Routines and consistency matter greatly and are necessary for creating a smooth learning environment in your classroom. Routines help with creating community, checking for understanding, and managing the classroom.
If students come in knowing they’ll be required to write, read, or share at the launch of the lesson, they enter the room already anticipating that there is an immediate expectation. (The same goes for closing routines and winding down your lesson.) There won’t be the usual litanies of, “What are we doing today?” Students often are calmer knowing a task is at hand.
Share One Word: Ask students to share one word about how they are feeling that day. It can be in general, about a new project, or about something that is happening in their lives or in the world. This is whole-child stuff that tends to the emotional aspect of the student, bringing balance to the academic and intellectual focuses that typically drive the school day. It also builds emotional intelligence.
When I was first doing this opening routine, students would say things like good, OK, tired, and bad, but as they became more comfortable with each other and gained a larger vocabulary of emotion words, they began to share such words as pensive, anxious, serene, and frustrated. To lower the stakes in the beginning, have students share with a neighbor or in a triad, then build to a whip around the room where everyone shares her or his word aloud.
Quote of the Day: Students love to share their opinions—who doesn’t? As an opening routine, I used Quote of the Day the first few years I taught high school, and it proved a great success. I would find a quote from a singer, actor, politician, or famous dead person and have it displayed on the board when students walked in. They would sit down and begin writing a response. Under the quote, I would include the same question prompts: What does it mean? How can you relate to it, or make a connection to the world?
The Reading Minute: This one comes from English language arts teacher guru Kelly Gallagher. Find a passage online or in a book—an excerpt of a poem, essay, article, or story—and read it aloud. It might be humorous, interesting, angering, or beautiful, exhibiting great writing. After you read it, students open their notebooks and write either a one-sentence summary to remember what they just read, or a thesis statement.
After you’ve modeled this for a month, have students sign up to bring in a passage to read aloud for the Reading Minute. At the end of each semester, you can have students look back at their collection of responses and reflect on what was their favorite passage and why—they learned something important, it made them laugh, etc. Check out this video of Gallagher discussing the Reading Minute.
Cleaning up and discussing homework are important routines for the end of the day, but it’s also important to give your students a chance to further process their learning, and even to set a goal. Closing routines allow students to check their understanding and create an opportunity to reflect. A routine is a great way to wrap up your lessons. Closing routines also honor your time together that day, as well as give your students an opportunity to use their voice. The following are three examples of exit slips that can be completed on a small piece of scratch paper or a sticky note at the close of class.
Rate the Learning or Lesson: This exit slip can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. Ask students to rate—on a scale of 1 to 10—how well they understood the learning that day. If they rate their understanding low, ask them to write down what they may need (more time, more explanation, a graphic organizer to help with writing the essay, etc.). Students can also rate the lesson or teaching on a 1 to 10 scale—ask them to write a sentence or two giving feedback on the materials or activity that day.
Collect the slips, and after your students leave, make piles of similar ratings. If you have a lot of 8, 9, and 10 ratings, the lesson went well. If you have lower numbers, it might be time to probe for further information from the whole class the next day, and then review or reteach.
Closing Statement or Question: Ask students to first turn and talk in pairs or in a triad and discuss questions such as: What did you learn? What surprised you? What is unclear? What do you want to know more about? Then ask them to come up with a closing statement or question about the content and write it down. Collect the slips and use them for talking points the next day, answering questions and commenting on statements they wrote.
Grab a Goal: Ask your students to think about a goal they would like to set for themselves. It can have to do with the unit of study, or it can be a personal goal outside of the classroom. Use sentence starters to prompt the writing for this one:
- Tomorrow, in class I will be ready to _____.
- Tonight, I will _____.
- By the end of the semester, I will _____.
Have students share with a neighbor or in small groups, and ask for a few volunteers to share with the whole class. You can share your own as well. Collect the slips—this is a wonderful way to get to know your students.
Writing their names on exit slips was optional for me. You decide—perhaps sometimes yes, and other times no. Students will be more honest if the exit slips are anonymous. Yet with goal setting, there’s more accountability if you have names, and you can check in with individuals and offer specific supports and encouragement.
Collaborating With Colleagues
Advice I like to give to new teachers: Go out and collect opening and closing routines from fellow teachers. The internet is not always the best place to seek curricular materials—your colleagues are. Talk with colleagues during meetings and stop by their rooms to take a look at their resources and student products.
A mistake new teachers often make is thinking they have to create everything from scratch. I explain that there are those who have been at this a long time and have honed strategies, collected data and student samples, and adjusted that activity or project to make it even better—and they are there, right next door, ready to share their expertise and resources with you.