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Classroom Transitions: Bring Your Ideas for How to Make Them Better for Students

Classroom Transitions: Bring Your Ideas for How to Make Them Better for Students

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Classroom transitions- all schools have them.  Most teachers hate them.  Whether it be between classrooms or between subjects or times of day.  Transitions can be the most challenging times of day for our young students.  So many student issues arise just before, during and just after transitions.  

My new favorite transition strategy is one I call "R & B."  Students may Read or deep Breathe at their desk.  They are typically 2-5 minutes long and I often play music.  Early in the year I teach my students how to belly breathe.  I have found that my wiggliest students actually REALLY enjoy the few minutes to just "breathe out" so to speak.  Even though it takes a few minutes from the start of my next lesson, I have found it pays HUGE dividends in the long run and my students are more engaged and productive afterwards.

What strategies have you used to smooth transitions?  How do you structure the various transitions so students will be more successful switching gears to the next thing?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Margaret Shafer's picture
Margaret Shafer
Third grade teacher in the Midwest

At this time of year (starting week four for our district) my mantra is "six weeks." No matter what procedures I put in place, it takes my first graders six weeks to get really good at them. Every student in my class has either a team job or a class job. Once they know these and have established a daily routine where kids know what to expect, everything goes better. We're getting good at the class jobs, but team jobs still need a little work. Right now we're still struggling with good behavior on bathroom breaks. Six weeks!

I like the breathing idea. Have you tried GoNoodle? Some of the brain breaks on that are for calming down rather than getting the wiggles out.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I agree on the first six weeks- back to school is the biggest transition our students face. Then there is transitions from vacations and even three day weekends which can be challenging for students. (I saw a public service advertisement in a newspaper talking about the first six weeks for college students and how it sets the tone for their entire year.)

I would love to know more about your team jobs.

Yes, I have tried GoNoodle for big movements, but none of the more calming ones yet.

Margaret Shafer's picture
Margaret Shafer
Third grade teacher in the Midwest

Good point about the other big transitions.

I have kids in teams of three or four kids, depending on numbers. (If three, someone does two jobs.) One team member sharpens pencils first thing in the morning for the class supply. The second one collects papers for the team and passes them out to the team. The third is in charge of supplies we don't keep in our desks, like white boards, math manipulatives, etc. The fourth does a different class job each day, like line leader, calendar, weather, etc. We change team jobs every week so that eventually everyone gets to do everything. Then I rearrange teams every four weeks. Subs don't get this initially, but after the first cycle kids are pretty good. By the second everyone is on board. I like it because every team member feels needed to keep the class running smoothly.

I'm curious what kind of music you play.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

The music depends on the student mix that year and what I think they either need at the time or can handle listening to and still get ready for the next activity. I play everything from soft classical to Jack Johnson. I play ambient nature stuff, Star Wars and other soundtracks. The kids love listening to Close Encounters and Star Wars when we study space! I have a Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks CD, which is a tribute album featuring covers of Schoolhouse Rocks songs performed by alternative rock acts and I have some of the SH Rock originals. I also play music when doing art activities such as cutting, sketching, coloring, and at times even during writing. Although I have to say that during writing I think it helps some kids and some kids struggle to focus with the music playing. Depends on the kids and the music I choose.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Thanks for this post, it's gotten me thinking ... I am in a slightly different situation as I see five classes of K-4 students in a tech lab, different classes every day, 500+ kids a week. So, I need something that I can scaffold from kinders all the way to 4th graders.

For me the big transitions are entry and exit. We have a giant tally board in my room and when the kids come in quietly and line up as they are supposed to they earn a tally. They can lose them as well. The class with the most tallies at the end of the month gets a reward of some kind. Sounds simplistic, and it is, but it has to be given the scope I have to handle.

One thing I am going to try this year is a line-up trick I dreamed up called "spare a square" (the kids won't get the Seinfeld reference, but the teachers will.) Basically once the kids enter my room I'll want them to stand in line but also in their own 12" x 12" floor tile square. This should in theory help them stay out of each other's space while in line. Will let you know how it goes!

I'd like to use music but given the layout of my room it's not that advantageous. John, if you want to have some fun, since you like ambient music (as I do), check this out - it's Justin Beiber's SMILE slowed down 800x:

It sounds AMAZING and always blows' kids mind when I tell them they are listening to Justin Bieber! Ha!

Happy New School Year,


Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

I transition to music, but usually use music to bring them back and ready to listen. If students are working in groups on an art project or collaborating around the room in some way,I'll hit the music for a clean-up. The rules are they cannot talk during cleanup unless they are singing and the goal is to clean up and return to chair ready to listen before the music ends.

I've been using music for a long time and here are some tips to help.

1. I always want a full song to play so the students can focus on the structure of the song.
(They can predict how much time is left by the progression of the music)

2. I almost always us instrumental tunes about a minute long.

3. I've used iTunes to revise song lengths. (Sometimes bands put little interludes in
between tracks that are connected to songs. I cut the track off and just use the interlude.
(Example: Dave Matthews band has great little jams on Before These Crowded Streets)

4. I create a playlist for each song. Yes, one song in the playlist. This allows you to hit the play button and then go off to prepare for the next lesson or wait for kids. You don't have to worry about the next track playing. One and done.

Here are some of my favorites.

"Interlude I" Soulive, 0:52
"Intermission" Tool, 0:56
"Grind" Phish, 0:59
"Photographs" Eddie Vedder, 1:01
"Tuolumne" Eddie Vedder, 1:02
"Mr. Fox in Fields" Alexandre Desplat, 1:02
"I Blame You" Obits, 1:08
"Kickstand" Soundgarden, 1:34
"Scuttle Buttin'" Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1:52

Here is a blog post I wrote for Edutopia about 3 years ago that will give you a bit more technical info.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

John I really like your read or breathe method! It sounds very relaxing and both options have a positive outcome. For me, what I find works with adults as well as kids, is to give a heads up a few minutes before transition. This lets students know transition is about to happen and as a result mentally prepares them.

LisaMac's picture

My kids like the Piano Guys for work music. They have a lot of range in speeds so sometimes it helps the kids get busy, or soothes them and calms the bodies. I work with small groups so it's easier to play to the collective mood. Older kids respond well to the calmer music when they can't seem to quit a discussion and go on to the next item on the agenda.

LisaMac's picture

I love the R & B idea for my older students and I am thinking I could use the belly breathing to transition and get the kindergarteners attention when they are "done" with what we are working on and I need to collect their minds before I go onto the next lesson. They would get into watching their bellies to make sure they are doing it right and would like making sure they get lots of good oxygen to their brains to make them work better.

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