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Simple Classroom Transitions
20 effective transitions in the classroom.
“If you can’t line up quietly, then we will sit back down and try again.” I know I’ve said it over and over again. After 8 years of teaching I’ve come to a realization that lining up quietly isn’t always the best way to line up (because you don’t even want to know how many times we “try again” when the class isn’t quiet).
Transitions can be fun and loud!
Transitions don’t necessarily need to be quiet procedures. Entering the classroom in the morning doesn’t have to be done without talking. Students can have something to say as they walk over to the rug. They enjoy singing as they clean up the classroom, and love a fun lining up chant. Quiet doesn’t always equate to quick. Transitions are routines that are used regularly as a way to smoothly shift students from one activity to another in an effort to save valuable instructional time. Why not make them engaging and fun? Because, students already spend enough time listening and quietly working during a school day.
This is why we created fun and energetic transitions for the classroom. Our students love giving each other Shout Outs and they love the energetic Attention Getters, so why not let them transition in a fun and energetic way as well!
To begin, I select just a few transitions to implement. Once students become fluent in those routines, I add more transitions into their repertoire. We designed multiple ways to use and display transitions.
As I introduce transitions to students, I use the the projectable slides or posters with the written directions to help everyone remember the procedures.
4 Types of Transitions
- Entering the classroom
- Starting an activity
- Changing activities
- Exiting the classroom
Try Our transitions in your classroom today!
Efficient transitions are an important part of quality classroom management and can positively influence your classroom culture. You can easily implement these 20 fun and engaging transitions by clicking on the image below.
Want to learn more about teaching strategies and how they impact the classroom? You can read more about core teaching strategies
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Classroom Transition Activities
Smooth and timely transitions are key to a successful classroom! Oftentimes, valuable instruction time can be wasted if students can’t easily transition from one activity to the next. The biggest thing I try to get out of my transition time is that my students are calmed down quickly and ready to focus. Here are five quick ways that I use transition activities during the day!
One quick transition that my students enjoy is number circles. I’ve used this in various ways, but with multiples of a given number is probably the most effective and favorite. Students stand in a circle and quickly count one at a time by a given number. I will pick an end number before we start playing, and if you’re that number you must sit down. Students enjoy counting quickly and have to listen to each person before them. To take up less time, I split the class in to two groups to play.
My students also love fitness challenges in the hallway! The key to this is that all fitness challenges must be silent. They love doing walking lunges from one room to the next! On occasion, I will do the same challenges to transition between center activities.
Freeze, floor is lava, and Andy is coming! To get my students attention quickly in the hallway or classroom, I will shout one of these three phrases. In freeze, the students must stand as if they are frozen. When the floor is lava, students must fit on only one floor tile. If Andy is coming, they must lay down like a toy on the floor. These are great, quick ways to get around the building and get their attention.
Quickest clean up—My students are super messy! Currently, they are grouped in teams, and teams can earn points for special rewards. As soon as certain lessons are over, I ask them to complete their work and clean up their desk area. After this, they can get up and help straighten up the room (bookshelf, sink, floor, etc). If I notice that a team has more than half of their members up cleaning, I give them bonus points. Not only are they quiet, but they help get our room organized too!
Simply playing music and letting them dance for 30 seconds is pretty effective too! My kids enjoy when I play popular music and let them move about the room. The only catch is that it can’t get too crazy or loud. When the music stops they must immediately be ready for their next activity.
Whichever transition activity I pick, it is clear that the biggest factor for success is expecting the best from my students. They need to know what my expectations are prior to, during, and after transition activities or it is likely that I will not use that transition again. Also, as often as I can I try to not have my students sitting for long periods of time. I think this helps with transitioning too! With smooth transitions in place, the day will be less stressful for both me and my students.
Get students moving and learning with these equipment-free classroom activity breaks ! The research shows that active students learn better – they are more focused, have better attitudes, and perform better throughout the school day. So what’s stopping you? Add more physical activity to your class’ daily routine with these five simple , yet effective ideas.
Add Classroom Transition Activities to Your Room!
Jessica Tice is currently in her fifth year of teaching Kindergarten at Western Elementary in Scott County, Kentucky. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Teacher Leadership and English as a Second Language.
Tice is a mom to two very busy boys that are active in school, soccer, and scouts. She enjoys working out daily and instilling that same value in her students by incorporating physical activity and purposeful movement throughout the school day.
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Mastering Classroom Transitions
Move students in and out of class and between activities smoothly to save valuable instruction time.
While facilitating a demo lesson in front of eight Georgia instructors, my credibility crumbled when 35 cranky middle graders gridlocked themselves in a failed attempt to move their desks into small groups. Charitably, the observing teachers pretended not to notice.
Botched transitions are not only embarrassing, they’re lost time. If you save 15 minutes a day through more efficient transitions, that will result in 45 extra hours of instructional time per year. Therefore, shifting students from one task to the next is worth getting right.
There are essentially three types of transitions: entering class and taking a seat, switching from one academic activity to another, and exiting class. And just like any academic procedure, transitions are taught through explicit explanations, clear models, rehearsal, and review.
Whether students are transitioning from reading to math, or PE to the drinking fountain, author Mike Linsin recommends standardizing the process with five steps that I paraphrase this way:
- Secure students’ attention: “Focus on me, please.”
- Explain the procedure: “In a moment, return to your desks and take out your history textbooks.”
- Prepare kids for the signal to start: “When I say ‘smooth,’ you’ll quietly proceed.”
- Initiate the transition: “And... smooth .” Don’t say “go,” warns Linsin, because that word cues students to race.
- Observe: Watch to make sure all students are complying.
When transitions take too long or learners misbehave, it’s time to don your figurative Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and reflect on these questions:
- Did I provide too many or too few directions?
- Did the transition catch kids off guard when they were absorbed in an activity?
- Did too many kids have nothing to do?
- Are there specific students who created chaos?
After answering those questions, try some of the techniques described below.
