Session

1. Establishing effective routines

This session will take approximately 51 minutes to complete.

Session overview

Establishing and reinforcing routines can help to create an effective learning environment.

To support you to do this, in this session you will explore:

  • What routines are and why they are important
  • Common classroom routines:
    • Greeting pupils at the door and settling task
    • Transitioning to and from the carpet
    • Getting pupils’ attention
    • Exit routines
  • How to plan and teach a routine

What are routines and why are they important?

Classroom routines are procedures that are well established to ensure pupils complete tasks or transitions in an appropriate and time-efficient way.

Why are routines important?

Routines reduce pupil distractions, make the classroom environment predictable and secure, and reduce the possibility for misbehaviour. A predictable and secure environment benefits all pupils but is particularly valuable for pupils with special educational needs. Ultimately, creating and implementing routines in line with your school ethos saves time – and this means that pupils can spend more time focusing on what matters most: their learning.

In addition, research shows that routines are important for developing pupils’ emotional self-regulation – the ability to control their emotions. It is important to develop this because if pupils can control their emotional response, they are better able to concentrate and learn in the classroom, which affects success in school and future lives.

Pupils become more able to regulate emotions, such as boredom or frustration, by relying on classroom rules and routines that help them to redirect their attention and minimise stress (Ursache, Blair & Raver, 2012). Therefore, it is important that you invest time in establishing and reinforcing routines to create an effective learning environment.

Reflection

Think about your current classroom practice and consider the following questions.

  • What routines do you currently have in place?
  • How effective are these routines?
  • Do all your pupils understand and follow these routines?
  • Are there any tasks or transitions your pupils often make during lessons that would benefit from a more effective routine?

You now have 15 minutes to explore one of the routines below that you think would benefit your teaching practice the most:

  • ‘Greeting Pupils at the Door’ and ‘Settling Task’
  • ‘Transitioning to and from the Carpet’
  • ‘Getting Pupils’ Attention’
  • ‘Exit Routine’

Greeting pupils at the door

From the moment pupils arrive at your classroom door to the time you begin teaching, there is an opportunity to clearly set expectations and build relationships with pupils in your classroom.

One way to do this is to greet pupils at the door as they arrive. By meeting your pupils at the door as they enter your classroom, you can build relationships with your pupils, positively reinforce behavioural expectations and create a warm environment before the lesson even begins. By being welcoming, friendly, and setting up a predictable start to the lesson, you will begin to develop a trusting relationship with your pupils.

What makes it successful?

Exactly how you set up this routine may vary depending on the age of your pupils or your school’s policies, but here are some good steps you can take to make it successful:

Step 1: Stand at or around the door or entrance to the classroom. 

This will enable you to:

  • Monitor pupils’ moods and behaviours as they enter the classroom
  • See both inside the classroom and out onto the corridor or playground

Step 2: Positively interact with pupils as they come into the class to help build trust and respect.

This could be:

  • Greeting pupils by saying, “Good Morning”, to make your pupils feel welcome
  • Asking a relationship-building question like, “How did the football match go?”
  • Simply giving a non-verbal positive interaction like a warm smile
  • Providing positive reinforcement to pupils who are meeting your expectations, for example, “Thank you Mohammed for remembering to put your homework in the box”

Step 3: If necessary, provide corrective statements to individual pupils or the entire class to reinforce your expectations.

For example, you might:

  • Remind children of the behaviour you want to see in a respectful way, for example, “Remember, we should have our shirts tucked so we’re looking smart”
  • Use a positive frame such as, “I’m looking forward to seeing you concentrate really hard today”
  • Avoid negative comments like, “I don’t want you getting distracted again like you did last lesson”. This is a new lesson for you and your pupils, so start with a clean slate

If you also greet parents at the door, for example in Early Years or KS1, this is a great opportunity to build relationships with them too. Sharing a quick comment about how well their child did yesterday at a task or activity, or the progress they are making in a subject, will support you to build positive relationships with the families of your pupils. This in turn can improve pupils’ motivation, behaviour and academic success.

Settling task

Another routine you may wish to think about adopting at the start of the school year is introducing a settling task.

A settling task is a short task that pupils can complete the beginning of each lesson without any direct instruction from you. This type of task ensures pupils are focused on learning from the moment they enter your classroom, helping to create an effective learning environment.

