2. Routines

Video transcript

Presenter intro: Peps McCrea

Good routines can really help both teachers and pupils. When they’re in place, classrooms work better, and everyone has more time for learning. And when teachers set up routines, they have a great opportunity to build a culture and environment that will help their pupils to learn. So routines are a brilliant place to start.

Presenter main

We know that the environment in which pupils learn can have a big impact on the quality of their learning. All pupils thrive in an environment where they feel safe and secure, and predictability can help with this. A predictable and secure environment can be particularly valuable for pupils with SEND.

Predictable doesn’t mean boring or unstimulating. Quite the opposite. A predictable environment can provide the structure and security that enables pupils to do a wide range of activities such as playing, asking questions and thinking deeply. All of these can benefit learning.

Teachers can use routines to build a secure environment. Where there are good routines in place, pupils know what they should and shouldn’t do, which helps them to succeed. It also tends to reduce negative behaviour. And when everyone sticks to the routines, the classroom can feel predictable and safe.

Good routines also free up more time for learning. We knew that doing the same thing over time can help us to become more fluent in it. And once we do something fluently, it means we are drawing on information in our long-term memory, which frees up space in our working memory. This should help pupils to pay attention to what they’re learning.

In order to establish routines, teachers need to plan, teach, and constantly reinforce routines with their pupils.

In the first instance, teachers need to think carefully about the most important routines that they need and then plan how they will establish them. Typical classroom routines include how pupils enter and exit the classroom, how materials are handed out, how pupils move from one space in the room to another, how they respond to questions, and the routines for paired and group talk. These are things that pupils do all the time, so it’s worth creating a routine for them. When planning a routine, it’s useful to consider what the pupils should be doing, what resources they might need, and what the teacher should be doing.

Once teachers have thought through their routines, they need to explicitly teach them to pupils and get all their pupils to practice and repeat them. When doing so, it is important that their instructions are specific, sequential and manageable.

You might also discuss why the routine is there and how it can help pupils to achieve important classroom values.

And when a routine is in place, teachers need to help it stay in place by clearly reminding pupils of what they need to do. Positive reinforcement is a great way to communicate the shared values that improve classroom and school culture. For example, teachers might reinforce the entry routine by thanking a pupil who walks into the classroom calmly or acknowledge a pupil who gets started with their work straight away. We can’t assume that pupils will know what this culture is. As key role models, teachers have to tell them and show them.

All of this may take time to get right, and you may need to revisit routines across the year, but it is time and energy that is well worth investing in. Great classroom routines help to create a space where all pupils can learn.

Presenter exemplification framing

A key routine that teachers might want to think about is how their pupils will enter their classroom. In a moment, we are going to look at an entry routine. As you watch, pay particular attention to the following:

  • Explicitly teaching routine and behavioural expectations
  • Positive reinforcement

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

The way that pupils enter the classroom can have a big impact on the start of the lesson. We want to help them enter calmly and focus their attention on what they’re about to learn. Imagine that I’m teaching a year four class. I’ve collected them from the playground after break, and they are lined up waiting to enter the classroom. When they enter, there is an activity asking them to complete punctuation errors in simple sentences. This is something that they have practiced before, and I know that my pupils can all access the learning on their own. I’ve previously taught the class how I want them to enter the classroom, and they’ve practiced this. Now they’re doing it well, I want to reinforce our entry routine so it really sticks. Before the lesson, I quickly scripted what I want to say to make sure that my instructions are really clear.

“Good morning year four, it’s lovely to see you all lined up so silently. So when we come into the classroom today, remember you’re going to move straight to your desk, begin the starter task in silence. Okay, first 10, in you come.

[Teacher gestures to pupils to walk in. Teacher is intentionally looking at pupils lining up in the corridor and watching them as they enter the classroom]

Morning, Arfan. Morning Artek, morning Chante. I can see Arfan’s already started the task in silence, thank you. Morning, Lily. So has Chante. Thank you.

[Teacher notices that one pupil is not doing the starter activity so looks at them and then points at the instructions on the white board]

Everyone moving nice and silently, thank you.”

So let’s unpick the model. To begin with, I set clear expectations. I told them to come in, to move to their seats, and then begin the starter activity in silence. I then reiterated these instructions as the first couple of students entered. My pupils are familiar with this routine, but it’s still important to remind them of each step, in detail. First, they enter the classroom in silence. Then they sit at their seat and begin the starter activity. My instructions were specific and sequential, which helped pupils to follow them.

I used positive reinforcement to help maintain the routine. As soon as I noticed pupils who were doing what I expected, I pointed this out. Arfan has made a start. Again, even when pupils are confident with the routine, positive reinforcement helps to keep it in place.

You might also have noticed that I gave a non-verbal reminder. At one point in the routine, I noticed that one of my pupils hadn’t started to work as I’d asked. I looked at the pupil, then pointed at the instructions on the whiteboard. This quick, non-verbal reminder was enough to get the pupil back on track and it didn’t distract me or the other pupils. I was able to see this behaviour because I was standing in a position where I could see both into the classroom and the pupils as they entered, and I was constantly checking both.

Finally, I created a culture where trust and respect are important by greeting each pupil in the same polite, warm, and friendly manner. In doing so, I’m welcoming each pupil into the classroom and establishing a positive tone for the lesson. I want my pupils to be polite, so it’s essential that I model this to every single one of them. And I also want them to begin the lesson with a positive interaction.

