Friday, January 17, 2014

Taming the Morning Madness

Being organized and under control in the morning is so important for any job, but in a primary classroom it is SO vital!  Students come to us in all states of emotions, having had varying amounts of sleep, food, and time to wake up!  I know for me, by the time I'm welcoming my little sweethearts into my classroom, I've been up for 2.5 hours and have been parenting preschoolers already.  There is no time to "fly by the seat of my pants." Predictability and routine are definitely in order when it comes to starting our grade one day! This is a pretty long post, but I have included a freebie at the bottom of the post!  Enjoy :)

I would like to share some of what I do to start the day out right!

The afternoon before....

Before I leave my classroom at the end of a day, I make sure that my desk is clean.  In the past my desk was a collecting place for random papers and work.  Now I try to tidy it every day.  Piles do emerge in other spots, but I'm getting better at dealing with them!  

I make sure my dayplans are ready and in the binder on my desk, and the day's work is in the day drawer behind my desk. 
Also,  pencils are sharpened!  I do not allow my students to sharpen their own pencils, as it causes too many disruptions.  So, I leave sharp pencils on each table, and have extras on my desk.  Since I have switched to this method, pencil frustration has virtually disappeared.  I think so far this year I have only heard the phrase "I don't have a pencil" around 3 times!

Before leaving, I also make sure that my students' tables are set up with their morning work at their spots.  This way, if something goes wrong and I can't get to work as early as I'd like, everything is ready to go.  Also, if I happen to be away, a substitute would find everything set up and ready to go! 

In the morning.....

My students line up outside and I greet them at the door right after the warning bell rings.  As they walk down the hallway, I join them, by starting walking next to the person who is at the front of the line. Then I adjust my pace so that I eventually end up at the end of the line (walking forward, but slower than the line-up).  This gives me the ability to chat briefly with each child, and at the very least, greet each child by name.  I have realized that I have 3 students who NEED this chat time before the day begins.  If I don't give them my undivided attention to hear their little stories before going into the classroom and starting our day, they just can't settle in and get going.  

Hallway organization
As is typical for many primary classrooms, my students each hang up their backpacks and jackets and change outdoor and indoor shoes.  At the beginning of the year I had all of my students using the hooks, but I quickly realized that some of the students were much too crowded to handle the hooks.

 So, I purchased three rubbermaid bins.  Three students who need more space for their things, and have a harder time keeping their belongings on the hooks, were assigned these bins.  They can just toss their shoes and backpack into it, and place their jacket on top.  It has saved me countless headaches, and it helps keep our hallway neater!  

Home Communication
The first thing my students do when they come into the classroom is place their library books and home communication books (BEE books) into the bins by the door.  In the books is a zippered pencil pouch, where notes from home and permission forms and money, etc. can be stored.  While the students are settling into their spots, I go through the BEE books and take out any forms I need.  I also place the BEE books in numerical order.  I put numbers on the upper right corner of the BEE books, so I can quickly organize them.  I have a correlating class list, so I can quickly tell who has not handed their BEE book in yet!  I can't believe it, but it took me 7 years of doing BEE books before I finally started numbering them!   It's glorious now.  I'm sure you can agree that saying to the class, "Anyone who hasn't handed _____ in, please do it now" is an almost meaningless effort!  This way, I can actually figure out which student to remind.  I do aspire one day to come up with a system that won't even require reminders, but we're working on it :)
Morning Work
After my students have handed in their books, they sit down at their table spot and begin working on their morning work.  This is a vital component to our morning, as it is predictable, age-appropriate, and sets the tone that we are settling into work time.  In fall we do morning work 3 days per week (and table toys the other days), but by October we do it on a daily basis.  Our morning work has printing practice, phonics, and math, and more.  The morning work builds independence and confidence, because the skills build slowly from day to day, and have scaffolding such as dotted words and examples when new skills are introduced.  While students are working on their morning work, I am going through their BEE books, taking attendance, and doing other clerical duties.  I also chat with students who need a little more one-on-one attention.

Book Shopping
Once the students have completed their page, they hand it into the In Box and go book shopping.  This means that they take their book box and decide if they want to put any books away and "shop" for new ones.  They are expected to have around 5 leveled "good fit" books, and 5 choice books.  My library is organized with one shelf of leveled readers from A-H, and three other areas of themed books. I have pictured around half of my library here.  These photos are old, from a different arrangement of my room! 

Buddy Reading
Once students are finished book shopping, they may either buddy read or read to self.  Most of the time students will choose buddy reading.  I have trained the students using the Daily Five model of explicit instruction on the behavior expectations during buddy reading.  Usually the students do not need any reminders to stay on task.  They love buddy reading and they really do benefit from having time right at the beginning of the day to dive into books!

