Why Some Teachers Have Smooth Running Classrooms

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I have observed many, many teachers in elementary and early childhood classrooms and the ones that have the smoothest-running classrooms all do the same thing: they teach procedures. Not only do they teach the procedures they need the children to follow, but they also have the children practice and they give them positive feedback until they become automatic routines. They make learning procedures the most important teaching priority in the first few weeks of school, even if it takes time away from other subjects. They more than make up for this time because their classrooms run so effectively.

So the first step in getting ready is to plan what procedures to focus on. It’s helpful to think about them in three groups based on when you will teach them: The first day of school, the first week of school, and the first six weeks. Here are some suggestions:

  • First Day of School

Quiet Signal

Arrival: putting things away and getting started on “do now” work

Lining Up

Walking in the Hallway

Using the Bathroom

Talking during group lessons

Dismissal: cleaning up desk and getting materials ready to go home

  • First Week of School

Fire Drill or Other Emergency Procedures

Morning Meeting

Moving from group meeting area to centers and other transitions

How to sit during the group meeting or circle time

Sharpening pencils, getting a drink

Using learning centers

Cleaning up after work time or center time

What to do when you’re finished early

How to say nice things to each other

How to push in chairs

How to hang up coats (this might have to wait for cold weather)

  • First Six Weeks of School

Working with a partner

Taking turns

Turn-and-Talk or Think-Pair-Share

Getting help when the teacher is working with a group

What to do when the teacher has a phone call or must leave the room

What to do when a visitor enters the classroom

What to do when someone is hurt

What to do when you need to calm down

How to take care of materials

How to take appropriate breaks

Teaching Procedures

The Responsive Classroom has a wonderful strategy for teaching procedures called “Interactive Modeling.” This has four distinctive elements:

  1. Students learn why the procedure is important
  2. Students observe the model and create a picture in their mind of what it should look like
  3. Students do the noticing in describing what’s happening
  4. Students practice and get immediate feedback.

Remember that children of all ages – from preschool to high school – need to be taught or reminded of how you want them to behave. Don’t be afraid to teach very minor procedures. It is better to err on the side of teaching too many than too few.

Please share with us in the comments what procedures you think are most important in your classroom and how you teach them.


Muriel Kappenberg Rand (born Muriel Louise Kappenberg; 1959-) is an author for Merrill-Pearson Education and NAEYC as well as a professor at New Jersey City University. She has self-published two practical textbooks on classroom management, for both early childhood and preschool level.

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