Classroom Transition Strategies

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Whether you teach preschool, high school or any other grade, you deal with transitions on a daily basis. Transitions include any time you stop one activity and go to another, such as switching to a new subject or going to a different area of the school. Taking control of transitions means you will spend less time organizing the kids so you can get right to the activities.

1 Review the Schedule

The way you arrange your classroom schedule affects the number and type of transitions you do with the kids every day. Small changes can make the day run smoothly, and you’ll have fewer disruptions. For example, you might schedule a bathroom break right after P.E. when the class is already in the hallway. If your class has special activities near the end of the day, stop at the lockers on the way back to the classroom.

2 Use Routines

Consistency with transitions helps your students learn what you expect and how they should use the transitions. Before you teach a routine to your students, you need a clear idea of how you want the routine to happen. You might assign each table a number that you call out so they can line up by number instead of all at once. Another important part of the routine is to prepare for the transition. Students might need to clear their desks and wash their hands at the class sink before they line up for lunch. At the end of the day, ask the students to assemble the materials they'll take home so they’ll have the material ready when they line up to get their backpacks from lockers. Once you know what you expect, teach the kids. Model what you want them to do. Let the kids practice several times so you can give them feedback. With practice and a consistent routine, the students will move through the transitions automatically.

3 Have Signals

Part of establishing an effective routine is to use signals with the students. You can use a variety of signals to let the kids know how to transition. A verbal cue is a simple option. You might have a keyword or a short phrase that tells the kids which transition is coming up. A hand signal is another option. You might raise your hand with two fingers to indicate that it’s time to get quiet. Different hand signals can indicate where you're going or how the kids should transition. You might use a fist to indicate switching to a new subject in the classroom, one finger to indicate a bathroom break and two fingers to indicate the transition to a special activity. Using music or other sounds give you another option. A specific song might mean to clean up and prepare for transition. Playing a certain rhythm on a keyboard or small xylophone can be the signal to line up. Choose signals that are easy for you to use.

4 Engage Students

Sometimes, students need extra motivation to transition according to your expectations. Point out students who are following the transitions correctly. Say, "I like the way Sam is standing straight and tall, facing forward and keeping his voice off in line. Thank you, Sam!" This reminds other students how they should act. Limit the amount of time students spend waiting during transitions. One option is to give the kids something to do. They might repeat a song or chant that they should face forward and keep their hands to themselves when they line up. When waiting in line for a drink, students can sing, "1, 2, 3, save some for me," as a classmate drinks. This keeps the kids engaged and keeps the drinks short. Give the kids some leadership opportunities, such as choosing a line leader, door holder and line caboose. The caboose can be the reporter when you arrive at your destination to let you know how well the other students did.

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.