When transitions take too long: To counter students dragging their feet, announce how many seconds are left before the next event begins. Teachers like Tyler Hester take out a stopwatch and challenge kids to beat the transition times of other classes ( see a video example at the 35 minute mark ). And here’s a personal secret: Slowly counting down from five in a booming voice never fails to accelerate transitions.
When procedures aren’t followed: Lining up her students at the end of the day was a problem for one fifth-grade teacher. Her challenging class often erupted into fights, and the assistant principal chewed her out for delaying the buses. As a solution, she affixed black dots to the floor three feet apart for students to stand on and provided more time for packing belongings. After a few practice sessions, her students’ dismissal behavior improved.
Any transition benefits from showing young students how to ninja walk . Other routines are equally engaging; Watch Madeline Noonan’s fifth graders ready themselves in “super scholar style” or with “word of the day” signals.
A number of studies show that reminders called precorrectives reduce misbehavior during transitions. Right before a transition, ask a child to describe the proper progression of steps for, say, entering the class after recess. Or play “ correct the teacher ” by performing examples and non-examples while learners indicate incorrect actions with a thumbs-down signal. Then call on someone to articulate or model the correct procedure.
In another precorrective, described by the National Association for the Education of Young Children , a child walks through the procedure while the teacher narrates: “Let’s watch Noel at the sink. First, she turns the handles a bit. What does she need next? That’s right, soap! She pumps once because that is all she needs. Now she is rinsing off the bubbles and is ready for her paper towel. How many pulls does she need? Let’s say it together—one, two, that will do!”
Finally, an effective strategy for reteaching transitions is simply to direct the entire class to start over. Budget extra time for do-overs during the first two weeks of class and be patient. As the Navy SEALs say, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
When students don’t want to quit what they’re doing: Have you ever seen a boy wail when bedtime is announced? More than likely, he felt blindsided. In the classroom, many kids feel the same volcanic emotions when asked to stop doing an activity that absorbs them. However, displaying a countdown timer, like E.ggtimer.com , Online-Stopwatch.com , or Timer-Tab.com —when combined with verbal time signals—helps students anticipate and prepare for an approaching transition.
When younger children get distracted: In an article on transitions, Sarah E. Mathews cites a 2007 study that showed how “children appeared excited to engage in many routines that were part of music.” Singing the following song, says Mathews, will help kindergartners straighten their work areas between activities: “A helper I will be. A helper I will be. / There’s work to do. There’s work to do. A helper I will be.” Or play this clean up song .
Letting students take charge of transitions: Transitions don’t have to involve an entire class. Watch how Wendy Hopf’s sixth graders use hand signals : Raising one finger requests help, raising two fingers asks for a bathroom or water break, and raising three fingers indicates that a pencil needs sharpening. “I love it,” says Hopf, “because I have the option of saying no.”
Research suggests that successful transitions are quick and have clear beginnings and endings. Meeting those requirements will maximize learning time. However, don’t be afraid to add in some whimsy, like the North Carolina teacher who greets each student with a charming individual handshake as they enter the classroom each morning, thus illustrating that transitions happen with kids, not to them.
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25 Transition Ideas For Elementary Students That Teachers Can Use Daily
November 3, 2022 // by Alison Vrana
Elementary teachers know that young children need breaks in between lessons, but sometimes it’s difficult to come up with new ideas that keep kids engaged and excited during the school day. The activities, games, and lessons below are great for all levels, but kids in elementary schools will benefit from them the most. The activities are fun, quick, and exciting for students and easy to organize for teachers. Here are 25 transition ideas for elementary students that teachers can use daily.
1. Number Circles
In this transition activity, students stand in a circle and count in multiples of a number assigned by the teacher. The teacher picks a number to end the counting, and the student who lands on that number has to sit down. The game continues until only one student is left standing.
Learn More: Moving Minds Blog
This is a favorite activity for times when students transition between classrooms. The teacher says different phrases that cue an action. For example, when the teacher says, “Floor is lava”, students have to stand on the one-floor tile.
This is a fun transition activity that is also educational. The teacher picks a word and begins to spell it backward, letter by letter on the board. Students have to try and guess what the secret word is as it is spelled.
Learn More: Naaweb.org
4. Three the Same
This game encourages students to think about similarities among students. The teacher picks three students that have something in common. The students then have to guess what the commonality among the students is.
5. Freeze in Motion
This is a classic fun transition activity that gets kids up and moving. They will have fun while moving around and then freeze when the teacher yells, “freeze!” This game can also be played with music.
Learn More: Classroom Synonym
6. Repeat the Sound
For this fun activity, the teacher picks a sound to demonstrate to students and the students repeat the sound. The teacher, for example, can tap three times on a desk or clap two books together. The more creative the sound, the more challenging it will be for students to mimic!
Using scarves in the classroom allows students to get some motor activities done during the day. Ideally, teachers have a class set of scarves and students use them to play during a transition. The scarves allow for motor movement and brain breaks.
Learn More: Sing Play Create
8. The Snowman Dance
The “Snowman Dance” is a fun motor movement activity that gets kids up and engaged. Students will love learning the dance. This is a great way to start or end the day especially in the Winter when kids can’t go outside as often for recess.
9. Sensory Break Cards
Sensory break cards are great for teachers to use on a whim or when they are struggling to come up with other creative ideas. These cue cards provide sensory activities that kids can do in a short amount of time.
Learn More: The Chaos And The Clutter
10. Visual Timer
A visual timer is an effective way to help students think about transition times, especially those students who have difficulty with transitions. The timer only needs to be set for a couple of minutes to help kids get through a transition.
11. Balloon Volleyball
Balloon volleyball is a fun and easy game that kids love. The teacher will blow up a balloon that students then need to keep off of the ground. Students work together to keep the balloon afloat, and if a student misses the balloon then they are out.
Learn More: Prodigy Game
12. Animal Actions
This is a great activity to help kids stay active and burn off energy. Students will practice motor skills and teachers will love that the dice create variety in the activities. Some of the actions create a more challenging transition for kids as well.
