Classroom transitions can take up a lot of class time. Often the teacher and many students are left waiting on others to finish what they are doing before they can continue on with the next activity. When it comes to saving time in the day, what can be done to speed up classroom transitions?
Speeding Up Classroom Transitions
1.) Start the year off right by teaching all your routines and procedures for everything. This includes your procedures for putting materials away, cleaning off their desks, throwing away trash, and even transitioning. Don’t assume your students know or have seen things before. At the beginning of the year, you spend a little extra time teaching things, but it pays off in the end. When you are finished, you’ll have a classroom that can run itself. You will only need to remind them occasionally.
2.) Create, model, practice, and reinforce expectations for all your classroom transitions ahead of time. This aligns with the one above. Students need to know what is expected of them when you are having them transition. Model for them both the correct and incorrect way to transition and then provide opportunities to practice in the form of role-playing. When students just sit back, passively watching, they are not going to absorb it as much. This also provides you with the opportunity to provide the students with feedback – just make sure it’s specific, such as “Thank you for standing quietly with your hands at your sides.”
3.) Plan your schedule to allow the minimum number of transitions as possible. I get that students need to move around so their brain doesn’t fall asleep, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of transitions. Instead, create activities that are engaging, or allow them to work around the room. What I’m referring to is does your entire class needs to go to the restroom at the same time? If your class is more independent, perhaps you can send them out individually using hand signals. Instead of moving your entire class, consider breaking them up into smaller groups to transition, such as in centers.
4.) Communicate. One of the biggest keys to speeding up classroom transitions is to properly communicate. Students need both a visual form of communication, such as a schedule posted of what is next and when along with a verbal mention of how much longer before you will transition.
Communicate clearly to students when the transition will begin and how long they will have. This can be done in a variety of methods.
- The Use of Signals – I have seen teachers use short playing music to transition students. When the song is done, you have to be done too. Fourth and Ten has a fabulous idea where she created a slide with various tv show songs for each type of transition. You can read all about how to create one on her blog.
- Clapping – This is one that I have used frequently. I would say quietly, “If you can hear my voice, clap 3 times.” Then a few students will begin clapping three times. Then I would say it again, just as quiet, but with a different number and it continues. I would do this until I have all the students’ attention. I have also used another clap where it’s more rhythmic and the students copy by clapping it back.
- Turning off the lights – Some teachers turn off the lights and turn them back on when it’s quiet. I know for the longest time this worked well in the cafeteria.
- Nonverbal Cues – Some teachers simply hold their hands (or fingers) up in the air and the students copy it. I have even seen teachers place a finger over their mouth. One of my favorite nonverbal cues that I like to do (but it definitely can be a time waster if you’re not careful) is to stare at the clock (or your watch) and make it known that you are counting minutes. Each minute of your time they waste is a minute of their time (recess) you waste. They learn real fast!
- Objects – Some teachers use wind chimes, a bell, or a triangle. It really just depends on what your jam is. I used a bell my first year of teaching but it didn’t really do anything but make a loud noise. I hated it, but if it works for you – go for it!
- Timer – Use a variety of timers just to make it engaging. I have placed my iPad on the doc cam and had it count down while students transitioned. I have personally counted backward, 5… 4… 3… and depending on your class, you could use the classic, “1, 2, 3, eyes on me.”
- Keyword – Sometimes you are going to want to give specific directions to students and then they may transition. You will need a keyword that will help students understand that now they can go into the next activity, such as “go.”
This is also a great time to remind them of your expectations during the transition. When students know what they should be doing, there are fewer behavior problems and less time wasted.
5.) Consistency is key. When transitioning it’s important that you are consistent. For instance, each day at the same time you are transitioning to the same place with as limited materials as possible. For instance, every day during the beginning of our math block, the students knew they had to grab their math notebook and a pencil, then meet me at the easel so I could give them their mini-lesson for math workshop. If I wanted them to use mini-whiteboards, I kept them in a basket by the easel to pass out when they were over there with me. You have to be prepared ahead of time, but it helps transition faster and it eliminates the need for students to hunt stuff down.
6.) Give consequences and rewards. Just with anything in classroom management, help students understand that there will be some consequences if they waste valuable class time. For me, I just took whatever time off of mine that they wasted (check your school’s policy). For a reward, work toward a classroom reward (or even something simple such as getting to line up first!) for every time they transition faster than expected and met the expectations. It’s at your discretion.
7.) Challenge them. Once in a while, write how long it took them to transition on the board. Then out of the blue (do not do it all the time, it has to be a once in a while thing), say transition challenge. Challenge students to transition faster than the time on the board. However, make it clear to students they cannot run or do anything that could potentially be harmful. I’m always amazed at how fast students move. You could also do this same thing, but in the form of teams – use the competitive edge of teams against teams.
8.) Getting Help. Sometimes we have some students that no matter what just don’t transition fast enough. Your best bet with these students is to work with them a bit. First, determine what is the main reason they are not transitioning fast enough. Is it an organizational issue? Is it a motivational issue, such as the student really doesn’t want to learn the next subject? Give this student more advance notice, more modeling, and work to guide the student to transition. Another option is to assign a transition buddy.
9.) When transitioning in from high energy to low energy activities (such as recess to classroom activities), I have done activities such as quick writes, read alouds, interactive activities, or even given students 1-minute chats, where they can chat for 1 minute, but they have to stay at their desk and once the timer goes off, it’s all things school.
One last thought about transitions…
It may seem that you have to wait for every last student before you can move on to the next activity, but this is absolutely not true. I can think of many times that I have begun my next lesson or activity while I still had some stragglers. My thought process was this, they’ll get caught up. They should have been over here or ready. But this is after I have already taught the procedures and the routine has been consistent since day one. There’s no excuse. When those students catch up with me later saying “I didn’t hear the first part” (which you’ll be surprised how many do hear as they are shuffling around) I point them to the chart, the board, or even a friend to catch up. I also remind them of the expectations to move into the activity faster. If it becomes a repeated problem, then I often will create a behavior contract just as I would with any behavior issue so that together we can find a solution to the repeated problem.
Classroom transitions can waste a lot of time and it can easily become frustrating to a teacher without the proper strategies in place. When well planned and taught transition procedures are in place, there is minimal work on the teacher and students are not idle waiting. And that’s what we want – classroom transitions that save time!
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