By providing a settling task, you reduce the opportunities for low-level disruption such as talking or loitering. It also has the added bonus of affording you time to greet the pupils at the door, knowing everyone has a task to be getting on with while you do this.

What makes this successful?

Here are some ways you can make a settling task successful:

  • No direct instruction required – pupils should be able to see the activity and complete it immediately without asking for help from you or their peers. For younger pupils who can’t read directions or instructions, it might be helpful to model the task the day before or use a task they are already familiar with so when they enter, they can start the task without requiring too much instruction.
  • Observable – if you are in KS2 or above, the settling task works best if it involves some writing to make it more rigorous and engaging – and so you can see they’re completing it.
  • 5 minutes or less – this is a short task to begin the lesson or the day so it shouldn’t take any longer than 5 minutes to complete.
  • Review or preview – the task should be based on a review of learning from a previous lesson or a preview of the lesson that is about to begin.
  • Feedback – briefly review and feedback on the answers – ideally taking no more than 5 minutes. This may mean prioritising which parts of the activity to review with the whole class that will be highest leverage for your pupils.

Greeting pupils at the door and settling task in action

Choose the video that’s most suitable for you. While watching, think about the following questions:

  • What is the impact of these routines on pupils’ behaviour and learning at the start of the lesson?
  • Do these routines meet the success criteria?
  • Is there anything that would make the routine even better?

Here’s a reminder of the success criteria:

Greeting pupils at the door

  • Step 1: Stand at or around the door or entrance to the classroom
  • Step 2: Positively interact with pupils as they come into the class
  • Step 3: If necessary, provide pre-corrective statements to individual pupils or the entire class

Settling task

  • No direct instruction required
  • Observable
  • 5 minutes or less
  • Review or preview
  • Feedback
Greeting pupils at the door and settling task – Early Years – Jane Garrard at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Greeting pupils at the door and settling task – Early Years [AD]
Greeting pupils at the door and settling task – Secondary – Claire Couves at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Greeting pupils at the door and settling task – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions.

  • How do you greet and settle pupils at the beginning of a lesson?
  • Is this successful? If so, why? If not, how could you make this routine better?

Transitioning to and from the carpet

Transitioning from the carpet to tables or independent tasks is an activity that happens frequently in a Primary classroom – especially those in Early Years and Key Stage 1. Therefore, it is one routine that you could prioritise at the beginning of the school year to ensure it is well established and efficient.

What makes this routine successful?

When creating a routine for this, as with any other routine, it is helpful to ensure instructions are clear and concise, so pupils know what is expected of them. It is therefore useful if instructions are:

  • Specific and observable – they make the behaviours pupils are expected to exhibit explicit. This also makes it easy to observe whether pupils are doing them or not. For example, “Stand behind your chairs”, rather than, “Be ready”.
  • Sequential – they are given in the order that you want pupils to follow them.
  • Manageable – use fewer words to make the instruction easier for pupils to process and remember. You can replace words with numbers or gestures to make them even quicker to deliver.

Transitioning to and from the carpet in action

Choose one of the videos below to watch how a teacher manages the transition to and from the carpet.

As you watch, consider the following:

  • What impact does this routine have on the classroom environment and pupils’ learning?
  • Are the success criteria being met?
  • Is there anything that would make this routine better?
Transitioning to and from the carpet – Early Years at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Transitioning to and from the carpet – Early Years [AD]
Transitioning to and from the carpet – Primary at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Transitioning to and from the carpet – Primary [AD

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions.

  • How do you manage the transition between carpet, tables, and other activities?
  • Is this successful? If so, why? If not, how could you make this routine better?

Getting pupils’ attention

Getting pupils’ attention is a key skill for any teacher to master but can be very tricky to do effectively every time. Creating and explicitly teaching routines that reinforce your expectations about pupils’ attention can really support this.

There are numerous strategies you can use to get pupils’ attention – clapping a pattern, counting down, using an instrument, putting your hand in the air, and so on. Whichever strategy you use, it’s important that you use consistent language or non-verbal signals to support pupils’ understanding of what you are expecting them to do.

What makes this routine successful?

