Tackling Transitions: Classroom Transition Ideas for Beginning, During, and End of Class

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This week we’re tackling classroom transitions! Transition times can be some of the most difficult parts of the day, but we’ve got tips and strategies to help you and your students transition smoothly into and out of class.

We also have great classroom transition ideas for how to move from one activity to another during class.

From timers to juggling to routines and rewards, you can find numerous strategies to choose from in this episode!

Topics Discussed

  • Beginning of class transition time
  • Transitioning to different activities during class
  • End of class transition time
  • General classroom transition ideas


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Howdy, I am Brittany, and I'm here with my friend, Ellie.

Ellie: Hey there.

Brittany: We are here back on today's podcast to discuss classroom transition ideas. There are basically three types of transitions coming into class and getting ready, switching between academic activities or subjects, and then leaving class, all of which are taught through clear explanations, modeling, practice, and then review as needed.

Today, we're going to discuss each type of classroom transition, how we operated transitions in our rooms, and then give you ideas for having successful transitions in your classroom. Let's get started!

So Ellie, what types of entering the class classroom transitions


did you do? How did you set it up so that kids came into your classroom?

Ellie: Well, if we think about the beginning of the day, the very beginning of the day, we had set routines so that students always knew exactly what they were supposed to do. We had a poster in the front of the room that had the routines on there, like go to your locker, get your materials for the first four periods, make sure that you have pencils, sign in on the sign in sheet where they would, um, mark their attendance.

And then some years, I had my homeroom class for my first period and other years I didn't. So, if I had my homeroom class for my first period, I would automatically have them get started on whatever the morning work was for that class. If I did not have them for that first period, then I would have them work on silent reading or, you know, some other task that they had to start doing.


Some type of work that they could do during the few minutes while we were waiting for the bell to ring and announcements to start and that kind of thing. So we always had very set things that they were supposed to be doing when they came in so that they never came in and said, “Oh, what should I do right now?”

So that made transitioning into the day a little bit easier. How about you? If you think about the beginning of the day, did you have something set in place that they were supposed to do?

Brittany: Yeah. So, I usually had a morning agenda up on the board via a slide, up on the screen and it usually had some steps that they were to take, like unpack and put in your lunch order, get your supplies, turn in any work, and then work on, you know, such and such. So, there were usually somewhere between four to


six commands for them up on the screen to do. And they knew where the lunch order system was. They knew where to get the work that they were supposed to work on. You know, it was up on the front table always.

They knew where to turn in work. There were clearly labeled baskets that were for each class or each period. There was a basket if they had a parent note. So that those I could quickly get and read to see if there was something I needed to attend to right away. So yeah, basically kind of the same system, but I had it up on the board instead of a poster. And then they were working while I did attendance, submitted the lunch order,


and then handled any fires that needed to be put out. Sometimes I would play music during that time if I felt like they could handle it, but usually it was kind of just a bustle of energy and they knew that, you know, they weren't really supposed to be like talking and socializing; that it was just like quiet work time to get things done.

Ellie: As you mentioned agenda…I did actually write things on the board as well, but mostly that was for you know, the class period. So first period class, second period class, the agenda would be on the board. So they would follow a similar routine when they switched classes. I think I had a poster for that also of what to do. Like your standard, what you're doing when you come into class, but then the specifics would be in the agenda.


So we would always do in math class, do our spiral review. That was always the first thing that they did when they came in. Some years they worked on the problems when they came in, and then they discussed them. Other years, because I found it was a better use of time, they would come in and discuss the problems because they had done the three problems or whatever it was. They'd done it for homework, so they would come in, compare their answers, and discuss it. And so that would be the first thing on the agenda would be discussing their daily, you know, their Spiral Review.

And then that would give me the chance to walk around, listen to their conversations, make sure they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing, check their homework to make sure it was done. That kind of thing. But when they walked in the room, they knew what to do. So there was really no down time…there wasn't like a big transition time because they came in and this is exactly what's supposed to happen and


they would get to it. It became their habit. So that even if I wasn't there, they knew that they were supposed to do that.

Brittany: Yeah, you want to keep them as busy as possible and not have downtime because that's when problems start.