Learn More: Prodigy Game
13. The Atom Game
This game encourages students to listen as they get up and move around the classroom. Students will move around the room in a way dictated by the teacher; for example, the teacher may say, “move like dinosaurs!” Then, the teacher will yell, “atom 3!” And students will have to get in groups of 3 as quickly as they can.
Learn More: Class Craft
14. Silent Ball
This silent ball activity is a classic transition game. Students will pass a ball around silently. If they drop the ball or make any noise, then they are out of the game. This is a good game to use often to create a common transition routine.
15. Classroom Yoga
Yoga is just as relaxing for kids as it is for adults. Teachers can incorporate yoga into classroom management transitions to create a sense of calm and stillness in the classroom.
Learn More: We Are Teachers
16. Make it Rain
This is a great activity for the class during transition periods. Students will begin by tapping one at a time on the desks and then slowly build until the tapping sounds like rain. This break will help kids get the wiggles out while providing sensory stimulation.
Learn More: We Are Teachers
This is an easy physical transition. The teacher has kids do a physical activity five times, then another one four times, etc. For example, the teacher may say, ” Do 5 jumping jacks, 4 claps, 3 spins, 2 jumps, and 1 kick!”
Learn More: Minds In Bloom
18. Trading Places
This transition activity encourages students to listen, observe, and move. The teacher will say something like, “kids with blonde hair!” Then all of the kids with blonde hair will get up and switch places with another student with blonde hair.
19. Secret Handshakes
This is a fun transition for kids to start at the beginning of the year. Students will move around the classroom and create a secret handshake with a fellow peer. Then, throughout the year, teachers can tell kids do to their handshakes as a transition.
Learn More: Proud To Be Primary
20. Activity Cards
Activity cards are a great way for kids to take breaks and get moving. These cards also give each student a different activity to add some variety to your transition sessions.
Learn More: Proud To Be Primary
21. Heads and Tails
For this activity, teachers will call out a true or false statement to students. If students think it’s true then they put their hands on their heads, and if they think it’s false they put their hands on their rears. This is a fun activity for elementary-aged children.
Learn More: Teach Starter
22. The Bean Game
This activity is a favorite transition game. Each type of bean has a different action. Students will draw a bean card, then have to complete the action for that bean. Kids love the themed movement cards.
Learn More: Teach Starter
23. Real or Fake?
For this transition lesson, teachers tell the kids a crazy fact and the kids have to decide if they think the fact is real or fake. Teachers can have kids vote, they can have kids move to different sides of the room, or they can have kids come to a consensus.
Learn More: Performing In Education
Play-Doh is a classic playtime activity for all ages. The teacher can have students create something specific within transition time like a dog, or teachers can give kids free time to create what they want.
Learn More: Sign Up Genius
25. Doodle Time
Sometimes just giving kids free time is a good way to allow them to take a break and refocus. Providing students with doodle time allows them to express themselves while also taking time to relax and breathe.
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5 Ways to Create Efficient Classroom Transitions
Classroom transitions. For the teacher: a time for chaos to break out. For students: a time when anything goes! But, with careful planning, you can change that.
I remember my first few years teaching… I was starting to get the hang of instruction. My lessons went pretty smoothly. I was differentiating and adapting lessons to meet individual student needs. I had good relationships with my students. In my mind, I was pretty successful.
Until the lesson ended and we tried to transition to the next activity. Things went downhill fast. The noise level went up. Bodies were all over the place. Wrestling matches broke out on the classroom carpet. It wasn’t pretty.
I knew I needed to do something about it. So, I did some professional reading and consulted with co-workers and tried a few things. Then I reflected on what worked, revisited those resources and tried a few more things. With time and reflection, classroom transitions improved in my classroom and I no longer dreaded transitions. Many, many years later, I still can’t say it’s perfect. We are dealing with children and unexpected things come up: I get distracted or need to deal with a pressing issue, it starts snowing, someone loses a tooth, or we all have a bad day. But… Transitions in my room now go so much more smoothly than they did that first year teaching!
I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned about classroom transitions in 20+ years of teaching. First I’ll share what classroom transitions are and why they get crazy. Then I’ll share tips to make those transitions go more smoothly.
What are classroom transitions?
Classroom transitions are the time between activities in the classroom. They start as students arrive and complete their morning routines. They can include the time moving from one activity to the next (ex: moving from a reading lesson to a math lesson.) And those times where students leave or enter the classroom, for lunch, recess, specials, end of the day, etc. No wonder the school day feels chaotic at times – there are a lot of transitions in one day!
Why do transitions get so crazy?
Transitions create chaos in many different ways. First of all, there are usually a lot of things going on at the same time. For instance, in a typical transition between small group lessons, students need to put away center materials, get new materials, remember which kids are joining the teacher and actually move to join the teacher. As they do all these things, they pass by friends and naturally want to chat with them (think of what it’s like when you see your favorite co-worker in the morning!)
Then, teachers are often a bit distracted during these transitions – after all, we are transitioning between activities and need to get out new materials, too. Plus, we are dealing with student concerns that pop up during that time (like lost materials, questions, and tattling.)
Add in the fact that kids move at different speeds and it makes transitions even trickier! You’ve seen how half the class can arrive on the carpet in 10 seconds, while the last child takes well over a minute. That leaves a lot of kids on the carpet waiting, with nothing to do. So they find something to do – chat, braid hair, wrestle.
From time to time, teachers do a few things that inadvertently add to the chaos. Sometimes our directions aren’t clear (kids get confused and we have to repeat ourselves.) Or we sometimes have unrealistic expectations of our students (like asking a 5 year old to remember a 5-step direction we just rattled off orally). And sometimes we ask students to engage in a classroom procedure without teaching them what we expect .
When thinking about these things, we can identify a few strategies that will help transitions run more smoothly in classrooms.
What can we do to create smooth classroom transitions?
Teach students how to transition.