When creating a routine for this, as with any other routine, it is important that you are clear on what you want pupils to do. It is therefore useful if instructions are:

  • Specific and observable – they make the behaviours that pupils are expected to exhibit explicit. This also makes it easy to observe whether pupils are doing them or not. For example, saying, “Pencils down and eyes to me”, is observable. Conversely, saying, “Pay attention”, is vague and abstract.
  • Sequential – they are given in the order that you want pupils to follow them. For example, “Put your pens down, close your books, and eyes on me”.
  • Manageable – use fewer words to make the instruction easier for pupils to process and remember. You can replace words with numbers or gestures to make them even quicker to deliver.

Getting pupils’ attention in action

Watch one of the videos below to see how a teacher gets pupils’ attention by being clear on what they want pupils to do. As you watch, consider the following questions:

  • What makes their instructions effective?
  • How do they maintain expectations and ensure all pupils follow their instructions?
  • What impact does this routine have on the classroom environment and pupils’ learning?

Here’s a reminder of the success criteria:

Be clear on what to do by giving instructions that are:

  • Specific and observable
  • Sequential
  • Manageable
Getting pupils’ attention – Early Years at Ark John Keats Academy
Getting pupils’ attention – Primary at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Getting pupils’ attention – Primary at Reach Academy [AD]

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions.

  • How do you currently gain pupils’ attention?
  • Is this successful? If so, why? If not, how could you make this routine better?

Exit routine

You should hold and maintain high expectations of your pupils from the moment they enter your classroom to the moment they leave, which includes how they exit your classroom.

Once a lesson has ended, it can be tempting to encourage pupils to leave as quickly as possible to give you time to prepare for your next lesson. But this can cause a rowdy exit and may also leave you with a messy classroom that you have to tidy up – something you probably don’t have time for. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to leave time at the end of each lesson for an efficient exit routine.

What makes an exit routine successful?

This might depend on your school’s expectations and ethos, but it is helpful if:

  • Tables and learning spaces are tidy
  • Chairs are pushed under
  • Pupils leave the classroom in an orderly fashion

When creating a routine for this, as with any other routine, it is important that you are clear on what you want pupils to do. It is therefore useful if instructions are:

  • Specific and observable – they make the behaviours that pupils are expected to exhibit explicit. This also makes it easy to observe whether pupils are doing them or not. For example, saying, “Stand quietly behind your chair”, is observable. Conversely, saying, “Get ready to leave”, is vague and abstract.
  • Sequential – they are given in the order that you want pupils to follow them. For example, “Pass your books to the end of your row and pack your belongings away in your bag”.
  • Manageable – use fewer words to make the instruction easier for pupils to process and remember. You can replace words with numbers or gestures to make them even quicker to deliver.

Exit routine in action

Watch the video of pupils exiting the classroom in the phase of your choice and consider the following questions.

  • What makes this exit routine effective?
  • How do the pupils respond to it?
  • How does the routine demonstrate the teacher’s high expectations?
Exit routine – Primary – Juan Petroza at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Exit routine – Primary [AD]
Exit routine – Secondary – Phil Fowkes at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Exit routine – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions.

  • How do pupils currently exit your classroom?
  • Is this successful? If so, why? If not, how could you make this routine better?

The importance of teaching and practising

Effective routines take time to teach and fully establish. It can feel daunting to do this and you may feel a pressure to move on to teaching the curriculum as soon as possible. However, time spent setting up efficient classroom routines pays dividends in the long term, as the incremental minutes saved each lesson by efficient routines adds up to lots of extra learning time across the year.

Here Tom Bennett explains why explicitly teaching and practicing routines is so important. Whilst watching, consider the following questions.

  • Why is it important to explicitly teach routines?
  • What are the five tips that Tom outlines for when teaching behavioural expectations and routines?

Why is it important to explicitly teach and practice routines? – Tom Bennett

Video transcript

OK, why teach routines explicitly? This is one of the best questions I think of behaviour management because one of the mistakes that I think lots of teachers make is they very frequently assume that children know how to behave in the way that they want them to behave. This is expecting children to be telepathic in ways which they are clearly not. A lot of children come from backgrounds and circumstances where they have not been exposed to lots of social capital, where they haven’t been shown how to take their turn or say please and thank you and so on. Or where they haven’t been exposed to lots of cultural capital, so they haven’t been taken to lots of museums and exposed to art and poetry and science and different places. They may not have come from circumstances where they have been read to a lot or expected to read in turn or count or add up, which means their literacy and their numeracy, the gateway skills to almost everything else in education, are further behind than lots of their other, more advantaged peers. Or worse, these children might have come from toxic environments where they’ve been taught to have bad habits. Habits, which to them aren’t misbehaviour or bad habits, which to them are just how to survive in the environment in which they have been brought up. For example, a child brought up in a large family with inattentive parents, you know, for whatever reason, may find themselves having to shout out or demand attention in order to get the esteem that they seek. Now that child might then bring that into the classroom and repeat that type of behaviour and to them it’s not misbehaviour, to them it’s the habit of how they operate and how they achieve esteem and value and status in a social environment.

