Simple Strategies for Effective Classroom Transitions

Transitions are an integral part of the school day, and they can have a significant impact on student attention and behavior. When transitions are unstructured and noisy, they can result in problem behaviors, leading to wasted instructional time and lower student achievement. The amount of time we have in a day is so limited, so transitions have to be a solid part of your classroom management plan. So how do we get there? Let’s break it down:

What are transitions?

Transitions happen all throughout the day. They are not just between subject areas or to the next activity. It happens throughout activities, where there are brain breaks, or changing of a rotation. They happen all day long and it is so important to have efficient transitions so you have enough time to teach all the things you want to get through in a day- which is hard in of itself!

There are even different types of transitions such as leaving the classroom, changing from math to ELA, washing hands for lunch and the list goes on. We both know that the hallway transitions take longer and require more pre-teaching, reteaching and reinforcing that some quicker transitions that can happen right in your classroom.

It is almost important to remember that different transitions have different expectations. For example- can student talk between rotations in your classroom but not in the hallway. This may seem clear to you- but your students may truly not know!

Setting a Good Foundation

At the beginning of the year, teachers should establish clear expectations for students of what happens during a transition time. This should start during the first week of school, even the very first day. Explaining what students should do and how they should do it can help them feel more confident and prepared for what’s coming next. These steps may take some times at the beginning of the year, but as the year goes on it will take less time and students will transition easier.

Try following these steps when teaching expectations about transitions

1. Verbally explain the expectations. 

Tell the students what they should be doing. Try to minimize saying “no talking, no running.” Instead, phrase is positively of what TO do.

2. Model the expectation yourself. 

Once you tell the students, show them how it will look. A visual model is so important to solidify what you really mean. You will grab the students’ attention better this way then simply telling them orally what to do. After you do this, have a conversation about what it looked like and sounded like. Ask the students what they noticed about your behavior.

3. Have a couple students model it.

If it sounds like you are repeating the same thing over and over again- then you are doing it right. Kids, especially younger ones, need to have this shown and said to them many times to be successful. Then, again, have a discussion about what appropriate behaviors they noticed and what the students did well.

optional step 4: Have a student show you what not to do. 

This is going to depend on your classroom. For some classes, this encourages negative behavior. The students may laugh and realize that if they act silly during transitions they get laughter and attention. Students who struggle with social skills will immediately try to start doing this behavior because they realize it makes others laugh. If you are going to do this step- you can show some examples of typical behavior that you see that you do not want to see.

5. Everyone practice!

To make sure you have effective transitions, you need the whole class to practice them! It may take a couple times, but this will ensure that students know what to do and it will help their bodies to remember when the time comes as well.

Preparing for Classroom Transitions

Prompting Reminders

Prompting reminders are also crucial during transition times. Teachers should give students a warning a few minutes before the transition so that students can mentally prepare. This helps students understand what’s coming next, reducing anxiety and promoting better student attention during the transition. 

Preparing students, even a few minutes prior, can lead to smooth transitions. Students can wrap up the task they are working on and it is a great way for preparing students for change. This can sound like “10 minutes until we stop our writing and come to the carpet…. 5 minutes left…. 1 minute…. time to come to the carpet.”

Another great way to prepare students is to use a countdown timer. This one is my favorite because it is free and you can choose different types of count down timers. There are ones that will be more appropriate for younger students that visually show how much time is left and some for older students so they can see the numbers counting down. You can be sure to give them a ten and five-minute warning if the timer is large to get your attention as well!

Get students’ attention

If you are giving prompts and directions, but no one is listening or no one hears you- it can lead to chaos for a transition time.

This is why you need a specific way to get students’ attention. The attention getter you use needs to be mindful. 

Here are some thing to think about when choosing a attention getting

  • Choose one or two ways to get students attention. Too many can allow students to struggle with remembering all of the call backs. I also do not suggest the word of the day. This is a strategy that is used often. Teachers will give a word at the beginning of the day and students have to remember it and stop what they are doing when they hear it. The word changes daily. This can be very stress inducing for some students for several reasons. First, some may struggle to remember the word itself. Others may use too much of their working memory trying to remember the word that they cannot put that effort towards their academic work.
  • Does it have to be verbal? Can you use the lights, a doorbell, a bell, or a rain stick.
  • Be mindful how your students respond- if it is startling to them, this could be a trigger for bigger behaviors

Here is a list of some attention getters

  • Teacher says “Class, class” students say, “yes, yes”
  • Teacher says “1,2,3 eyes on me” students say, “1,2 eyes on you”
  • Teacher says “Macaroni and cheese” students say, “Everybody freeze”
  • A hand clap that the students need to repeat back to you

(dont forget to practice all of these too!)