Ellie: It's almost like bell to bell, there has to be something every minute so that there's no downtime and they don't have to worry about what they're supposed to be doing. And just kind of as a side note, um, if you teach on a team with other teachers, as many of us do in middle school…you might have a team of three or four or five…

It's really helpful if the other team teachers also follow a beginning of the class routine. It doesn't have to be the same as yours, but when kids go from one class on a team where there are routines to another one where there aren't routines, and they're walking in kind of being like, “Oh, what am I supposed to do now?” and there's no direction, that can kind of get them out of the routine mindset and they might walk into your room and be like, “Oh,


well in this class, I didn't really have to do anything right away,” and they need that constant reminder of, “well in this room you do.” If all the teachers on that team are on the same page, as far as that kind of routine, when you get into class, it makes things a little bit easier for teachers and students, so that they always know that they're expecting the same thing, no matter which room they're in.

Brittany: Yeah. Yeah. If you've got one teacher that constantly just lets kids come in and socialize or goof around, it can create an antagonistic kind of relationship. So, yeah. When I taught sixth grade in elementary school, we also had the kids, as one of their agenda items each morning put out their planner on their desk.

And so as we were, you know, getting ready for the day and they were doing their like warmups or spiral


review questions and stuff. We would also go around and check that their parents had signed their planners and see if there were any notes in their planners. And so that was something just for accountability to make sure that, you know, parents had seen things, there weren't any notes.

We could write a note if there was an issue going on and that sort of thing. So that was something we added to the routine as well.

What about switching between activities or between subjects? You kind of mentioned it.

Ellie: So you mean kind of when you're in class and you're going from one task to another within the same classroom? Um, so that, that's can sometimes be the hardest to do just because kids transition at different rates.

You know, even when kids are really little, you can see that there are some kids who are not


ready to stop an activity and move on to the next thing and they need some prompting and such to know that there's going to be a change coming up. So one thing that you can do, if we think about time, is let them know how much time before the next switch is going to happen.

Like we're in the middle of an activity, perhaps. Like say we're doing a Footloose game, we're doing task cards or whatever and I want them to stop at a certain time, I might say, you know, we've got two minutes left. In two minutes, we're going to be moving on to the next thing. In one minute, we're going to be moving on to the next thing. Or setting a timer so that they know how much time is left before they're moving on to the next activity. Or setting a timer when they're actually transitioning to the next activity. Or saying, okay, we're going to now switch from X to Y, from task cards to


book or from book to problem solving, or whatever it happens to be. You've got 30 seconds to get this, this and this out and ready to go.

And I feel like we need to give them very, very specific directions when we're doing transitions. Because I know there are times that I thought my directions were really clear, and then there will be students who didn't know what they were supposed to be doing. So I feel like we need to be more clear than we think we need to be, because they aren't mind readers.

They don't know what we are looking for necessarily. And so directions can be very, very explicit, like, okay, we're going to finish this, but I need you to have this sheet, your pencil, your eraser on your desk, ready to go in 30 seconds instead of just getting your materials out. And then sometimes so that I would be sure that my directions were clear and understood and remembered, I would also


write them on the board. Because, you know, we do have students who have auditory processing disorders or other type of hearing related issues or, you know, learning, issues, and they may not catch all the directions if they're multi step directions. So if we want our transitions to go smoothly, we need to make sure that we give them all the tools to get through them smoothly.

Very clear directions, write the things on the board, that type of thing. What thoughts do you have?

Brittany: Mine was very similar to yours. Uh, I like to give the kids a timer and you know, see if they can beat the timer. You can give the kids like a reward if they can beat the timer, or maybe a reward to the first five kids who beat the timer or something.

And then you, you know, if there is a kid with special needs or whatever, as soon as they get ready, you can give a reward to them for


preparing and getting through that transition. But being very clear with directions and saying you need X, Y, Z, or I've seen in some classrooms where they have, you know, pictures with scissors and pictures of glue and pictures of notebooks and they put them up on the board. So it's a visual cue that you need these, you know, you need these five things. And so kids can look back up and see a visual cue of what they need at their desk.

Sometimes I would have fun with the kids and I would…I like to juggle and so I would say, okay, you have to transition before I drop something.

And so they would try to race against me, and try to beat me before I drop something. So, you know, we wouldn't do that every day, but it was


something that we would do periodically to just try to have a little fun with the transition and get them moving quickly.

But you definitely have to like, you know, if they're socializing or goofing off during transitions, you need to go back and then practice and rehearse and go through it again and again and again, and it feels like it's a waste of time right then.

But in the long run, it's going to help your classroom run a lot smoother. Then, then if you just kind of let it go and let it get worse and worse and worse.