So, that’s one type of child, and another type of child might have been exposed to loads of social capital and cultural capital and literacy and numeracy and so on. Now those children, and good for them – I am very happy that they have received it – might come into school with very different attitudes, expectations, values and beliefs about what education is for and how to behave in an educational environment. The basic point is this: knowing how to behave in a classroom isn’t something children are born with. It’s not written on their brains from the womb. They have to be taught it. They have to learn it and the child who might behave very well in your class, you might say ‘oh what a great child’, when in actual fact, while that may be true, what it also means is that child has been taught to be like that. And children who have been less advantaged have frequently not been taught to be like that as much as their more advantaged peers. Often this correlates to social economic circumstances, but not always. There is plenty of disadvantage in more middle-class families as well.

So what this means is, is that one of the best things we can do to try to close the disadvantage gap and to create an equitable classroom is to help children know how to behave, which means teaching routines and norms of the classroom as if it were a curriculum itself – teaching behaviour as a curriculum as explicitly and as consciously and coherently as we were to teach literacy or numeracy to the children. Which means not assuming they know how to behave, but first of all assessing how they already behave and what their habits are and then helping them and supporting them by teaching them the routines and habits that will help them to flourish in the classroom, rather than assuming they’ll work it out as they go along. We wouldn’t teach a foreign language like that. We wouldn’t teach numeracy like that. We wouldn’t expect the least able to work out for themselves the most difficult and hardest of lessons, so why should we do this with behaviour? Which means the teacher that genuinely cares about the children and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of the classroom will teach routines as a scaffold or a skeleton or a climbing frame upon which children can hang their behaviour. They need something towards which they can cleave.

There’s a well-known phenomenon called the curse of expertise, which simply put is this: when you’re very good at something, it’s very easy to overestimate how good other people are who are less good at it. For instance, if you have a PhD in mathematics, you often struggle to remember why some people find it hard to do basic numeracy – adding up, times tables and so on. And that’s because you’ve internalised the harder lessons of mathematics so ably and so well that the basics of it seem so easy. This is the curse of expertise and it’s exactly the same with behaviour. I’ll wager that most teachers and most adults working in education are what I would call ‘expert behavers’. They know exactly how to be patient, wait their turn, focus on texts and so on and a lot of children have not acquired these skills, habits or aptitudes yet. So be as explicit as you can with the routines:

  • Teach it sequentially;
  • Teach it clearly;
  • Demonstrate by example;
  • Correct common misconceptions; and
  • Re-teach the parts that you think need to be re-taught, including, if necessary, getting them to do it all over again so they don’t just think about what they should be doing, but they demonstrate what they should be doing.

And that’s how you would teach any subject or topic and that’s how we should teach behaviour – by focusing on routines.

How to teach effective routines

Time is one of the most important resources you have as a teacher and so it’s important you do what you can to conserve it. Routines can help with this by enabling pupils to complete a task in the quickest, simplest way that requires you to give only a few brief instructions. The following suggestions will support you when planning and teaching your routines.

  1. Be clear on what you want pupils to do
    When creating any routine, it is important that you are clear on what you want pupils to do. It is therefore useful if you plan your instructions in advance and ensure that they are:
    • Specific and observable – they make the behaviours pupils are expected to exhibit explicit. This also makes it easy to observe whether pupils are doing them or not. For example, saying, “Pencils down and eyes to me” is specific and observable whereas saying, “Pay attention” is vague and abstract.
    • Sequential – they are given in the order that you want pupils to follow them. For example, “Put your pens down, close your books, and eyes on me”.
    • Manageable – use fewer words to make the instruction easier for pupils to process and remember. You can replace words with numbers or gestures to make them even quicker to deliver.
  2. Teach and model your routine in small steps
    • Teaching a routine in small steps helps to make it manageable and memorable for pupils. When teaching each step, make your behavioural expectations explicit by modelling the step as you describe it. This helps to build pupils’ mental model of the routine and makes it more likely they will achieve success.
  3. Practise your routine at the beginning of the school year until pupils meet your expectations
    • Practice is an integral part of effective teaching; ensuring pupils have opportunities to practise, with appropriate guidance and feedback, increases the chances of them being successful when completing the routine. Frame guidance and feedback positively to motivate pupils to do better next time.