First of all, plan and teach the procedures used during the transition. To do this most effectively, you’ll need to envision the students going through the transition. What steps are involved in moving from one specific activity to the next? What steps do students need to be able to do quickly and efficiently? Think specifically about your current class. Where do things start to fall apart? Noticing and reflecting on these things will help you anticipate and prevent them in the future.
Once you’ve identified the procedures you will use, take the time to teach them to students. Yes, every single procedure. You’ll find some helpful tips on teaching procedures (and a list of procedures to teach) in this blog post .
Sometimes you’ll be able to take a shortcut because the procedures are similar. For instance, you might be able to tell students, “Remember how we practiced putting our math book in our desk. What did we do for that? We are going to do the same thing when we put our reading response journals away.” List the steps and allow students to practice it.
The time spent intentionally teaching classroom procedures will pay off with a more efficient use of class time throughout the year.
Use an attention signal
An attention signal is key for classroom management. You need a clear way to get your students’ attention. This is helpful for providing announcements, clarifying directions, freezing out of control behavior, or ending the transition. Here are some easy ideas or attention signals:
- ring a bell or a chime
- flash the lights off then back on
- use a clapping pattern (ex: 3 fast claps, followed by 3 slow claps) – students repeat the clapping pattern
- call and response routines ( see this post for some suggestions )
But to make the signal effective, you have to practice it. When you first introduce it, you can have kids talk (or pretend talk) to each other. Then use your signal to get their attention. Model what their behavior should look and sound like when they hear the signal. Repeat the practice 2-3 more times. Later in the year, feel free to introduce a new signal. Sometimes the new signal is refreshing. Sometimes you need a different signal for when you are in a different place (like lining up after PE, or not near your light switch.) Regardless of which you choose, you will find an attention signal incredibly helpful to classroom transitions.
Provide a 5 minute warning
It seems so basic, but this truly is helpful for students. It allows them to adjust their pace to finish the task, and to start thinking about the transition in advance. You might even use a think aloud to show them what to think about when you give a five minute warning. (Ex: “I have five minutes left and I really want to color the picture on my writing. I need to finish this sentence quickly so I have time to work on my picture a bit. If I don’t finish my picture before the timer rings, maybe I can work on it during snack time, too.”)
This post from Responsive Classroom goes into detail about teaching students to use a five minute warning to better pace themselves.
Beat the timer
When you play Beat the Timer you allow a set amount of time for cleaning up or transitioning and encourage students to beat that time. Some ideas include:
- a visual timer
- a clean up song
- “before I count to 10”
Note: This timer is available for free from Online Stopwatch.
This provides students a visual or auditory cue to help understand how much time is left. It helps them better pace their transition – and allows a clear cut end to the transition.
Plan “sponge” activities
Sponge activities are small time filling activities. Head-off crazy behavior by planning something engaging during a time that could get out of control. Sponge activities can be fore the whole class, or for fast finishers.
Sponge Ideas for Fast Finishers
First, let’s think about fast finishers. They are students who finish their work quickly and need something else to do (besides socializing with kids who are trying to work.) Offer students a few (slightly engaging) choices if they finish work early. If the activities are too engaging, kids will rush through work to do them; if they are not engaging, fast finishers will find other things to do. Here are a few suggestions for your fast finishers:
- write (in a journal, blank book, or a note)
- play a partner math game
- partner read a readers’ theater script
- fun practice sheet (like a color by number page or a word search)
Whole Class Sponge Ideas
Whole class sponge activities can be engaging and rewarding. You can use them as you wait for the final stragglers, or as an intentional break or movement activity. A few ideas include:
- movement video (like Go Noodle or Jack Hartmann on You Tube )
- play Simon Says (or a silent version where one leader comes up and students copy the leader)
- sing a silly song
- do 20 jumping jacks (or other exercises)
- practice counting to 100 (or skip counting)
- play I Spy (you can incorporate shapes or other concepts)
- allow students to share something from the lesson
- play Hangman (you can create a sun with a smile instead of a hanging person, if you prefer)
- do a number talk or math talk
- quickly show subitizing cards
It’s helpful to have one or two sponge activities that need no supplies, in case you need something todo when you arrive a specials too soon, or something similar.
If you want more sponge activity ideas, this blog post on What I Have Learned Teaching has a phenomenal list of 80 different ideas.
So take a few minutes to think about which of these ideas might improve the transitions in your classroom. Pick one or two and try them tomorrow! Remember to pin this post so you can refer back to it later!
Featured in this post:
- FREE morning routine cards
- Math War Games
- Color by Number Pages
- Subitizing Cards
Learn more about classroom routines:
- Start Your Day with a Soft Start
- Tips for Teaching Procedures in the Classroom
- Quick and Easy Morning Meeting Routines
- Use Classroom Morning Routines to Fight Chaos
5 thoughts on “ 5 Ways to Create Efficient Classroom Transitions ”
This information is really helpful. I would recommend this to anyone.
I’m glad it was helpful!
I can see why it is important to have a smooth transition. Thanks for the sponge ideas.
Love the idea of sponge ideas (especially partner math games and journaling).
Love the idea partner math games and journaling.
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Mastering Classroom Transitions: A Beginners Guide For Elementary Teachers
Classroom transitions are the bridges that help take your class from one exciting learning adventure to the next. These crucial times in the day help keep your students engaged and learning from activity to activity and your productive learning environment in tack.
In this post we’ll explain the importance of classroom transitions, talk about how to establish a transition-friendly classroom, how to seamlessly integrate transitions into your daily schedule, and more. Let's get started!
Understanding the Importance of Classroom Transitions
If you think about the typical day in an elementary school, your day is a series of activities linked together by transitions. From physically moving locations to getting supplies, transitions come in all shapes and sizes.
Because of their frequency in the day, seamless transitions help you maximize instructional time and maintain student concentration, which can help you avoid distractions and disruptions.
All transitions offer an opportunity for your students to get a break and switch their focus to a new task.
Consider this, if you save just ten minutes a day with more efficient transitions you create an additional 30 hours of instructional time! A win-win for everyone.