Overall, my instructions help pupils follow the routine and get started quickly.

Presenter key ideas

In this video, we’ve thought about the role that routines play in the classroom, identified the key features of a good routine, and looked at an example that demonstrates these. Before we finish, take a moment to read through the key features of effective routines.

  • Explicitly teach routine and behavioural expectations
  • Practise routines
  • Give manageable, specific and sequential instructions
  • Use consistent language and non-verbal signals for common classroom directions

Which of these ideas do you currently recognize from your school setting?

Presenter summary

A big part of our job is to build an environment where pupils can learn and succeed. Getting your routines right provides a great foundation for learning.

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Teaching challenge

Mr Price wants to have a classroom where pupils enter quietly and begin their learning promptly. However, only about half of his pupils are starting the lesson in this way. Some pupils are taking up to ten minutes to settle and are slow to start tasks during the early part of the lesson. What might Mr Price do to tackle this challenge?

Key idea

Establishing and maintaining routines can increase both the amount of time that pupils spend learning, and the quality of that learning.

Evidence summary

The power of routines

Routines are just any aspect of the classroom that have a repeating and familiar pattern. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that establishing and maintaining routines leads to positive, predictable and motivating classrooms (Kern & Clemens, 2007).

When pupils are able to predict the events that happen during their school day, they are more likely to be engaged and less likely to exhibit undesirable behaviours. Routines are great ways to increase the predictability of the classroom, particularly at the start of the school year.

Aspects of the lesson that are ripe for building strong routines include:

  • How pupils enter the classroom and start the lesson.
  • How pupils finish the lesson and exit the classroom.
  • What pupils do when they complete activities or get stuck.
  • How pupils engage in classroom discussion.

Setting expectations

To set up routines in ways that work and last, teachers need to communicate and reinforce expectations of what should happen. If pupils are not clear about what they are expected to do, routines are unlikely to take hold and remain.

Research has demonstrated that the higher the expectations that teachers have of their pupils, the better the behaviour will end up being. And if multiple teachers are able to set and maintain expectations, then behaviour will be better across the school as a whole (Kern & Clemens, 2007). Mr Price should recognise his responsibilities as part of a wider system of behaviour management, but also understand that he has the right to support and training from senior colleagues.

Communicating expectations around routines are most effective when they are:

  • Concise: Communicate the routine using a few clear steps. Complexity can be added as routines get embedded.
  • Positively framed: Say what you want pupils to do rather than what you don’t want them to do.
  • Modelled: Regularly show your pupils what you want them to do, particularly when you are in the early stages of establishing a routine.

Getting routines to stick

As well as setting clear expectations for a routine, we also have to think carefully about how we make that routine last. Routines will simply dissipate as pupils forget and other things interfere, unless we take intentional steps to make them stick. To maintain routines, we can (IES, 2008):

  • Revise: Continually repeat our expectations of what we think the routine should be like and why, even after pupils have ‘got it’.
  • Re-practise: Keep getting pupils to do the routine. In the early days, you can even get them to do a ‘rehearsal’ or two.
  • Reinforce: Use the school behaviour system (e.g. praise, rewards and sanctions) to help pupils keep to the routine. To be effective, reinforcement should be mostly positive and consistently applied.

When routines are established, not only do they create more time and a better environment for learning, but they can help teachers see and deal with undesirable behaviour as soon as it arises. Routines create predictable patterns of classroom activity and so make it easy to spot when behaviour deviates from what is expected. Catching and correcting challenging behaviour early can make pupils feel safer and creates a warmer classroom environment where learning is more likely to occur (Kern & Clemens, 2007).

Nuances and caveats

Is it realistic for Mr Price to expect all the pupils he teaches to meet his high expectations and adopt routines? Research suggests that clear expectations and predictable consequences are beneficial to both pupils with and without special educational needs, and especially useful for younger pupils (DfE, 2017; Gathercole et al., 2006).

Key takeaways

Mr Price can use routines to establish positive behaviour for learning by understanding that:

  • Routines can create a positive and motivating climate in the classroom.
  • High expectations can improve pupil behaviour at both a classroom and school level.
  • For routines to take hold expectations must be clearly communicated and modelled.
  • For routines to stick they need to be revised, re-practised and reinforced.

Further reading

IES. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom.


Department for Education. (2017). SEN support: A rapid evidence assessment.

IES. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom.

Gathercole, S., Lamont, E., & Alloway, T. (2006). Working memory in the classroom. Working memory and education, 219-240.

Kern, L. & Clemens, N.H. (2007). Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Psychology in Schools, 44, 65-75.


Answer the questions in the quiz to check your understanding of the evidence summary.

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Reminder of key takeaways

Mr Price can use routines to establish positive behaviour for learning by understanding that:

  • Routines can create a positive and motivating climate in the classroom.
  • High expectations can improve pupil behaviour at both a classroom and school level.
  • For routines to take hold expectations must be clearly communicated and modelled.
  • For routines to stick they need to be revised, re-practised and reinforced.

Reflect on the following questions

  1. What did you see in this module that you already do or have seen in other classrooms?
  2. What do you feel is the gap between your current practice and what you have seen in this module?
  3. Which of the ‘key takeaways’ do you need to focus on? Where and when might you try to apply them to your teaching?