2. Routines

Video transcript

Presenter intro

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 the 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. Pupils thrive in a setting where they know what will happen next.

Teachers can use routines to build a secure environment. When 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 feels predictable and safe.

Good routines also free up more time for learning. We know 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 are 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 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 is 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 their pupils to practise and repeat them. When doing so, it is important that their instructions should be specific, sequential and manageable.

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.

This 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 acknowledging a pupil who gets started with their work straightaway. 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 will take time to get right. But it is time and energy that is well worth investing in. Great classroom routines help to create a space where pupils can learn.

Presenter framing script

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 see Ambition Institute coach Steve Farndon model an entry routine. As you watch, pay particular attention to how Steve does the following:

  • Explicitly tells pupils what he expects them to do.
  • Positively reinforces the routine.

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 are about to learn. I’m about to model how I might welcome my pupils into the classroom. For context, imagine that I am teaching a year 4 class. At the start of the term, I explained to my pupils how I would like them to enter the classroom and gave them lots of time to practise. They are pretty good at the routine, but I still need to reinforce it. I have collected them from the playground after lunch and they are lined up waiting to enter the classroom. When they enter, there is an activity which asks them to complete punctuation errors in simple sentences. This is something that they have practised before and I know my pupils can all access the learning on their own.

[Teacher stands in the doorway, in a position where they can see both down the corridor and into the classroom.]

“Good morning year 4 its lovely to see you all. So remember, when you come into the classroom today, I want you to hang your coats up on your peg, move quietly to your seat and begin the starter activity in silence. Right, so the first ten, I’d like you to come in now please.

Afternoon Sam, afternoon Trevor. Great: put your coat on the peg, moving to your seat in silence. Afternoon Saskia, afternoon Iris.

[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]

Great. I can see that Sarah has got straight on with the task. Ryan has made a start too.

[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].

Good afternoon Fatimah, good afternoon Andrew. Good.”

To begin with, I clearly set out my expectations: I told them to come in, hang their coats on the peg and begin the starter activity. I then reiterated these instructions as the first couple of pupils entered. My pupils are familiar with this routine, but it is still important to remind them of each step in detail: first they hang their coats up, then they sit at their seat and begin the starter activity. My instructions were specific and sequential, which helps 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. 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 the work as I had asked them to. I looked at the pupil and then pointed at the instructions on the white board. This quick non-verbal reminder was enough to get the pupil back on track and it didn’t distract me or other pupils. I was able to see this behaviour because I was standing in a position where I could see both the classroom and pupils as they entered, and I was constantly checking both.

Finally, I created a culture of trust and respect by greeting each pupil in the same polite, warm and friendly manner. In doing so, I am welcoming each pupil into the classroom and establishing a positive tone for the lesson. I want my pupils to be polite, so it is essential that I model this to every single one of them.

Overall, I have been able to help pupils follow the routine and get started quickly, having had a positive interaction with their teacher.

Presenter summary script

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. Which of these ideas do you see currently recognise from your school setting?

  • 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.

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?