Establishing a Transition-Friendly Classroom Environment
Establishing a classroom environment that supports effective transitions is a great way to make sure these moments throughout the day are seamless, easy, and enjoyable.
Here are some tips to get started:
- Set clear expectations
- Use visual aids
- Use positive reinforcement
- Use transition songs and chants
- Give warnings when expectations aren’t meant
How to Organize Your Classroom For Transitions
Your classroom set up and organization can help you facilitate your transitions. Here’s how:
Set up designated areas
Create specific areas in the classroom for different activities. Have a reading corner, a math station, a classroom learning center , etc. This way, students know exactly where to go when transitioning between tasks.
Use supply stations
Keep necessary materials and supplies well-organized and easily accessible in labeled bins or shelves. When students need to switch activities, they can quickly find what they need without wasting precious time.
Have visual cues
Display visual schedules or charts that outline the day's activities. Use pictures or icons, especially for younger students who may not read yet. This way, they can visually anticipate what's coming up next.
Incorporate color-coded materials or labels for different subjects or activities. For example, math-related items could be marked with blue, while language arts items are marked with green. This adds an element of fun and helps students identify the right materials for each transition.
Assign a transition helper
Assign a student "transition helper" role each day. This student can assist in gathering materials, passing out papers, or guiding their peers to the next activity. It empowers them and fosters a sense of responsibility.
Practice your transitions
At the beginning of the school year, spend time explicitly teaching and practicing transitions. Model the expected behavior and praise them when they do it well. Periodically review and reinforce these expectations throughout the year.
Classroom Transition Ideas for Elementary Teachers
Some transitions work great for some activities and not so great for others. Because of this, it’s helpful to have a laundry list of transition ideas to use.
Transitional Songs and Chants
Incorporate catchy songs or rhymes related to transitions. Singing together adds an element of fun and helps students transition joyfully. For example, you can have a clean-up song, a line-up song, or a "ready to learn" chant.
Use a timer or a visual countdown display to show students how much time is left before the next activity begins. This helps them manage their time effectively and mentally prepare for the transition.
Fourth grade students in @jessbennick @MrsLaubenstein class practice routines such as classroom transitions. Did they meet the 30-second transition challenge? #WeLoveEastVincent pic.twitter.com/rWFEww5raO — East Vincent Elem (@OwenJRobertsEV) August 29, 2019
Create simple hand signals for common transitions, such as raising two fingers to indicate that students need to gather their materials or raising one finger to signal it's time to clean up. This fosters a non-disruptive way of communicating during transitions.
Call and Response
Use call-and-response techniques to get the students' attention during transitions. For instance, you can say, "Class, class," and they respond with "Yes, yes." It's a fun way to gain their focus and readiness.
Plan short, engaging activities related to the upcoming lesson or subject. It could be a quick brain teaser, a riddle, a joke, or even a brief energizer like a quick dance or stretch break.
Start a transition by telling a brief, captivating story related to the next activity. This piques students' interest and helps them transition with excitement.
Partner or Group Transitions
Organize transitions where students work together in pairs or small groups to complete a task. This fosters cooperation and keeps them focused during the change.
Create a "secret signal" that only you and your students know. When it's time to transition, use the signal, and watch the class smoothly transition in response to the special cue.
Use gamification in the classroom to turn transitions into friendly competitions. Challenge the students to transition quietly and efficiently, rewarding the group that does it best with a small prize or praise.
We’ve started GIANT Kerplunk in my room!! 😁 Our goal is to improve our classroom transitions. When Ss transition quickly, quietly, and get started right away, they will get to pull one stick. After all the balls fall, they’ll vote on a class reward!! 🌟 pic.twitter.com/ByyxcJnes2 — Lauren Allen (@missallen1234) September 12, 2019
Utilize props or puppets to signal transitions. For example, you can use a "magic wand" to indicate it's time for a new activity or a puppet to deliver instructions for the next task.
Code your transitions
Turn your transitions into another STEM activity by turning them into repeatable steps that start when you give a signal and end when students take all the steps to finish their first activity and prepare for the next!
Classroom transitions are just one aspect of your overall classroom management. Check out our guide on the do's and don'ts of classroom management for more tips to help you this year.
With all the time savings you’ll see from improving your classroom transitions the only question you’ll have to ask yourself is what to do with your increased instructional time!
Here at Kodable we have a great activity to add to your lesson planning and increased instructional time…It’s Kodable! We’re a fun and engaging programming game for kids that helps teach the basics of computer programming. Learn more and create your own free Kodable account today to help your students transition into learning to code.
Kodable has everything you need to teach kids to code!
Classroom Transitions: 6 Ideas and Strategies for Secondary
Lesson transitions can be frustrating when they don’t go smoothly. Move from one activity to the next efficiently using these simple tips for classroom transitions.
Imagine this: You’re teaching an engaging lesson about short stories. Students are participating in the whole-class activity. Just as you prepare to move into the next segment of the lesson, small-group instruction, your principal walks in. Of course, you can’t find the papers you need to get the activity started. Perfect timing. Students being whispering…then talking louder. Pretty soon, you have students lining up to ask questions about whether or not there will be homework and if they can use the restroom. A group in the back decides to break out their iPads to sneak in a game of Fortnite.
If you teach middle or high school students, you may be familiar with a scenario such as this. Try as we might, there are times when our classroom transitions don’t go the way we would hope. Just like everything else in education, there are best practices in lesson transitions. Let’s explore how some of these techniques can improve the efficiency of transitions during lessons.
My classroom transitions always go smoother when I’ve organized everything I need before the period begins. Make necessary photocopies in advance. Try to put them in the same place every day so that it’s second nature to find them. Check technology in between class periods to make sure it’s still working from the last time you used it. Lay out your lesson plan notes in bulleted format somewhere that you can see them and recall what’s next on the agenda quickly.
Granted, organization is not fool-proof. There will still be times when we misplace papers, technology fails, or we are simply overwhelmed by an abundance of course preps.
