

I am realistic. I realize that things come up to disrupt the routine. I realize that some days your students will be reading like rock stars, and you are not going to stop them just because the clock says it’s time for math.  I realize that sometimes Children’s Theatre is going to come busting up into your school and totally mess up your routine (but you can get back on it the next day!). I know that one day it will be snowing outside, and you will stop and take your kids outside to play and “catch” snowflakes with black construction paper (for all your Northerners, snow in Alabama is certainly a reason to stop everything!). But for the most part, I have learned that in order to have better management, teaching, and more learning, it is imperative that I stick to my routine.

I mean, my students don’t even tell time yet. But they can tell you exactly what we do and the order in which we do it.

Remember that day my voice went away? The rest of the day went relatively smoothly, with my gesturing to the daily picture schedule and the students simply doing the routine.

Sometimes I see that things are not working so well in the order that I have them, and I change the routine. Although a rare occurrence, once I change our picture schedule and give several reminders, class time begins to flow in a smooth stream once again.

The key to making a successful routine is finding out what works best for you as a teacher and for your classroom atmosphere from year to year. Since I teach Kindergarten and First Grade, I usually try to set up my schedule as a pattern of sorts.

We sit and listen, then we get up and “do”. We sit and listen, then we get up and do.

I’ve had several wonderful teacher friends ask about my daily routine, so I will share my current year’s (Kindergarten) daily schedule with you! J

Welcome Routine- I make it a point to be at my door each morning to greet my kiddos with a hug or a high-five, and then they come in, unpack,  do their counting baskets (a blog on counting baskets to come soon!), and do their Morning Activity.

Morning Meeting– We meet together and go over our Calendar, the Daily News, and any special notes to our daily routine and picture schedule. So this the “sit and listen” part of my pattern. J


Literacy Stations- Now it’s time for us to “get up and do”! After quick reminders of what the day’s tasks are at our Literacy Stations, we disperse and get busy reading, writing, using technology, and working with the teacher.

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This student’s card tells him the order of his Literacy Work Stations.

Reading Vocabulary and Comprehension– We have a shared reading activity where specific comprehension strategies and vocabulary words are taught, used, and solidified.
Phonics and Sight Word Practice– At this time, we take part in some type of “Reading Strategy” practice. Sometimes this looks like a worksheet (that we do whole group) that gives us a chance to use our phonics and sight word strategies, sometimes it looks like partners going over sight words and decodable words/books together.

Recess- Every day. Rain or shine. Indoor or outdoor. We have recess. It’s a non-negotiable 15 minutes where we get the “ants out of our pants”, learn to make-believe (recess outside is on our front lawn instead of the playground- students are encouraged to use their imaginations with games and dramatic play, and get some exercise. Great ideas for indoor recess can be found on youtube!

Handwriting– This quick five to ten minutes includes instruction on correct letter formation and directed drawing.

Writing Workshop– My favorite, favorite, favorite! Kindergarten students are not too young to write! The works of genius that come out of this time never cease to amaze me. In Kindergarten, students work mostly on narrative stories, opinion pieces, and informational articles. I could go on and on about this wonderful part of our routine, or you can just read more here! J

morning station blog pictures 009

Music and Singing- At this time, students sing seasonal songs together while one or a few go to wash hands, use the restroom, and get their lunchboxes ready for lunch. This time of day runs so smoothly after a month or two, but takes lots of direction at the beginning of the year in Kindergarten.

Lunch

PE– of course, this portion of the routine depends on the master schedule.

Story Time- During this portion of the day, I usually read a chapter book to my students. We have fallen in love with characters like Junie B. Jones, Wilbur and Fern, and the Boxcar children during this lovely time of just reading for the pure enjoyment of books.

Counting Strategies – We begin our math class daily with counting aloud. Depending on where we are in the year, and where we are as a class, we count to 50, or to 75, or to 100 by ones. We count by fives and tens. I pick a number and we start there and count forwards and backwards to another number. We look for patterns on the 100 chart as well.
Daily Data- Each week, we work on student data that starts with a Question of the Week. On Monday, we answer the question and construct the data by putting our names on Venn Diagrams or T Charts or graphs of some sort. On Tuesday, we tally the data. On Wednesday, we write about the data. On Thursday, we show the data in a new way. On Friday, we make addition and subtraction equations out of the data information.

Counting Basket- Our helping hand, who was chosen during the Morning Meeting time, gets his or her counting basket and shows us how to count correctly. This is a great, quick assessment for me to see what counting strategies are being used by students in my class (more on Counting Baskets in a soon-to-come blog post!).

Math Journal-Once we’ve established the number of items in our Counting Basket, we use that number to work in our Math Journals. At the beginning of the year, we show different numbers in a variety of ways (numeral, number word, tallies, drawings, symbols). We learn to break teen numbers into tens and ones and we learn how to construct ten frames. We make patterns and shapes and equations. My students amaze me during our Number Talk/Math Journal time! More about Math Talks here.

Math Stations- After a quick discussion of our daily tasks, we break apart and work on math manipulatives, writing about math, technology and math, and small groups with the teacher. More about math here.

Science/Social Studies- During this portion of our routine, we do Science experiments, read informational texts, and make thematic arts and crafts.

Snack- Yummy! Everyone loves snack time! Mine is about as short and sweet as it gets! J

Rest- Today’s rest time in Kindergarten doesn’t look like nap times of old. We are doing well if we get about 25 minutes of rest time in a day! I still have several sweeties that love to sleep, and they look forward to their power nap. The rest of my Kindergarten friends listen to alphabet music or watch reading and math power points during rest time. What do I do? Well, I run around like a crazy woman getting mailboxes ready for pack up, cleaning out lunchboxes that were leaked into, answering emails, and getting materials ready for tomorrow’s routine.

Pack Up/Afternoon Meeting– during this time, we reflect on the great points of our day. We talk about some parts that we hope will go more smoothly tomorrow. We also talk about any special things that will be part of our routines tomorrow.

It’s a fast-paced, move-and-groove, keep-on-going day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s our routine. It’s what we do, and how we succeed.

Sometimes I get asked, How do you know when you need to change your routine?

I am not a fan of change, as you can see by this entire post! J But sometimes, I see when things aren’t working so smoothly, and I know it’s time for a change. If I have a certain time of day where behaviors that are undesirable seem to be on the rise, I look closely at the routine and think about what should change. And I tweak and tweak and tweak until the behaviors work themselves out.

I also change my routine after Christmas in Kindergarten in order to add more handwriting and phonics/sight word work.

When you are having a bad day in the classroom, get back on your routine!

When you want to go outside and play all day because it’s 75 degrees, stick to the routine instead, and you’ll be glad you did!

When your voice starts to go away, stick to the routine and let the routine do the talking for you!

By the way, I did end up taking the next day off when I lost my voice in order to go to the doctor. The substitute teacher made a point to write to me and tell me that my students basically “ran themselves” that day, going by the picture schedule, although they were concerned that I had lost my voice.

The next day, when I returned, all of my kids were excited to learn where I went to “find my voice” again. J They were eager to tell me about their day with a different teacher. We took a moment to talk about our special day apart…

And then we went back to our routine.

 

*Teachers! Share with us. What routines work best for you?

 

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2 Responses to In the Classroom: The Power of Routine

  1. Terri Nida says:

    Paige – I like the idea that we long for a routine, much like we long to be righteous for God. Sometimes the weeds come up, and it changes the feeling of security in our routine. It’s important not to let the weeds ruffle our feathers and get a off track in righteousness. I’m challenged by this every day! Thank you for an insightful post.

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