The Best Tips for Teaching Procedures in the Classroom

Text says "How to Teach Procedures in the classroom." Photo shows a teacher facing a class of students with their hands raised while they look at her.

Need tips for teaching procedures in the classroom? Learn what classroom routines you should teach and step by step methods to teach these procedures.

Classroom procedures are the heart of strong classroom management. Having clear routines helps students know what to do and frees up the teacher’s energy for in-the-moment instructional decisions. Teaching these procedures in the classroom needs to start from Day 1 – and then revamped periodically, as needed.

I remember the first year I had 1:1 iPads. I was lucky enough to be involved in a pilot program for my district. There was a LOT to learn! One of the biggest challenges in my classroom was putting the iPads away. 

The district gave me lovely locking storage boxes that served as charging stations, as well. But the first few times I had my students put the iPads away, it was a nightmare! It took them forever to slip the devices into the slots. Then some kids tried to plug them in, which took even longer. The line went the length of my classroom, because I had placed the pair of storage boxes side by side.

I quickly realized I needed some new classroom specific to these devices. The first step was moving the two storage boxes to opposite ends of the classroom, so more kids could access them at once. Then I quickly demonstrated (and had kids practice and practice) how to slip them into the slots. Once they could do that quickly, we learned to plug them in, but only at the end of the day. These clear procedures made using the devices much easier – and allowed me to devote my attention to how the iPads could enhance instruction!

Tips for Teaching Procedures in the Classroom:

First, before school begins, identify key procedures you need to teach your students. Think through your school day, step-by-step. What things will the students be doing every day? Think especially about the times you will not be in front of them teaching or giving directions – arrival, classroom transitions, etc. What should they be able to do independently during these times?

As you identify procedures to teach, remember that you are dealing with small humans. Do not envision them acting like silent robots who perform every act perfectly. This isn’t realistic. They will talk and whisper as they transition. School is a social event for them, and the social interaction enhances their learning. It’s okay. Allow for a little noise, but create plans to prevent total chaos!

In particularly, think classroom routines that might take too long. How can you change things to prevent wasted time? For instance, if student writing folders are stored in a central location, consider at least two bins in different parts of the room for storage. Then you will have two lines of students putting folders away, instead of only one. Making the line shorter speeds up the transition and minimizes the opportunity for impatient pushing.

Procedures in school are less about student compliance and more about efficient use of time and space in the classroom. You want to maximize the time you have with your students!

Common procedures to teach in grades K-2 include:

  • every step in your morning routine (from the minute the enter the building to the minute you start the day – where to put coats, backpacks, notes, etc.)
  • attendance and lunch count (find details in this post)
  • attention signal (teacher)
  • pencils (sharpening, exchanging for a sharp one)
  • getting the teacher’s attention (during whole group, small group, etc.)
  • bathroom breaks (leaving the room, bathroom behavior, etc.)
  • getting a drink
  • what to do after they have finished work
  • daily classroom routines such as independent reading, partner reading or math centers (how to use the materials, how to clean up)
  • lining up
  • breakfast/lunch/snack
  • every new material (getting it, using it safely, putting it away)
  • cleaning up and coming back to the carpet
  • using the classroom library
  • lost (or missing) supplies
  • homework (distributing it, collecting it)
  • emergency drills (fire, tornado, lockdown)
  • recess activities
  • packing up for dismissal (learn more in this post)

How to Teach the Procedures

First start with from day one. Identify 5-7 key procedures that you want to teach on the very first day. Then teach another 2-4 procedures each day after that. Continue as needed – and revisit the process to add new procedures mid-year.

Once you have identified the procedure you are going to teach, start by modeling it. Use words and actions to demonstrate the procedure. For example, say, “When you finish with a book, put it back in the book box. Make sure it is right side up and facing forward so other kids can tell what book it is.” Then demonstrate putting the book away carefully.

Ask for a few volunteers to model the procedure.

Create a chart with some kind of visuals. You can sketch the steps or add photos of students in the class modeling the procedure.

If feasible, engage the entire class in the procedure. For my example, you can give each child a book to look at (probably from several different book boxes so putting them away doesn’t take too long.) After a few minutes with the book, refer to the chart and have the students put the books away. Start with only a few students so everyone can watch them model the procedure and you can narrate the steps they are doing (“Oh, she remembered to turn it around, so we can se the cover!”) 

Photo of picture books in a clear plastic storage box.

Refer to the chart again so students can reflect on how they did. (“Did you make sure your book was facing forward?”)

Revisit the procedure daily as long as needed. Sometimes kids settle into routines in a few days; other times it takes a few weeks. Frequently you will need to revisit the procedures, especially at the following times:

  • every day until the routines are familiar
  • Monday mornings at the beginning of the year
  • following school breaks

Are you looking for more specific details about key classroom routines?