Like us, students are creatures of habits. Have a consistent beginning-of-class routine. Whether it’s a bell ringer or independent reading time, students will be more likely to get to work during the transition from passing period to class start if they know what is expected.
If you have some willing students, record parodies of classroom routines for future classes to evaluate. Sure, they’ll laugh and enjoy watching, but they’ll also have a memorable visual and an opportunity to evaluate what went wrong. Bonus: Have students record their own videos, completing the routine efficiently.
Also, practice! Classroom transitions are a routine, just like passing in papers and using the restroom. If your students struggle with transitioning from whole group to small group formats, practice moving desks. Do it several times in a row for a week. After each practice round, talk with students. What is going well? What needs improvement?
If your students tend to line up at the door, practice the routine for the end of class. How do you want students to transition at the end? What should it look like? What should it sound like?
Perhaps part of – or separate from – your routines, you may want to consider using signals. They can help quickly grab students’ attention when things are not going as smoothly as you’d like. The basic premise behind signals is to break students’ pattern of behavior by interrupting them with an unexpected stimulus .
Think back to the example from earlier. Just as you notice your students beginning to get noisy and one stands up to approach you, you could clap twice. If trained, your students will know to clap three times in return and listen. Then, you’d have the opportunity to explain to them that you’re looking for something and give them some quick directions for what to do while they wait.
Wondering about possible signals you could use? There isn’t a “right” option. Know your students. Grade level matters. Longer signals (like counting to ten in a foreign language) don’t always keep students’ attention. Some teachers use bells of various kinds. Others use count downs. Clapping and music are popular, as are verbal queues ( 1-2-3, Eyes on Me; Hocus Pocus, Time to Focus ) and Harry Wong’s Give Me 5.
Students’ attention spans in middle school range from 10 to 12 minutes per activity, only increasing to about 15 to 20 minutes in high school. So? Chunking matters in lesson planning. However, if a class period is 50 minutes, the goal would still be to reduce the total number of transition times in order to increase learning time.
Look at your upcoming lesson plans. Are activities divided into chunks to keep students focused? Could you rearranged anything to reduce the total number of transitions?
For instance, pretend your school is 1:1 and you are planning to have students use their devices twice during one class period, at the beginning and the end. Is there any way you could put those activities back to back or eliminate the need to get devices out and put them away twice?
We can help make transitions smoother by demanding students’ full attention and then clearly explaining what is going to happen next. Consider:
NO: Class, I want you to get out your iPads. After you log in, go to Seesaw. When you are in Seesaw…. (at this point, you’ve already lost many of them because they probably pulled out their iPads and began tuning you out right away.)
YES: Class, in just a moment, we are going to be transitioning into the next part of today’s lesson. In doing so, we will need to get out our iPads. BUT! Before we do, let’s make sure everyone understands the directions. They are also written on the board behind me. It’s important that everyone is on the same page, so put on your listening ears. (After giving the directions, ask for questions. Once questions are answered, then allow students to get out their devices.)
Many times, we say, “I need your eye contact and full attention, please.” Often, students give it to us, but only for a moment. Demand attention. It’s another routine we need to practice.
Try as we might, transitions can get messy sometimes. Things come up. A student knocks at our door needing something, technology is glitchy, or, despite your best efforts at being organized, you’ve misplaced something.
For these times, consider having students keep a graphic organizer on their desk so that you can ask them to answer questions on it throughout the period. These questions can both help to fill transition time meaningfully as well as provide you with a formative assessment piece.
Students may not use the notes page every day, but the premise is simple. When you are transitioning between parts of a lesson and want to make sure students are staying focused on what they just completed or what they are about to do, give them a prompt. Have them record their answer on the graphic organizer.
You can use fun shapes on the graphic organizers* where students record their thoughts, and prompts can relate to any aspect of your subject area – or to building relationships with students. (* Sign up for my mailing list to grab a free graphic organizer and example from my resource library. )
Most importantly, follow through. After you’ve established your routines, signals, and directions, stay true to them. Just like with parenting, students quickly learn whether we mean what we say and whether we will be lax on our expectations.
Lesson transitions are an important piece of classroom management that can increase learning time and lead to a more productive and inviting classroom culture. Take some time to reflect on how you might tidy up classroom transitions so that the next time your principal stops by, you won’t even bat an eye.
- 5 Common Classroom Management Issues and Solutions
- 7 Strategies for Addressing Difficult Behaviors
- Tips for Building Teacher-Student Relationships
- Using Classroom Meetings to Build Community
If you’d like to get started with this graphic organizer Stop and Jot classroom transitions strategy , click on the image below. Still not sure? Try it! By signing up for my email list below, you’ll have full access to my resource library, exclusive for subscribers.
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An avid reader and writer, I've had the privilege of teaching English for over a decade and am now an instructional coach. I have degrees in English, Curriculum & Instruction, and Reading as well as a reading specialist certification. In my free time, I enjoy loving on my kids, deconstructing sentences, analyzing literature, making learning fun, working out, and drinking a good cup of coffee.
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Why transitions are the key to an effective classroom & how to improve them
When we think of effective teaching strategies, we often think of the big ones: having a clear lesson plan to guide our instruction, building rigor into our lessons, fostering student independence.
But what about classroom transitions?
The reality is that transitions make up a significant part of any instructional time. Depending on grade level and time allotment per day, there can be from 5-6 academic transitions over the course of an hour or two.
Many teachers may not think much about transitions because they tend to happen without conscious thought during classwork. But when you start thinking more critically about your own practice as well as those around you, it becomes apparent just how important these little moments really are to having an effective classroom .
Transitions help us move smoothly between activities in order to stay focused and engaged with each task. They also allow for some downtime so that we can process information better later on. And finally, transitions give us opportunities to reinforce concepts and skills that were covered earlier in the session.
In this article, I’ll share some tips for making transitions work well for you and your students. First, let's make sure we're on the same page with the basics.
What you'll find on this page:
What are transitions?
