Elementary Classroom Transitions: The Do’s and Don’ts of a Smooth Move

By Andrew Hawk

Elementary Classroom Transitions: The Do's and Don'ts of a Smooth MoveIn middle school and high school, students are often left to their own devices when transitioning from one class to the next. However, students in elementary school are often not allowed to navigate the halls on their own from class to class in between bells. Depending on the elementary school, students may switch classrooms several times a day.

Teachers should never underestimate the value of these transition times. These short periods of time that occur throughout each school day add up fast over a 180-day calendar. If even two minutes are wasted per transition per day, it will cost a school hours of precious instructional time. This has the potential to have a devastating impact on student learning outcomes. In addition to time wasted, students need to be in a focused frame of mind when they change classrooms. If they are not, the teacher that receives them after the transition will be forced to use more instructional time to regain the students’ attention. To help make transitions as efficient as possible, remember the following.

Transitions Are:
• A time for students to collect their things and change classrooms.
• An integral part of the day that should not be overlooked when teachers are planning.
• An opportunity for teachers to plan collaboratively.
• A chance for teachers to do a quick review or anticipatory set for the next class.

Transitions Are Not:
• Times for teachers to catch up on grading.
• Times for teachers to chat with colleagues.
• Times that should last more than four minutes.
• Times where students can be expected to independently make good choices.

Here are some do’s and don’ts that can help teachers get into position for a smooth transition:

Do Teach Procedures
I know I am not the first to mention how important procedures are to the success of a classroom. This fact gets mentioned a lot because it is true. The problem is that some people do not teach procedures as much as they discuss them. Giving a group of elementary students a lecture on how to line up is not nearly as effective as a visual representation. Have a group of students demonstrate what is expected to happen. Next, have the entire group practice. If the practice run does not go as planned, repeat the entire process. Teachers should have a procedure in place for most things that occur in their classrooms. This is especially true regarding transitions.

Do Include a Cool-Down Period
Increasingly, elementary teachers are conducting more tactile learning experiences with their students. Activities that allow for a lot of movement or talking are great instructional strategies. But while one teacher may be using the energy of their students as an instructional asset, the next class may be planning to do a quiet activity such as a test. If you’re planning an activity that is likely to increase the energy of your students, also plan for a cool-down period before you send these students off to their next teacher. Three to five minutes of silent reading often works great. In addition, you can have students take turns sharing what they learned from the lesson.

Do Have Work Ready
Teachers should always have something ready for students to do when they enter the classroom. Some teachers like to start off with a “bell ringer” activity. Other teachers write problems on the board for students to complete. Use whatever is the best fit for you and your group of students. Students should not be expected to simply wait quietly for the lesson to begin.

Do Plan Collaboratively
Transitions are opportunities for teachers to collaborate. The teacher sending students can start the receiving teacher’s lesson by giving the students a focus question to consider while they are en route to the next class (even if it is just across the hall). If the receiving teacher is planning an exciting anticipatory set, the sending teacher can build interest by giving the students a hint about what they are getting ready to experience.

Even if you do not try these ideas, you will still want to plan to have similar transition procedures in place for all classes. To accomplish this, some collaboration will be necessary.

Do Plan a Quick Review
I have a colleague who has each student in her math class answer a flash card problem on his or her way out the door. A small activity like this can be planned for every subject. English teachers can ask students to name a part of speech. Social studies teachers could ask each student a basic fact-recall question. Saying goodbye to students is nice, but saying goodbye and reviewing is nicer.

Here are some things to avoid with regard to transitions. These will NOT make transitions smoother:

Don’t Leave Students Unsupervised
All teachers have a lot of work to complete. This is not an excuse to send students off to the next class and use the few extra minutes to grade papers or make copies. When students are changing classes, teachers should be supervising the hallways. If the sending and receiving classrooms are far apart, teachers should walk the students to their next location. Transitions should be coordinated so that students are never unsupervised.

Don’t Run Over on Time
Do not make other classes start late by running over. Timing can be quite tricky as no two groups of students are exactly alike. If it becomes obvious that a lesson is going to run past class time, find a good stopping place and finish the lesson the next day. Messing up other teachers’ schedules is never a good idea.

Don’t Use Transition Times to Socialize
During the school day, teachers are usually separated from other adults for large chunks of time. Because of that, it may be tempting to socialize with other teachers during inappropriate times such as transitions. The problem with socializing is that it takes the focus off of the students and often leads to classes starting late. It may be okay to ask a colleague a quick question, but it is not the right time to check up on what has been happening in each others’ personal lives.

Don’t Make Transition Times Last Longer Than Necessary
Unless it is a long walk to the next class, transitions should really not last more than four minutes. Teachers should time their transitions in the beginning of each school year. If they are regularly taking longer than four minutes, it’s probably time to practice the procedure again.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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This entry was posted in Elementary Angle, Teaching Strategies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Elementary Classroom Transitions: The Do’s and Don’ts of a Smooth Move

  1. joyarmstead says:

    Reflection type activities are also a great way to transition. There are numerous ways to engage students in reflection.

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