Keep reading…  The next section provides more detailed information about morning arrival routines, attendance and lunch count, getting students’ attention, end of the day routines, and more.

What might your routines look like?

Morning Routine

This is one of the more complex routines in many classrooms. Students arrive in the classroom at different times and some routines don’t apply to all students (for instance, hanging up a jacket on a warm day or handing in notes from home.)

I’ve dedicated an entire post to the important routines as students arrive at school. The most important tip for a complex routine such as this is to provide a clear visual where students can consult it every day, as needed. Print these FREE morning routine cards to help your students remember the steps of their morning routine.

Image of 9 classroom routines that can be used when teaching procedures in the classroom: bathroom, wash hands, greet teacher, sharpen pencils, lunch count, backpack, water bottle, read books and do a puzzle.

Remember to plan for what students can do when the morning routines finish. I am a strong advocate of a “soft start” to the school day – this allows students to relax and interact with friends in a semi-structured way once they finish a few necessary tasks. Read this post to learn how soft starts differ from traditional morning work.

Attendance and Lunch Count

This routine, which is part of morning arrival, is brief but critical. Teachers accomplish attendance and lunch count in lots of different ways. One of the simplest involves name sticks in cups – you can check attendance and lunch count in one simple step. See this post for other creative ways to handle attendance and lunch count.

Attention-Getting Routine

This is a critical routine to get in place from day one. You will use it throughout the day – to quiet a noisy class, to end a turn-and-talk, to end snack time/centers/independent reading. 

Before students arrive, choose one “favorite” way to get kids’ attention – and a few back-up ideas. I use the back-ups when I want to add variety to the day, or if my favorite attention getter doesn’t work for this setting (like I’m too far away from my chimes.)

Photo of hanging metal chimes used to get students' attention.

You might choose from any of the following:

  • ring a wind chime or musical chime
  • ring a doorbell
  • use a clapping pattern (you clap a pattern and students echo it back)
  • “If you can hear my voice, say ‘sh.’” (Start by saying this quietly and seeing who responds, then get a bit louder until the whole class responds.
    • other options: clap once, smile at me, touch your head

Call and response chants are also fun to use. Here are some examples:

  • Teacher: 1, 2, 3, eyes on me. / Students: 1, 2, eyes on you.
  • Hocus pocus. / Everybody focus.
  • Macaroni and cheese. / Everybody freeze.
  • Marco / Polo
  • Peanut butter / Jelly

Just like the other routines, model and practice this one frequently. In the first few weeks of school, you might think of “trivial” reasons to interrupt students, such as a five-minute warning to complete a task, or to highlight the good work a student did. These trivial interruptions allow the perfect opportunity to practice the attention signal, with an actual reason for needing students’ attention.

What to Do When Work is Finished

Students finish work at different times – this is part of teacher life. Then they need something else to do while others finish. My favorite routine for these kinds of classroom transitions is to give students a choice of 2-3 somewhat rewarding (but not-too-exciting) activities. Some examples include:

Photo of a card game that shows longs and cubes (place value blocks.)

Cleaning Up and Gathering on the Carpet

This is always a challenging transition. It’s often hard for kids to stop what they are doing and move to a new activity (I can totally relate!)

As often as I can, I like to turn it into a game. I challenge students to clean up:

  • faster than the other table groups
  • before a fun song ends
  • before I count to 10 (or down to 0)

Sometimes I offer a rewarding activity to entice kids to hurry. Some of my favorites include a fun read-aloud or a short brain break video. This also allows a longer (and compassionate) transition for that child who really wants to just finish the last little bit.

Packing Up Routine

The end of the day can be trying for even the most patient teacher. Everyone is ready to go home, but there are so many small things to do before you can leave. Check out this post for the fine details of simplifying the end of the day routine.

My biggest tip… pack up before the end of the day! You might try it before snack time. This lets kids take a bit longer to pack backpacks, if they like (they just have less time to eat). It also allows you to have time to help them because the other kids are occupied with snack.

As you get ready to start the new school year, be sure to spend time thinking about teaching procedures in the classroom. This is a time where you “go slow to go fast.” Teaching procedures in the classroom carefully and intentionally at the beginning of the year will pay off months down the road when your class transitions from activity to activity with ease! 

Want to read more about how to teach classroom procedures? Here are my two favorite books on the subject:

Book Cover from The Daily 5.
Book cover from The First Six Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom, which explains in detail teaching routines in the classroom.

Learn about more classroom routines that build community:

Photo of class raising their hands in front of a smiling teacher holding a book. Text says "6 Key Procedures to Teach Your Class."

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