Have you ever had an administrator step into your room unexpectedly, at just the wrong moment? Maybe you’re taking attendance or handing back papers, you’re in a transition between activities, or students are finished with their assignment for the day. They’re chatting loudly, maybe even out of their seats or tossing paper, and that’s when Principal Smith wanders in, eyebrow firmly raised.
Alternatively, have you had a surprise visit from an administrator at just the right moment? Students are 100% engaged on a rigorous task, seamlessly following procedures and politely interacting with each other as they accomplish their work. Well, if you want every moment to be the right moment, keep reading!
Back when I was a student, my favorite classes were the ones that were well managed. Of course, as an adolescent, I couldn’t really articulate what “well managed” meant, but I knew what it felt like: calm, safe, and fun. My favorite classes weren’t run by Draconian teachers who never let us talk or leave our seats, but they also weren’t chaotic or confusing.
The teachers of these classes made it look easy. Maybe that’s because it felt easy as the students in those rooms. The rules were clear and reasonable, the routines were effective, and an anticipated schedule kept us humming along.
Of course, as a teacher, you know a classroom like this doesn’t just happen. It may look effortless to others, but it takes some thought and planning to achieve the student behavior you need in order to execute your lessons effectively.
Fortunately, the work you put into this will mostly happen in the beginning, as you determine your expectations and help students master their classroom behavior and procedures. From there, you will simply be maintaining this environment.
Interested in creating a classroom that your students will love with no need to fear an unplanned principal drop-in? Consider these tips!
1. Use Bell Ringers
A lot of classroom chaos occurs in the first few minutes of class. Maybe students are coming in from home, gym, or lunch. They’re seeing some of their friends for the first time that day, and they’re eager to reconnect and recount their day with others. With the teacher busy taking attendance, handing back papers, or conferencing with students who entered the class with a question or issue, students see this as a prime time for socializing.
Unfortunately, the first few minutes often set the tone for the rest of the period. A class that begins in disorder can be hard to refocus!
This is where bell ringers come in.
What is a bell ringer?
It’s a small activity that students begin their class with. Once the routine for bell ringers is established, students will come into your class and begin their work at the bell without even being asked. No time for socializing because students will have a focus in the very beginning. This will also leave you time to manage your early housekeeping tasks (attendance, passing back papers, etc.) in peace.
Bell ringers come in all types. Some teachers use them for grammar or vocabulary practice, others use quick journal prompts.
You can tailor your bell ringers to your current unit, having students identify figurative language in a class novel, recreate sentences like ones in a short story, reflect on a conflict in their reading, etc.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of creating all of these little warm-ups on your own, or if you would like some great ideas for new ones, click here to pick up a set for the grade(s) you teach – enough for a full year!
Another bonus of bell ringers is that this routine will help you pack in the standards you need to teach and spiral in learning for review.
If you’re wondering about the details of implementing these in your classroom, visit our blog post to read more.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the idea of grading all of them, take a listen to this podcast!
It’s perfectly okay to offer participation points before reviewing the bell ringers as a class or selecting a random bell ringer each week to grade.
2. Use the “15 Minutes” Classroom Management System
So now that your first 5-10 minutes of class is managed, how about that long section in the middle? Caitlin’s “15 Minutes” system has you covered! This system uses 100% positive reinforcement, encouraging polite and productive behavior by awarding points that lead to a reward.
Now, keep reading before you roll your eyes.
We know that you may have used reward systems in the past and gotten burned on them. It can be hard to keep track of who is earning what, and these systems often fall apart once the teacher has too much trouble using them consistently.
That is exactly why “15 Minutes” is so effective.
Here is how it differs from other, more complicated classroom management systems:
- The class works together, not individually. You only have to keep track of one set of points for each class. Bonus: this encourages cooperation, as students encourage each other to use the right behavior and procedures!
- The points are easy to keep track of. You can read more in Caitlin’s post, but the gist is that you will give your students a set amount of seconds (usually 5, but it can be more for big things like behaving for a substitute). You will add these seconds to the class’s “time” each time they earn them. For example, if students are at 3:15 and walk quietly in a single file line to the computer room, their time goes up to 3:20.
- There is one big reward (per marking period) rather than individual rewards. Basically, the whole class gets a big reward if they reach 15 minutes by the end of a month, quarter, semester, etc. You can choose this reward as a class at the beginning of the marking period, but some great ideas include a board or card game day, an outdoor class period, or a class party.
If you’d like more specifics on this awesome classroom management strategy, listen to Caitlin and Jessica’s recent podcast.
3. End With SSR (Sustained Silent Reading)
Now it’s the end of the class period. Students are starting to eyeball the clock, and some are beginning to put away their things, anticipating the traffic to their next class. It’s a hard time to pack in more learning tasks, but you don’t want to waste precious academic minutes by letting the class become a free-for-all, either.
This is why SSR makes a great end-of-class activity for your daily schedule. Not only does it promote reading for enjoyment, but it gives you time to work with students in small groups or hold individual conferences at the end of class.
How you implement SSR (or whatever acronym/name you use for it) is up to you. For example, you may want to have all students begin reading at a certain time, or you may want to have students begin reading once their last assignment for the day is finished. You can have them read in their seats, or if you have a comfy environment with bean bag chairs, etc., you can allow them to move to a cozier spot.
If you have a classroom library, this will make it easier. If not, you may want to take a monthly class trip to the library for students to replenish their books.
We also highly recommend teaching students how to self-select their books, so they choose ones they will truly enjoy! Reading the first chapter of a book once a week, having students volunteer to share their favorite books, and talking about the young adult books you’re currently reading can all help students get a sense of what is out there.
And that’s it! Consider these three ideas as you develop this year’s classroom routine. You’ll be happy you did the next time you hear the productive hum of students working together, the peaceful quiet of students reading on their own, and the happy feeling of visitors entering your classroom at all these right moments.