Using schedules and routines to help your classroom run smoothly

Student completing a worksheet

Schedules and routines help your students learn independence, responsibility and agency…and serve as a great way to keep your classroom running smoothly.

If you are out for the day, do your students know what to do? Can they navigate their day with minimal prompts from you or your classroom staff?

Let’s discuss how to create, teach and implement a routine that helps you and your students stay on task throughout the day.

Creating a routine

Creating a routine requires quite a bit of planning. It’s easiest to think of your end goal for the routine and work backwards from there. For example, if your end goal is for students to independently complete and turn in their morning work, what do the in-between steps look like that are needed to achieve this?

These steps may look like:

  1. Students enter the classroom in the morning
  2. Students hang up their backpack
  3. Students go to their desk
  4. Students write their name at the top of the worksheet already laid out on their desk
  5. Students complete their worksheet
  6. Students stand up and bring completed worksheet to the designated bin
  7. Students return to their desk
  8. Students choose a free time activity from the choice board until class begins

Just like any task analysis, students with different levels of needs will need different levels of the routine broken down. For example, a student who needs less support could have steps 2 and 3 combined.

Teaching the routine 

Looking at all of these steps can seem overwhelming. Are you wondering, “How can my students learn to do all of these steps without constant prompting?”

The good news is that you can teach a routine in the same way that you would teach any skill:

  • Create a visual task analysis or visual schedule for this new routine (tip: laminate one so they can check off each step with a white board marker as they go!)
  • Start with just the first step, and once that is mastered, progress on to each subsequent step
    • Provide praise/reinforcement after each new step is learned
  • Once all of the steps are learned, you can begin to fade away the visual schedule.
Incorporating the routines into your schedule 

Ideally, you will have several smaller routines that you can program into your classroom schedule. Doing so will allow your day to run as seamlessly as a room full of students can run!

Smaller routines may look like:

  • 7:40-8:00: Morning work (morning work routine)
  • 8:00-8:45: ELA
  • 8:45-9:00: Transition to specials (clean up/line up routine)
  • 9:00-9:45: Specials
  • 9:45-10:00: Transition back to class (get settled routine)
Teaching to independence

As wonderful as routines within schedules can be, if your students do not have independence with these routines, the burden will fall to you. This means that when you are absent, have a substitute, or your students are in a different environment, their routines go out the window.

To make sure this is not what happens, you can teach your students to be more independent with their routines.

Here are some helpful tips to foster routine independence:

  • After students begin to master routines with prompts from you, have them begin to self-manage with a checklist or visual schedule that they check off themselves
  • Establish a cue that begins the routine. For the morning work routine, the cue would be entering the classroom. This means that students learn that as soon as they enter the classroom, they begin their morning work routine. This could also be a phrase such as “Time to pack up!” to cue students to start a transition to specials routine
    • Hint: make sure you leave these cues in a sub plan!
  • Reinforce independence whenever possible. If students start to initiate their routines independently, immediately acknowledge this independence in some way.

What do your schedules and routines look like?

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