Design and Establish Effective Classroom Routines for a Successful School Year


Designing and establishing classroom routines was not a course that my teachers' colleges offered me. 

I think that was a serious omission on their part. 

We all know that if students are free to move about as they please, when they please, they will do exactly that.  Limiting their choices and restricting their movements do wonders for establishing a conducive learning environment. 

The first step in creating classroom routines is to establish optimal traffic flow patterns.

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Traffic Flow

With the exception of computer labs and science labs, there doesn't seem to be a lot of essential variation from classroom to classroom within the same school.  But, the location of the entry door is sometimes in the left corner, the right corner, or even in the middle. 

How do you want your kids to enter and exit your classroom? 

If you channel them all in one direction, you won't have to worry about them swarming in, knocking stuff off the teacher's desk, and otherwise acting chaotic. 

In my case, my classroom door was in the left corner of the room and my desk was located directly across from it.  As a result, I determined that students entering the room should immediately turn right, proceed to the back of the room, turn left, continue to the appropriate aisle, and then move forward to their assigned seats. 

When exiting the classroom, students would follow the same movement pattern in reverse.

Preparing Students for Entry 

What do you want your kids to accomplish before they enter your classroom? 

I think that we would all agree that students should be prepared for learning when they enter your classroom.  They should have already visited the restrooms.  They should have already had a turn at the water fountain. 

But most importantly, they should have made that visit to their lockers to get what they need for your class:  textbook, paper, something to write with, and anything else that you require them to bring to your class. 

As a language arts teacher, not only did I inform them of what I expected them to bring to my class, I also posted daily reminders on the hallway bulletin board right outside the classroom door. 

If you make this clear to your kids from the very beginning, you won't find yourself in the position of having to write hall passes throughout the class period instead of facilitating learning.  Unless there is a true emergency, I remind students, no one will be allowed to leave my classroom. 

If that sounds a little draconian, remind students that we are in the business of success.  Success requires full participation, attention, and sincere effort.  The kinds of things that they are likely to learn in the hallway, will not likely contribute to their chances of being successful.

Obtaining Classroom Materials

What additional materials will students need after they have gotten to your class, and how will they obtain them? 

On Mondays in my class, for example, students know that they need their reading journals for Readers Workshop.  Their reading journals are actually file folders containing their written responses to writing prompts, a list of prompts to write about, and the rubric to guide their efforts. 

Without these folders, students will have nothing to do during work time.  As a result, I keep these file folders in my classroom so that they will not magically disappear in lockers or end up under beds.

Organizing Classroom Materials 

When they enter my classroom on that particular day and they have gotten to the rear of the room, they get their folders from a document holder that I have labeled to match their seat numbers.  Document holders are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased in your local office supply store. 

Because I have five classes, each numbered slot contains as many as five folders.  To prevent them from standing there sorting through folders to find theirs, I color code the folders. 

Everyone in my first period class has blue folders.  The only blue folder in slot number eight belongs to my first period student, Andrew Garcia.  As a result, Andrew is able to select his folder quickly and then proceed to his seat.  Time for horseplay is radically minimized. 

Boxes of color file folders are slightly more expensive than manila folders, but they are well worth it.  Other than blue, I normally use green, red, yellow, and purple.  The color doesn't matter so much as long as each member of the class has the same color. 

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if students had to sort through a big stack of manila file folders to locate their own? 

On Tuesdays in my class, students know that they will need their writing journals.  Their journals are actually standard composition books that their parents buy for them before the beginning of school.  I store these journals in a bookcase at the back of the classroom that is labeled "Writing Journal Library." 

Once again, I use color coding.  Most composition books have black spines, but there are a few odd variations.  I tape large stick-it notes near the bottom of each spine and direct students to write their assigned seat numbers on the notes so that they are visible when approaching the Writing Journal Library.  The composition books rest on the shelves like regular books--spines placed vertically in a row, organized by color. 

All of my first period students now have a blue file folder and a blue composition book, and they are able to locate them quickly and easily. 

Managing the Pencil Sharpener

As I'm sure you will agree, the pencil sharpener can be the bane of our existence as teachers.  If you allow it, the pencil sharpener becomes the social gathering point within the classroom.  It can also be a primary location for conflicts.  So, it is imperative to include sharpener management as part of your classroom routines. 

Unless you are a math teacher, consider requiring students to use ink only.  However, ink pens can be a tool for classroom disruption--they get "leaky" or busy fingers somehow find ways to break them open, depositing ink all over fingers, clothing, desks, and the floor. 

Now they have an emergency.  They have to go to the restroom to clean up.  Now you have to summon the custodian. 

If you choose to use a pencil sharpener, please consider buying a professional grade sharpener.  Not one of those small electronic things that they issue at the beginning of the school year that never seem to make it through the first grading period. 

Professional grade sharpeners are pricey--around $150 or so.  But they are well worth it.  They are much quieter, much faster, and much more resilient.  The one I purchased about five years ago was still going strong when I retired.  Plus, I ended up selling it to another teacher for $25. 