A classroom transition occurs whenever you have to leave one activity/lesson/event and enter another. It could be leaving math and entering reading, going from recess to lunchtime, or even switching classrooms. Transitions occur throughout the day but most commonly at the beginning and end of periods.
Based on this understanding, we can classify transitions into two major categories:
- Entering or exiting the classroom space
- Moving from one academic task to another
When we look at these more closely, it can be easy to see why entering and exiting the classroom are often the most time-consuming transitions. Arriving or leaving for the day are two major pieces of this, but the biggest impact at the elementary level is really the time spent on transitions from recess, lunch, or specials.
Not surprisingly, in-class transitions are can more easily be modified and made more efficient. For example, moving from one academic activity or subject to the next. This includes transitions during the day that we don’t even think about, such as students moving from instruction to independent work, or moving from your small group table back to their seats.
Academic Learning Time: Why classroom transitions matter
Why do classroom transitions matter so much?
It all comes down to maximizing Academic Learning Time. Also called ALT, this is defined as the time between transitions, is a key principle of research-based instruction.
When you think about it, making the most out of every class period requires that you make good use of your ALT. But how do you figure out how to maximize your ALT?
The first step is to ensure you're not wasting time transitioning between activities. Studies have shown that in the U.S., 20% to 40% of instructional time in middle grades classes was devoted to teacher transitions and administration tasks. During much of this time, the students are just waiting for either the teacher or their peers.
Even small changes can have a huge impact!
This means that from the moment students enter the classroom until they leave, at least a third of their instructional time is spent on moving from place to place within the classroom or between rooms. This means that out of an hour-long class period only 40 minutes are left for learning activities.
Studies show that even small changes in transition length can lead to large increases in student achievement. For example, researchers found that reducing transitions by 10 seconds increased reading comprehension scores by 0.5
So if you want to get the best possible return on your investment of time, then you need to spend less time transitioning and more time doing meaningful things. That's where transitions come in.
How to determine if your transitions are efficient
So if you want to get the best possible return on your investment of time, the first thing you need to do is minimize wasted transition times. This begs the question, “How will I know if my transitions are efficient?”
Here's one way to answer that question: look at the data!
The first step is to take stock of how long you're currently spending on transitions during your school day. Just be prepared! The number might shock you.
Data Collection: Time your transitions
Timing your transitions across the period of a few days time can be an easy way to get a baseline of how much of the school day is lost to transitions. To do this you'll just want a timer or a stopwatch. I personally like the stopwatch better because I can keep adding time across the day more easily, but both follow the same principle.
Start your timer when you signal students to stop working and prepare to give them directions for the transition.
Allow the timer to run until the end of the transition. If you're doing a transition without a direction, simply time from when the students begin to move to a new location. Stop the timer when you give a direction or signal for students to get work out or get ready for a new lesson.
Take note of how long it takes to complete each of your transitions during class, and keep track of how many times per day you need to do each one.
A post-it note can be an easy way to record transition times.
You can also write the time for each transition in your lesson plans if you still keep a paper-based planner. Doing this allows you to have both a total transition time and a clear set of data for how much time is spent on specific transitions so that you can most effectively target the ones that are not efficient.
Consider doing this once a week to look for trends.
The more you track, the more you'll begin to see a trend emerge. For example, perhaps some of your transitions take shorter than others, or perhaps it differs depending on the length of the class. Maybe you can reduce or eliminate several unnecessary transitions by utilizing certain adjustments.
Having a clear understanding of how much time is currently being used for all of your transitions means you can think about ways to adjust or eliminate certain transitions to maximize Academic Learning Time.
Think about it this way, even if you can save 10 minutes a day by improving the efficiency of transitions, you’ll gain 30 extra hours of instructional time per year. See what I mean about transitions being important to an effective classroom?
A Busy Teacher's Guide to Successful Transitions in the Classroom
Like any other aspect of your classroom routine, the first step to getting smooth transitions is to establish clear expectations. If you're lucky enough to be reading this article before the school year begins, start by determining what an efficient transition should look like, sound like, and feel like for both you and your learners.
Once you've envisioned the ideal, you can begin planning how you'll get your students to this point. Transitions are just like any other class skill. Children don't necessarily know how to do them, so we have to teach them. This is where routine comes into play.
Directly teach your expectations through modeling and practice.
When you begin planning transitions, you can begin by laying out your procedures. According to Smart Classroom Management , transitions are a five-step process.
- Get their attention.
- Prep them for what’s about to happen.
- Give directions.
- Signal the start of the transition.
- Observe & redirect individual students.
Although I think you could combine the second and third steps of their process, this is a great place to start so let's look at each piece a bit more.
Step 1: Get their attention
The goal of this step is to get students to stop what they are doing and attend to your directions. Depending on your school or classroom management philosophy, there are many different ways to do this. You might consider a call and response, like Class-Yes used in Whole Brain Teaching, or you might utilize something like a bell or wind chimes to get students' attention. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll want to pick something you like because you’ll be using it frequently.
As you introduce this step to students, make it clear that once you’ve given the attention signal, you expect that they stop what they are doing and look at you to get their next directions. Eye contact and a noise level of zero are both good indicators that you've got students' attention.
Steps 2-3: Prepare them and give your directions.
Prepping students is simple. It is literally a short, one-sentence explanation of what’s about to happen. This sentence is the framework that gets students ready to listen to your directions. For example, “We are about to start our writing time.”
Then move into giving them directions for the activity they'll be doing. You’ll want to give students your directions in the simplest, most direct way and include multi-sensory cues when possible.
You’ll also want to tell them when you expect them to begin following these directions. Much like you've cued students to stop working, it is important to cue them to let them know when the transition has begun. Again, this can be a special noise or sound. You might even pick a vocabulary word to indicate its time to begin.
For example, your directions might sound like this:
“When I say go, I want you to quietly put your math notebooks away and take out your science journals and colored pencils. I'll know you're ready for our next steps when your voices are off and you've got the materials on your desk….”
If you know that this may be a difficult transition or you've got more complex directions, you can end this step by asking students whether they have any questions before moving to Step 4.