Ellie: Thinking about the timers again…I would basically use myself as a timer, a lot of the time…I would either count up or I would count back most of the time from five or from 10.

And it ended up kind of being a game because I would get to one and not everybody would be ready and then I would start going by fractions and I'd be like a half, a


quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth, a thirty-second, and I would keep going. I think the farthest I ever got was like one two hundred and fifty-sixth or something like that.

But it, you know, once they started hearing the fractions, they knew that they had to really move it because they were almost to zero and I'm hopeful that by doing that, numerous times, they started to understand that those are fractions that are between one and zero. So, you know, knowing that that those fractions are getting closer to zero, but they seem to get a kick out of that, even though it wasn't something fun like juggling…I wasn't as much fun as that. Um, they did seem to get a kick out of the fraction part and doing the countdown like that.

Brittany: Yeah, and I think transitioning between activities can be, like you mentioned, hard for some kids who do have auditory processing disorders or, you know, might have visual processing disorders or who have


issues with just like neatness and organization. And so their tote or their locker or their desk is a disaster. And so, they can't find their yellow folder or, you know, and so they're hunting and hunting and it's folded in fourths, but down in the bottom of their desk, or their locker, or whatever. And so, you know, you need to, to practice with them and work on organization with them and stuff over time.

And, you know, maybe they need to miss a recess or stay a little bit after school and you work on reorganizing their desk or reorganizing their lockers with them to help them.

Ellie: We were lucky. We had a ninth period where, um, students were in their homerooms and if they went to chorus, or band, or something like that, they would be gone.

But then if they didn't go to those things, they were typically there. And that was a great opportunity to


be able to work with them on things like that.

Brittany: That's nice. Yeah, we had a study hall usually at the end of the day for half an hour. Where we could do things like that usually, so….

Ellie: Alright, and then there's the transition to leaving class. What kind of tips do you have for that?

Brittany: My number one tip for that is to teach the kids that the bell or the clock does not dismiss them. That you, the teacher, dismiss them.

What about you?

Ellie: Same thing. I think we also had…I had another poster for the things that had to be done before they left the room.

And that was…their floor was supposed to be clean. They all had to be sitting down. They all had to have their materials ready to go. Their homework had to be written down. So, we kind of had a little checklist of things that they were supposed to do. And naturally, some of them didn't want to do those things or


do those things in, um, exactly the way that we would like. So, you know. So some fun things that we might do in order to get them to do that is say, you know, okay, the group with the cleanest floor is going to be dismissed first. Or the group that has all of their homework written down first is going to be the first to leave and then check that group. Or the group that is the quietest, or is the most organized, you know, whatever that kind of criteria you want to have can be used to dismiss them.

Brittany: Yeah, that works really well. Yeah. Another thing you can do it upon exit time is like exit tickets, or give the kids a sticky note and have them write a reflection. Or a question they still have, or rate themselves on how they're understanding the information and have to turn that in before they're allowed to leave.

And that kind of controls the outflow so


it's not a rush to the door kind of thing.

Ellie: Yeah, I had an exit ticket poster in my room that was numbered from 1 to 30. And every student in the room had a number, a class number. So, they would take those post-its at the end of the class, if I had an exit question or something, and they would write their number on the post-it, write their work and their answer, and then put their post-it on their number on the exit poster.

So, they would go do that, and then when they were done, they were allowed to leave. So like you said, that kind of controlled the flow a little bit. I didn't do it every day, but it was a good way some days to do that check, first of all. And then to get them out of the room in a slightly different way, a little bit more quietly.

One thing I also made them do sometimes is I made them stand behind their chairs. Before they left to see that they were all pushed in. Because


you know how the not pushed in chair can sometimes cause a fall or cause, you know, some issue for other kids if they're bumping into it. So, I would make them stand behind the chair before they were allowed to be dismissed.

Brittany: Yeah. We had to, at the end of the day, we had to put our chairs upside down on top of our desks. So that was the way that we dismissed at the end of the day. So, yep. Yep.

Ellie: Yep. We did that too. Yeah.

So having successful transitions can be an art form that comes with time, and even though every year is different, you can learn to master these periods of time with practice, ingenuity, and discipline.

Brittany: Be sure to hit follow or subscribe so you never miss an


episode of the Teaching Toolbox podcast. We'll see you later.

Ellie: Have a great day.

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