If you can quickly get the students’ attention, you will be able to spend less time repeating yourself over and over and over again.

My favorite way to help students transition is through the use of music.

Music can be calming for so many reasons. It can also keep the noice level down which is just another win in your classroom!

Giving Directions to Transition

When you want students to transition, sometimes you want to also give them directions for the next lesson. This can sometimes be a downfall to your transitions without even realizing it. Let’s talk about a couple things you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

First tip: dont give too many directions at once. If you are giving two, three step directions and your students are not able to follow through- maybe you are giving them too many directions. This happens often because we want to try to make the transition quicker, but it could ultimately end up taking students longer and forcing you to have to repeat yourself.

Second tip: Use visuals. If you want students to stop working in their small groups and go to their table for an art project- put up visuals of the materials they need out. You can get free visuals here that you can print and then just put on the board to visually show students what they need. This will stop students from constantly asking you what they need for the task.

During transitions times

Use of hand signals

During transition times, hand signals can be a powerful tool to maintain order and reduce noise. Teachers can use hand signals to indicate that it’s time to be quiet, line up, or any other necessary action. This allows teachers to communicate with their students without having to raise their voice, which can sometimes lead to increased noise and more problem behaviors.

I love using the hand signal of 0 to indicate no talking. If you were to whisper, or say no talking you are modeling other students to do that as well. This just adds noise. If you have other students showing the signal 0, it is going to be quiet and they are also helping to remind others to stop talking.

Use of visual supports

Visual supports are also effective during transitions. Visual timers can help students understand how much time they have left before the transition, promoting better student attention and reducing anxiety. Teachers can also use visual supports to indicate what needs to be done during the transition, such as a picture of a backpack to indicate that it’s time to gather belongings and prepare to leave the classroom.

Another favorite of mine is to use visual cues. You can put them on your lanyard and just show the students what you are expecting. This is such an easy way to remind students without, again, adding noise to the classroom. Check them out here.

After Transitions

Positive Reinforcement

After a transition, positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool to promote good behavior during transitions and it is something that needs to happen when you have successful transitions. Whether it is a simple good job lining up quietly to a reward point on your classroom wide management system- make sure you do it. The students need to know that what they did way what you expect! Don’t have them guess- lay on that praise!

This helps reinforce the desired behavior and encourages students to continue following expectations during future transitions.

When transitions do not go well

When transitions do not go smoothly, it’s important for teachers to stay calm and model positive behavior for their students. Taking a few moments to regroup and address any behavior issues that may have arisen during the transition helps students understand what went wrong and how to improve for next time.  If you have time, review the expectations orally and then have a quick practice session to solidify what you want changed.

What to do with fast finishers?

In most every class, there will be one or two or maybe even three early finishers. It is almost impossible to have the entire class complete every task at the same time. These early finishers can put a big snag in your transition plans if you do not have a plan for them.

Here are three different things you could do for early finishers:

1. Have task boxes ready at their level for them to grab and go. Task boxes are great for early finishers because they are a way to give these students something to do that will still enhance their learning experience. They are not made to just sit there and be bored or do something that is busy work. You can give task boxes right at their level so they can learn specific skills they need.

2. Allow students time to read. If you have a fast finisher that loves to read- get them into a series or reading something that is of high interest to them. Allow them to dig in to learning something they choose.

3. Help! Is there a job you can give them? Run an errand to the office, bring a note to your favorite teacher bestie- sometimes these fast finishers are so fast because their bodies are just made to move. This is one way you can give them time to move by doing a physical activity without distracting their peers.

Are you struggling with the transition in from recess? That can be a tricky part of your day and then have a huge impact on the rest of your day. Check out this blog that gives you four effective ways you can help your class come in from recess without wasting a lot of time.

In conclusion, quick transitions are essential to maintaining good behavior and promoting better student attention. By establishing clear expectations, practicing transitions, prompting reminders, using hand signals and visual supports, providing positive reinforcement, and modeling positive behavior, teachers can use these great ideas to ensure smooth and productive transitions that maximize instructional time. Teachers should consistently incorporate these best practices to help their students succeed and achieve their full potential.

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