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Building a Better Classroom One Strategy at a Time

by Model Teaching | August 14, 2018.


Do you find yourself exhausted at the end of every school day? Your throat hurts from all of the talking, and you never seem to make it through everything you had planned? If you are like most teachers, you have become accustomed to this feeling and can’t imagine anything different. But it CAN be different by effectively implementing just a few classroom strategies. In this article we will be looking at three strategies that can turn any classroom from total chaos to a more efficient, well-run learning environment.

Building a Better Classroom

Smooth Transitions

Transitions are the most frequent occurrence in classrooms today. Students are moving from one activity to the next, from the carpet back to their desk, and from one classroom to another. If we are not careful, students can lose up to 20 minutes of learning a day due to transitions. It is imperative that they run smoothly. But how do we do that?

Whether students are transitioning from group work to independent practice, or Math to Science, students must be made aware of what is expected. This should be done in the same manner each time:

  1. Get everyone’s attention.
    Before giving the directions, make sure you have every student’s attention. Have them stop what they are doing, put their pencils down, and listen for their next steps. You will have a much higher success rate of them doing what you have asked, than if you just begin speaking.
  2. Start your directions with, “When I say go.”
    How many times have you started to give directions, and the entire class begins before you have even finished? Starting your directions with this phrase allows you to finish before students begin to move.
  3. Give directions in short, detailed steps in the order they should be completed.
    Students can get overwhelmed when they are given many steps at one time. Only state two to three at a time, and present them in the order they should be completed. The shorter the steps, the more likely your students will remain focused and listen through to the end.
  4. Have the students repeat the steps back to you.
    This ensures all students are listening and know what to do. It also allows students who were not paying attention or have receptive language delays to hear it a second time.
  5. Set a time limit.
    Some students will take 5 minutes to do something that can be done in 15 seconds if you let them. Give an appropriate time limit for the transition. This can be done using a timer, counting up or back from a specific number, singing a song, saying a class chant, saying the alphabet, or anything else that gives students a specific amount of time. Be sure and let the students know in your directions what their time limit is!
  6. Give the students permission to begin.
    This allows you the opportunity to make sure all students know what they are about to do before you give them the signal. It also gives students time to ask any questions they may have before the transition begins.
  7. Observe.
    Watch to make sure all students are in compliance. If you do not like what you see, make them stop and try again. Consistency is the key!

Have An Attention Getter

Whether students are working in groups, excited about a project, or just plain chatty, the classroom can get noisy sometimes. Having an effective way to get everyone’s attention and have the class focus back on you is a must. Attention getters are a great way to do just that!

An attention getter is a verbal or non-verbal signal you use to get your students’ attention. It can be something as simple as ringing a bell, or something more interactive such as you saying, “Winner, winner” and the class responds with “chicken dinner!” There are thousands to choose from. Pick one that matches your personality, as well as your students.

Let’s look at a few tips for implementation:

  1. Choose just one! No matter how hard it is to choose, you only want one attention getter in your classroom. Having more than one can be confusing for both you and your students.
  2. Never move on until every student is silent and eyes are on you. This is the biggest mistake teachers make when using attention getters. The teacher says her part, the students say their part and then immediately they get back to their work while the teacher begins talking. Remember, the point of an attention getter is not only to get them quiet, but also to focus their attention back on you.
  3. Practice makes perfect! It is important to take the time to practice this attention getter early in implementation. Constant reminders and requiring students to practice multiple times each day the first few weeks will help to ensure fidelity.
  4. Be consistent. Don’t try to get your students’ attention any other way. If you want their attention, even if it is quiet in the room, use the attention getter. Remember, consistency is key!

Its All About Pacing

How many times do you find yourself saying to your colleagues, “I didn’t get to that yet!” It’s a common phrase used in education. We have so many things to teach, but just not enough time. Implementing a few pacing strategies can make a big difference when it comes to time in the classroom.

  1. When planning, give every student task a time allotment. Write it out to the side in your plans. This includes tasks such as: practice problems, turn and talks, journal writes, copying notes, partner activities, and independent practice. Any task you are asking a student to complete should have a time allotment associated with it. This not only keeps you on track, but also helps students know how quickly they need to work.
  2. Have a timer ready at all times! When you give the students a task, let them know how much time they will have. Set the timer and project it on the wall for them to see. Remember, set it for everything, big or small.
  3. Give verbal reminders of the time remaining. Some students become so involved in their assignment they forget to check the board to see how much time is left. This keeps all students on track to finish in the allotted time. Be sure and give more frequent reminders the closer to the end it gets!
  4. When the timer goes off, do not ignore it! Assess where everyone is on the task. If most of the students are still working, let them know you are giving them more time and reset the timer. If most students are finished, move on. Don’t wait for just a few. If you are constantly ignoring the timer and giving extra time, students will begin to see that it means nothing. Follow through is critical!
  5. It’s not set in stone. If most students finish a task before the timer goes off, do not wait on the timer. Move on. When there is down time, there will also be behavior issues.

Having a more efficient, well-run classroom is every teacher’s goal, and these strategies will definitely help you get there.  However, it is important to remember that implementing any strategy takes time and practice before it can truly become a part of your daily classroom.

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Transition Running Record Tracker

Use this tool to help you track the effectiveness of your classroom transitions.  Track your classroom for a few days and see what types of transitions take the most time then focus your attention on improving your student management for those specific activities.


Take the Classroom Transition Running Record back to your classroom. Spend the next day collecting data on your transitions. What do you see? Begin giving directions the way it is recommended in the smooth transition section of the article. Spend two weeks implementing with fidelity, and then go back and use the running record once more. Have the weak areas improved?

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