Step 4: Signal the transition.
At this point, you'll signal the transition. In the above example, this would be as simple as saying “Go”.
Signaling that the transition has begun is important because it gives your class a clear indication about when they should begin. This can help make sure everyone hears all the steps before starting and can help reduce transition issues.
Step 5: Observe and redirect.
Once the transition is underway, your goal is to observe that students are following the directions you've given efficiently. If you notice a student having transition difficulties, you can redirect them back on task. However, if you notice more than 20% of your class is not doing transition activities correctly, stop the entire group and begin the process again.
As you're observing look for specific issues that arise. These are things that may require revisiting and reteaching in order to reduce the likelihood of transition difficulties and achieve the tight transitions you envisioned.
The best way to make transitions smooth is by observing and supporting students across time. By doing this, transitions can then be held to the same standards as any other part of the school day.
Troubleshooting Classroom Transitions
While all this may seem simple as you read it, the reality is it doesn't take many botched transitions to have a behavior problem on your hands. Many students struggle to move from one activity to the next, and this extra time used transition makes it more difficult for you to achieve the academic goals you have for your class.
In this section, I'll share some troubleshooting advice for different transition issues that commonly occur.
General tips for transition issues:
Efficient transitions are necessary for effective classroom management. Without proper planning, transitions will become chaotic and unstructured. Here are a few general troubleshooting tips if you're noticing issues with transitions:
- Give students advance warning. Providing both a verbal warning and using a visual timer can be great ways to let students begin to mentally prepare to move on. It allows everyone involved enough time to prepare themselves mentally and physically for their next steps. For example, you might tell students something like, “In about five minutes it will be time to wrap up your reading journal so we can move on to our math lesson.”
- Display timers to help students visually track when the transition will occur. There are many fun online timers that you can display on your projector to make students aware of exactly how much time they have left before the transition will occur. Check out Online Stopwatch and look at the fun options available to keep your kids informed as transitions approach.
- Consider visuals to help guide students through the routine of the day. Visual schedules are a great way to keep upcoming transitions from coming as a surprise. They are also great for supporting a variety of different learners. Preparing students for transitions also helps reduce anxiety among students who might feel overwhelmed or have difficulty moving from a preferred activity.
Common Transition Issues & How to Solve them
Problem: transitions take too long. solution: create a class challenge.
Most kids love competition. If your classroom is set up in group settings, you can set up competitions for the group that cleans up the quickest or are all seated and quiet in the fastest time. They can earn points that can be redeemed for prizes at the end of the week.
This will be a great way for your leaders in the classroom to help those who may not have the organizational skills learn from a mentor in the group.
Problem: Everyone is finishing the task at a different time so there isn’t a clear transition.
Solution: create a routine for early finishers..
With some activities, like snack time, it can be hard to coordinate a clear transition time. Effective transitions can still be achieved by having a clear expectation for what early finishers should be doing. This can help ward off challenging behavior that occurs due to boredom while waiting for peers, and it can also allow you to boost Academic Learning Time, even though it is just a short chunk of time.
Challenging students with brain teasers or a Word Problem of the Day activity is a great way to build critical thinking skills during these short chunks of time.
Problem: My morning transitions are chaotic because my students don't arrive at the classroom at the same time.
Solution: provide a “do now” or warm-up activity to engage students when they arrive.
When students enter the classroom, have a purposeful activity for them to do. Often called morning work or a bellringer activity, this might be something you hand to them as they enter or that they keep in a special folder and take out each day. Many classrooms use this time to have students review prior learning using a math spiral review or language spiral .
Regardless of what you select, your arrival activities should be something that is part of their everyday routine. This will give you a few minutes to go over your attendance, take care of any odds and ends, and get the students’ minds right into the topic of the day.
Here are some great morning work options for your classroom:
Problem: Most of my class is rocking transitions, but one student consistently struggles & it throws us all off.
Solution: focus on the function of the behavior & create an individualized plan..
f you've got a student who consistently struggles or displays challenging behavior during transitions, the first thing you'll want to do is take a function-based perspective on the behaviors you've noticed.
Consider when these difficulties typically happen and what they look like. Sometimes a student may struggle to transition from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity.
In this case, it can help to create a plan that includes giving the student a one-on-one warning in advance, and giving them a clear job to do as a part of the transition process. For example, they might be asked to participate in a physical activity like collecting papers or getting the books needed for the next lesson.
Managing escape or avoidance behaviors
Behaviors that end up creating a difficult transition can also be a way to avoid or escape non-preferred or challenging tasks.
If a student often displays transition behavior issues as you move into reading and you know this is an area of difficulty for the student, it can be important to evaluate whether the work you're giving is too far above the student's instructional level or whether they may need some type of personalized reinforcement plan to encourage them.
Addressing power struggles
If transitions result in a power struggle, consider using a visual transition strategy with the individual student instead. The lack of opportunity to argue can diffuse situations and reduce the likelihood of chaotic transitions for peers.
Supporting students with sensory needs
in a different vein, you may have students that struggle with the rapid increase in sensory input that often comes with classroom transitions and end up feeling overwhelmed with the flurry of activity occurring during transition time. Finding ways to adjust the sensory input, whether through the use of headphones or the option to hold a transition object (like a fidget), can be helpful.
Consider these proactive strategies for reducing the amount of class time spent trying to calm the student after a difficult transition occurs.
Conclusion: There's no one-size-fits-all solution.
Each class and each school year will bring a new classroom dynamic. Some transition strategies that work for one class might not work for another. As time passes, you will learn to develop new ways that will help achieve efficient transitions in your classroom. While quick classroom transitions are always the goal, it is also important to consider your students' needs and how you can make modifications to your routine that factor in student learning.
Enjoy exploring new ways to find what works best for you. I promise that with time and a clear vision, you will find the classroom strategy that works best for effectively transitioning from one activity to the next.
To wrap up the article, I wanted to share a great video from Teach Like A Champion that includes a few additional strategies that teachers have used to move learners from one activity to the next.