Note that while pupils may master routines after lots of practise at the start of the year, over time you may notice some routines slipping a little. Demonstrate the high expectations you have of your pupils by positively reinforcing your routines and practising them again if necessary. This is the key to maintaining high quality, efficient routines.

Planning your routine

During your next mentor meeting, classroom routines will be observed. Take some time to consider which routines you could establish or improve to enhance learning time in your classroom. Some routines you may wish to consider improving or establishing are listed below in order of highest leverage for pupil learning:

  • Greeting pupils at the door and settling task
  • Getting pupils’ attention
  • Transitioning to and from the carpet
  • Exit routine

You may wish to discuss which one would be highest leverage for you to establish or improve with your mentor. Once you have decided upon a routine, plan how you will teach it in detail and script what you will say. It is helpful to remember to:

  • Be clear on what you want pupils to do
  • Ensure your instructions are:
    • Specific and observable
    • Sequential
    • Manageable
  • Plan to teach and model your routine in small steps
  • Plan to practise your routine

Click here for an example of a script on transitioning pupils from carpets to tables

(When pupils are sat on the carpet) “Today we are going to learn how to come to the carpet and go to our tables quickly and quietly. This is important because it ensures we can spend as much time as possible on our learning.” 

“I am going to teach you three instructions and show you what I want you to do when I say these instructions. After I have shown you, I might ask another pupil to demonstrate this so make sure you’re listening carefully.”

“When I say ‘one’, please stand.” (Model standing up and remaining on the spot).

“When I say ‘two’, please walk to your space and pull out your chair.” (Model walking calmly to a space and pulling out the chair).

“When I say ‘three’, please sit down and begin your work.” (Model sitting down at the table and beginning some work).

“Now, who can show me what to do?” Ask one pupil to demonstrate what to do whilst I give the instructions. 

“One”, (pupil should stand). Provide praise to that pupil if they remember what to do. Ask another pupil to help them if they have forgotten. 

“Two”, (pupil should calmly walk to their table and pull out their chair). Provide praise to that pupil if they remember what to do. Ask another pupil to help them if they have forgotten.

“Three”, (pupil should sit down and begin their work). Provide praise to that pupil if they remember what to do. Ask another pupil to help them if they have forgotten.

“Now I am going to ask all of you to do this. Do you think you can do it as well as Zackary? Let’s see! I am looking for calm sensible children. Who will really impress me I wonder?”

“One”, (all pupils should stand). Provide praise to pupils if they remember what to do. Provide gentle prompts and support to pupils who have forgotten.

“Two”, (all pupils should calmly walk to their table and pull out their chair). Provide praise to pupils if they remember what to do. Provide gentle prompts and support to pupils who have forgotten.

“Three”, (all pupils should sit down and begin their work). Provide praise to pupils if they remember what to do. Provide gentle prompts and support to pupils who have forgotten.

Practise as many times as required.

Related ECF strands

High Expectations

1.5 A culture of mutual trust and respect supports effective relationships.

1.6 High-quality teaching has a long-term positive effect on pupils’ life chances, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

1d. Seeking opportunities to engage parents and carers in the education of their children (e.g. proactively highlighting successes).

Managing behaviour

7.1 Establishing and reinforcing routines, including through positive reinforcement, can help create an effective learning environment.

7.2 A predictable and secure environment benefits all pupils, but is particularly valuable for pupils with special educational needs.

7.5 Building effective relationships is easier when pupils believe that their feelings will be considered and understood.

7c. Giving manageable, specific and sequential instructions.

7e. Using consistent language and non-verbal signals for common classroom directions.

7h. Creating and explicitly teaching routines in line with the school ethos that maximise time for learning (e.g. setting and reinforcing expectations about key transition points).

7i. Practising routines at the beginning of the school year.

7j. Reinforcing routines (e.g. by articulating the link between time on task and success).

Professional behaviours

8.4 Building effective relationships with parents, carers and families can improve pupils’ motivation, behaviour and academic success.

8m. Using and personalising systems and routines to support efficient time and task management.