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Literacy and Language Blog

The Power of Routines

Most people operate more effectively when they are aware of the expectations that others have for them. Students are no exception. Students also find clear expectations to be not only helpful, but many students find routines to be comforting. There is much to be said about entering a room and knowing what to expect. Fulfilling basic routines will put students on a positive path to learn something new in your classroom each and every day.

Routine: Greeting Your Students

Letting students know that you are excited to spend a new day learning with them is important. You can greet your students at the door in many ways. Some teachers post signs that depict a handshake, a fist bump, a high five, or a thumbs up, and students point at the greeting that they would like to receive before they enter the room. When I was teaching, I greeted my students with a smile, and I always included a name, as in, “Good morning, Gabe!” Giving a personal touch to the welcome can make sure that students know their presence is important to the classroom community and to you.

Routine: Getting Started Immediately

When students enter the room, they should be directed to engage in an activity. With younger students, a visual on a screen of the work they will do should be displayed. As students enter your classroom, they can be directed to the sheet or activity they will be working on. With older students, directives are either displayed on the classroom screen as visuals or in writing. For example, I often guided my middle school students to prepare for the beginning of the day’s lesson with explicit directives on the screen at the front of the room.

Please follow these directions after you enter the classroom.
  1. Get out a pen or pencil.
  2. Get your interactive notebook from your class’s bin.
  3. Get a yellow sheet and a glue stick from the supply table.
  4. Turn to the section labeled “author’s craft” in your interactive notebook.
  5. Glue the yellow sheet on the first empty left-sided page in your “author’s craft” section.




Routine: Gathering Materials

Keeping materials in clearly labeled areas will also minimize the time that students take to get organized and ready for the day’s lesson. Labeling areas of the room with either pictures or words will help students navigate the classroom as well. Students should know where to get supplies so that they can begin their task immediately. 

Routine: Asking for Support

Some students willingly ask for support, while others might be more reluctant. Giving students various ways to receive support will ensure that no student is left out. Here are a few ways that students can ask for clarification or support.

  • Three Before Me
    Students can ask another student (or two) for clarity or look for visual cues that are placed in the room (anchor charts). Older students can re-read directions as one of the THREE BEFORE ME. Always providing students with visual or written directions for review of processes or procedures will help them develop independence.
  • Cue Cards
    Students can receive a green card (I am finished with my work) and a yellow card (I need more support with my work). Asking students to display cards to show the level of support that is needed is an important component in developing an effectively managed classroom.
  • Next in Line
    Model behavior to ask for support. Demonstrate the process for students. Students will know that they are next in line for support.
    • Wait patiently with your hand up.
    • When the teacher says your name, you can put your hand down.
    • The teacher will write down your name and you will be next in line.
    • Know actions to take while waiting (provide students with several activities to engage in while they are waiting for support).

Routine: Establishing Norms

Norms that are role-played and explicitly discussed will help students understand the expectations when they enter the classroom. You can even have students initial or sign the written norms for verification that they have clearly understood the expectations. Post them as a visual reminder for students.

Routine: Moving in the Classroom

Norms can include how students will move from one station to the next or from one room to another. In some classrooms, teachers have a flow pattern for students to follow. Other times, it might be beneficial to allow students to practice their routines for movement. For example, I saw a great example of a high school teacher allowing her students an opportunity to “flock up” by moving their desks together in groups of four and “flock down” by putting their desks back in short rows. After practicing a few times, ensuring that they are careful not to harm other students as they move, students were able to do this movement very quickly.

Routine: Explaining Acceptable Noise Levels

Visuals showing acceptable noise levels will also help maintain a well-managed classroom. Give students an explicit demonstration of each noise level. Always remind students before an activity what the expected noise level will be.

Routine: Getting to Know Group Members

I often ask students to complete a grid for a “getting to know you activity” that will be engaging and not too time-consuming.


Students can fill in their names and either sketch out or write in responses of their group members. Students will fill in responses for every team member as they discuss answers. The teacher will complete only the top row, indicating names and the categories. This activity can be used multiple times with new groups, just change the top row of categories. Younger students can draw in their team members’ responses. This is a great way for students to follow directions and get to know their group members better.

Sample of "Getting to Know You" activity
Favorite Team
Favorite Food
Best Talent

Routine: Gaining Students’ Attention

  • Younger students often enjoy verbal signals. When the teacher needs to gain attention, say loud enough for all students to hear, “1-2-3, eyes on me,” and students will be taught to respond in unison to demonstrate that they are ready to listen by saying, “1-2, eyes on you.”
  • All students can follow a clapping routine. The teacher asks in a voice loud enough for all students to hear, “If you can hear me, clap once.” Students will clap, and then the teacher asks again, “If you can hear me, clap twice.” This routine allows students to prepare to listen.
  • Objects can also be used to communicate that you need students to focus on you. When I was teaching sixth graders, I used a bell. Several of my colleagues used short bursts of music to let students know to stop and listen.

Routines Become Routine!

With any of these routines, regardless of the age level, it is important to practice the routine so that students completely understand your expectations. Remember to praise your students for following the routines and for their quick responses. Starting out the school year with a plan to introduce routines is important. Students appreciate knowing what to expect, and routines are an essential ingredient in an effective classroom.


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