I require my students as they enter the classroom to use the sharpener once before the beginning of class.  The sharpener is located near the Writing Journal Library, so crossing to the other side of the classroom is not necessary.  Once they have sharpened their pencils for the first time, they're done--any future sharpening must be accomplished with handheld sharpeners at their desks.

Movement During Class

Students have arrived prepared for your class.  They have obtained the necessary materials as you have prescribed, and they have sharp pencils.  Because they have found their seats and begun the warm-up activity, class begins right at the tardy bell. 

There is no need for further movement during class, unless an activity requires it.  No one gets up to throw away trash--trash is kept at each desk for deposit in the trash can at the end of class.  No one balls up paper in preparation for a visit to the trash can.  If they "mess up their paper," they put aside the whole sheet for disposal at the end of class. 

Please consider structuring classroom routines for specific activities during the instructional day by using the CHAMPs Management System.

Dismissing the Class

Establishing effective classroom routines for the dismissal of students is crucial.  The last thing you probably want is for everyone to jump up at the bell and run out of the classroom. 

About three minutes before the final class bell, I call section by section for students to return their materials to their proper locations, deposit trash, and come back to their seats.  When the bell does ring, everyone is prepared to go. 

Students exit in the reverse order that they entered.  Everyone has cleared the room, and I am ready to greet the next group of students.

Implementing Classroom Routines

I begin implementing classroom routines on the second day of school.  Normally on the first day of school,  it is impossible to accomplish much more than to introduce the first warm-up activity, assign seats, check the roll, and explain the first assignment.  Please see the First Day of School page for more details. 

But, I reserve the entire second day of school to explain my classroom routines.  I demonstrate each routine for them.  I step out into the hallway, re-enter the room, and go through it step-by-step.  At the end of my demonstration, I quiz them about what they have just observed. 

I present this quiz in the form of a simple PowerPoint presentation which I display on the classroom television.  There are fifteen multiple-choice questions and five true or false statements.  I include a bonus question at the end.  I explain that if they get the bonus question correct, it will add 10 points to their scores.  If they get it wrong, no points are deducted from their scores. 

It's a win, win situation.  After all, I explain, we are in the business of success. 

Before I advance to the slide that contains the bonus question, I explain that this will require a short answer.  Please use three to five complete sentences to express your response. 

Bonus Question: Why do you think having classroom routines is important? 

After a few minutes of thinking and responding time, I direct students to exchange papers for grading.  Then, I display the answers to the quiz.  In this way, students have immediate feedback about how well they did.  I conclude by explaining what an acceptable answer would be for the bonus question. 

Invariably, I get lots of questions from kids about whether the answer that they are looking at on someone else's paper is acceptable.  And, almost always, it is.

They get it!  They understand the classroom routines, and they know why they are important.  They have bought into it. 

My classroom routines are in place.

Signs for Everything

First, I post my CHAMPs Classroom Management Signs on the main whiteboard.  With that done, I put up signs on almost everything that’s left in my classroom.

This is just simply because it makes it easier for kids to find things.  There are signs for the Writing Journal Library, the Reading Journals, and even a large sign pointing to where the pencil sharpener is located.  There are several more signs throughout the room, but I'll save that for my page on Classroom Design. 

I even have directional signs located at strategic points.  There is a right-turn indicator that greets students when they first enter the classroom.  There is a left-turn sign in the first corner of the room that they encounter, indicating the path of movement. 

Several of my colleagues actually tape large arrows on the floor of the classroom to remind students of the path that they are to take. 

Everything has been thought out, everything is labeled, and there is no room for confusion.

An important tool that may help you to structure such an organized classroom is 125 Classroom Signs for Structure and Organization

Signs included in this collection are…

  • Classroom Entry Signs (19) 
  • Workshop Model Signs (12) 
  • Weekly Agenda/Common Core Signs (24) 
  • Document Center Signs (31) 
  • Classroom Traffic Flow Signs (5) 
  • Classroom Object Location Signs (36)  

Additionally, 68 of these signs will accept your own typing, insuring that what you post on your walls and whiteboards reflects your own unique circumstances.

See complete details here where you may download the Free 12-Sign Sampler, or purchase 125 Classroom Signs for Structure and Organization.


Establishing effective classroom routines requires a considerable amount of thought and effort.  

Kids truly respond positively in a structured environment.  If you can guide them into the discovery of the importance of classroom routines, and if you can get them to buy into them, you will have greatly enhanced your chances for having a successful school year.

But, if you have never used classroom routines before, please consider doing so.  It will be the best time that you ever spent, and it will repay itself over and over again.

Kids truly respond positively in a structured environment.  If you can guide them into the discovery of the importance of classroom routines, and if you can get them to buy into them, you will have greatly enhanced your chances for having a successful school year.

Return to Daily Teaching Tools from Classroom Routines

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