Each year, you get a brand new set of students with
a bunch of PITA behaviors different needs, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Many of the kids in the group could have been together dealing out teacher migraines since preschool, and a few strong personalities have joined the fray. Throw in some sensory issues, neurodivergence, trauma, and you have a recipe for using up all your sick days as mental health days a tough year. Don’t freak out, though. This isn’t as catastrophic as it looks. I have fixed this impending disaster before, and you can too. When I taught routines well and added a troubleshooting strategy to target a specific problem, the overall classroom behavior improved. The next several posts will target specific classroom behaviors and offer solutions. Today, let’s look at three solutions for efficient classroom transitions.
Troubles with Efficient Classroom Transitions
There have been several years when I had groups that just could NOT move from one activity or subject area to another efficiently. The simple act of me standing in front of the class and saying, “Okay, everyone, it’s time for _________ now,” created mayhem. Some kids treated that statement like it was a call for a coffee break and headed to their buddies’ desks for a chat. A couple of them may have headed out to the Wawa for a Slim Jim and a Mountain Dew, but I wouldn’t have noticed in all the confusion. A few dumped their bookbags to find what they thought they needed for the next activity, but ended up playing with the Gigapets they had hidden in an interior pocket and forgotten to feed for six months. A few huddled in the corner, and I could tell an illicit Pokeman card deal was going down. Others blocked me out and continued to work on the previous activity as though I had never said a word.
With classes like this, I had to make sure the kids knew exactly what they needed for each subject area. On supply organization day at the beginning of the year, I clearly labeled everything. I asked kids to choose which folder or notebook went to which subject area. This way my visual kids had an extra cue to match supplies with activities. I kept some folders and notebooks that never went home in specific bin or mailboxes around the room so they wouldn’t get lost in desks. This gave my kinesthetic kids the chance to move to pick up their stuff. I give clear instructions daily for my auditory kids about what they need for each lesson. Efficient classroom transitions occur when kids know how to find their things.
Some groups will need a five- or ten-minute warning before an activity shift. If you have ever taken care of a toddler, you learn quickly that you can’t just decide to leave a place without warning. A sudden announcement of “time to go” at the Chick Fil A playground will probably land you in the middle of a screaming, kicking meltdown. You’ll then get the fun of trying to fold a stiff, hollering monster into a car seat.
This behavior is about kids trying to manage uncertainty in their worlds, and their tolerance for change depends a lot on their personality or neurological make-up. Some kids roll with change easily. Others find transitions stressful. Kids who live in dysregulated homes may find change downright terrifying.
Older kids may not kick and scream during a transition, but they may try to control change by stalling in different ways. You give some control back by posting your daily routine in plain sight, going over it every morning, and letting kids know ahead of time when to expect change.
Avoid the Tantrum
Five to ten minutes before you change activities, you can flicker the lights or just give a verbal notification. This gives kids a minute to get themselves prepared for what’s next. Make sure you end the previous activity with a predictable review style just after you give your transition signal. Once you’ve closed the lesson, you can smoothly move to the next. The more they hear and see your expected cues, the better understanding they will have of when transitions happen in your daily schedule. Predictability is a huge comfort for some kids. For others it’s a downright necessity.
Even when kids know transitions are coming, they may still have trouble managing. When transitions take too long, turn them into a game. I found inexpensive wind-up toys that matched whatever theme I had going on in my room that year. I think I still have a manta ray that flaps his wings when you wind him up. Anyway, I would wind up my manta ray or fish and challenge the kids to “beat the toy.” They had to get their materials ready for the next activity before the wind-up stopped moving. If they were successful, then I put a marble in the jar or punched a card like I described here. If you need behavior incentive coupons or punch cards, check here!
Efficient classroom transitions are so important in the long run because they cut down on instructional loss. Smooth change makes your day feel calmer and adds a chill vibe to your classroom. Knowing what to expect will help your struggling kids feel safer and cut down on behaviors. Put these solutions into place and use them consistently. I promise you’ll be on your way to much more efficient classroom transitions. Hang in there! It will get better!