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Set Up for Success: Procedures

I recently got the opportunity to get into my classroom and get the physical space set up for the new school year. I rearranged bookcases for ease of access and organization. I moved my desk to a different location in the room to maximize flow and efficiency. I rearranged the computers in my room to change focus of their use. I arranged students’ desks to foster collaborative working relationships between students. Although my arms and back may have been a bit tired, the real work is still waiting to begin. The arrangement of the physical space of a classroom is a core component to creating an inviting learning environment, but I believe that there are more important needs in a classroom: Procedures.

Procedures and routines are, in my opinion, the critical factors that separate successful classrooms from those who are not. When students know what to expect and feel comfortable in how to carry out their daily routines, there is an ease that fosters success. So, what in your classroom requires a pre-determined routine? Well, everything. Can there be more than one routine for a particular objective? Sure, as long as you teach it. Here are a few of the routines that I establish (and practice religiously) in the first days of school.

Handing Out Papers:

  • Each student in my classroom has a “mailbox” constructed from a standard office mail sorter. I return all papers to the individual student’s mailbox. There are designated times throughout the day when students are allowed to check their boxes. Anything that must be returned is stamped/sticker-ed with a brightly colored notation and also written on the homework board.

Absent Students:

  • If a student is absent, I put all of their papers from the day they are out into their mailbox. Students know that if they have been out, that’s where they should check for their work. I also go ahead and write all due dates on that paper (traditionally, one school day for each day absent).
  • I also keep my own mailbox in our sorter. Students turn in their excuse notes (and any other communication from parents) to my mailbox. I can check it and take appropriate action when it is convenient for me, and I know where they are!

Hallway Travel:

  • Obviously, this tends to be a more primary/elementary issue, but it’s always something to consider. I have students treat hallways like a two-lane road, and they must follow traffic rules for an intersection each time they reach one. I teach students early to stop at each intersection (or if it’s a long hallway, a particular “landmark” like a fire extinguisher or teacher’s door). This helps me to keep my stragglers in check and not end up with half of my line at the destination and the other half still in the room.
  • I don’t do door holders. I know lots of people do. I have adopted the idea that students should work on general, real-world courtesy. They learn to hold the door for the person  behind them with a “tap and go” practice. Hopefully this idea will translate as they are walking into community buildings, as well.

Starting the Day:

  • My students come in the room each day to background music and explicit directions on the board. Even on day 180, I do not assume they remember what to do. They become conditioned to check the board as they walk in each day. I usually remind students to unpack, check their mailboxes, sharpen pencils and use the restroom before the announcements. I also often have a starter assignment for the day. If the starter assignment is a worksheet, it is in their mailboxes.


  • I use a passing system to collect papers. I don’t usually let students go around and pick them up. I don’t always have students pass the exact same way, but there’s always a target.
  • I usually don’t mind if students get up and sharpen pencils during independent working time of a lesson. If I am teaching though, the grind of the sharpener can get a bit distracting. I use an empty cubed tissue box to help my students know when it is not acceptable to get up and walk to the sharpener. The tissue box slides neatly over the sharpener as a great visual cue not to get up right then.
  • When students need help during work time, I have a couple of different ways to organize that. Usually, I have students ask their tablemates for clarification. If the lesson needs to be individual in nature, I hand out red plastic drinking cups. If a student is in need of assistance, he/she can put the cup on the corner of the desk as a cue for me. This trick also works great when in the computer lab because the cups will easily prop on top of the computer monitors.

There are dozens more procedures and routines that are integral parts of my daily classroom life. I probably could not even begin to list them all because they are so ingrained in my own head. They have certainly been honed throughout my ten years of teaching. We often set routines to make our lives easier, but we do not think about how that make learning more effective and more efficient. So, how will you make your students’ lives easier this year?


14 Responses

  1. I have a gazillion procedures and routines – many of them similar to yours. One of the most successful, and most co-opted by other teachers in my school, is the “Velcro Garden.” The stapler, tape dispensers, 3-hole-punch, permanent tissue-box-holder, and other easily-misplaced items. are Velcroed down to the supply table. I find that I rarely have to tell students to put these things back now; the Velcro serves as a visual cue (and I think it makes it a little fun), and so it reminds them to put items away. I can’t possibly emphasize how much this has made my life easier…. And theirs too, since they never forget where things belong!

  2. Another thing that is useful is my beginning-of-class routine, which is posted on the wall all year long. I teach middle school, so I see students for one 70-minute period at a time. When they enter, they silently …
    (1) Get out their HW;
    (2) Begin working on the Do Now, which is always posted in the same spot on the whiteboard;
    (3) Write tonight’s HW in their agenda books when done with the Do Now;
    (4) Bring their Do Now and agenda book to me to be checked (I tell them if they need to go back and try again on the Do Now); and
    (5) Work on enrichment or revisions if done early.

    I have a homework manager who collects all the HW, checks it off on a clipboard, and puts it in a homework tray that is labeled by the class’ section number. This classroom job is changed weekly.

  3. Thanks for adding all these great suggestions Becki! I love the velcro garden 🙂

  4. Oh! I just remembered one more thing on my beginning-of-class routine (see, this is why I keep it posted on the wall all year!)

    After getting the Do Now and agenda approved by me, students go to their folders (like your “mailboxes”), pick up their graded work, and put it in the Graded Work section of their binders.

  5. Great ideas! One of my favorites for passing in papers was to use a stopwatch to time the kids. We would keep track of our record and it was always a BIG DEAL when we set a new record. This helped to eliminate “sluggish” paper passers.

  6. Good post. I too think rules should be minimal and procedures should be geared to consistency and elimination of needless “questions.”

    I create a video each year of my room and all of the things in it. Basically it is captioned (or my 4 year old narrates) and explains the procedures and my 3 rules.

    It is awesome to show it the first day because the students learn with out me having to talk them through the rules. I finally got sick of having a sore throat the first week and talking my head off. Much more effective.

  7. David – I love the idea of the video because it also ensures that all of your students receive the same introductory information… even those that might transfer into your class later in the year. Great tip!

  8. Rather than using a video, I have created a Class Handbook on my website. It has basically everything that a student new to my class needs to know:


  9. Great post. I too use a variety of procedures to make sure my class runs reasonably sanely during the year. I use a procedure similar to your cup idea but I have red, yellow, and green cups which I give to each student at the beginning of class. Then when I go over a new concept with the class as a whole (say during math) I ask students to put a cup up to tell me how they are understanding. Red means “stop I have no idea what you are saying.” Yellow means “okay I kinda get it can we go over a few more examples.” and Green means “I get it enough talking let me do today’s activity.” This also allows me to get a group of kids who are struggling up to my table and not to bore a group that understands stuff- kids are more willing to put up the cups than raise their hands or speak out too- so I use the cups!

    In terms of kids needing help during a lesson, I have a box with numbers in it and a “take a number” sign- then students grab a number if they need my help and I’m working with someone else either individually or in groups. When I’m finished I go to the next number and am able to help the students.

    In terms of morning procedures I like to use my IWB board to write a morning message telling the students what the day looks like, reminding them about certain things (permission slips for instance) and then asking some thought questions that they can answer on the board or some survey questions that they also can answer on the board

    Like you, I’ve a bunch of other ones but these three come to mind based on what you wrote about

  10. […] Set Up for Success: Procedures « Keeping Kids First […]

  11. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  12. Great post, I love your suggestions about procedures:)

  13. I am studying to be a teacher. One of my classes, Classroom Management, requires a portfolio with my plans for room arrangement, procedures and discipline plan. I think I have found a wonderful resource!

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