Morning Meeting
Usually about 25 minutes after school has begun all students have settled in, have completed morning work, book shopping, and have had a chance to read.  At this time I call all students to put away their book boxes and come to the carpet.  I formally welcome the class, and we begin our first literacy block.  

The Joys!

I love having a predictable schedule in the morning.  The students aren't shoving permission slips at me first thing, they aren't immediately asking for help or wondering what to do.  They build independence knowing that they KNOW what to do next and how to do it.  The morning work and buddy reading times aren't required to be silent working times, so they know that in the morning they will get to chat and be with their friends, just in a calm manner.  I highly recommend coming up with a morning routine that works for you and for your style.  Test out  a few ways and see what feels right for you, and then make it a routine.  You'll be glad you did!  

If you would like a freebie download of my Sharp/Dull Pencils Labels, you can find them here.  
If you are interested in checking out my morning work, you can see it here: 

For work to keep your little ones occupied in meaningful activities during the first week of school, you might want to try out my First Week of School Activities:  

Or, if you want a money saving bundle that includes the First Week of School pack, you can check this out: 

Wishing you peaceful mornings!


  1. Thank you for sharing your ideas on how you start your morning.

  2. How soon are you able to start using the book shopping and buddy reading routine as part of your morning routine? I would imagine with teaching the Daily 5 components that it would have to happen and have practice minimally for a week before they get it down well enough to make it a routine. Do you start off with Daily 5 from day 1 of school?

    1. Hi Liz, I'm so sorry I missed the notification of this question! It usually takes around 3 weeks of practice before I can use it in the morning routine. They need to be able to to read with someone successfully as a class (without the hub bub of morning work and settling in). I start with teaching read to self on the first day I have my class. We don't have our class lists until the last day of the first week of school!

  3. I love the idea of having book shopping happen during morning routine (sorry meant to add that into the original comment).

  4. These are great ideas. I have several of these same routines running successfully as well. I think your idea of book shopping at this time is the piece I'm missing, so thanks! Also I wanted to add that I use a playlist I created from Amazon prime music to help with my morning transitions. I always used to forget to say the pledge but since first grade needs to know patriotic symbols, I have our national anthem in the middle of the morning routine playlist. We sing then a quiet background noise song comes on and we say the pledge. It gets everyone up and gives us a nice brain break.

    1. I love this idea! I have to figure out the whole "playlist" thing!

  5. These are great ideas. I have several of these same routines running successfully as well. I think your idea of book shopping at this time is the piece I'm missing, so thanks! Also I wanted to add that I use a playlist I created from Amazon prime music to help with my morning transitions. I always used to forget to say the pledge but since first grade needs to know patriotic symbols, I have our national anthem in the middle of the morning routine playlist. We sing then a quiet background noise song comes on and we say the pledge. It gets everyone up and gives us a nice brain break.

    1. That sounds great! I love your idea of having a morning play list!

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  7. I have a very similar routine with the exception of the book shopping. That is new to me. Also, I have 9 weeks worth of work in a folder for each student. They have those mailbox type cubbies to keep them in, so after they put their backpacks, etc. away, they grab their morning work folder, pencil, and clipboard from the cubby. I make up fresh folders as the year goes on with more advanced or different material, but no running to the copier or presetting tables or loose papers. We review the work briefly using the document camera and SmartBoard.

    1. That sounds great! I do not deal well with loose paper, so your system sounds perfect. By only doing 9 weeks at a time, you can keep tabs on the difficulty level to make sure each child is working on what they need! Love it!

  8. I envy your ability to set up your tables before you go home each night. Our Janitors don't come to clean until night time so I have to keep my tables clear when I got home or they would never get cleaned. I teach Kindergarten and actually I have a similar routine although I'm going to adjust how I teach them to unpack and change shoes this year because the cubbies are just too crowded and we had lots of bumps and accidental stepped on fingers. Also, my cubbies are at the far end of my L-shaped room which means I can't always see everything happening over there and last years kids wasted a lot of time by their cubbies. So instead I'm planning to teach them to go to their table spot first and place their backpack on the table. From there they can unzip it and put their home folders and lunches in the appropriate spots. Then they can hang up their coat and bags and get their shoes. Then I want them to change their shoes at their carpet spot instead of by their hooks. After that they can go to their table work. I'm planning to make a picture-label list of tasks for them that I'll put up in a visible spot in the room to help them learn more quickly what they have to do when they come in each morning. I suspect it will take most of September for them to get it down but then hopefully it will make the rest of the year run much more smoothly.

    For my morning task, I do what I call sign-in books. (they're basically a blank exercise book that's been cut in half). At the beginning of the year we start by just writing our first name EVERY DAY. and drawing a picture with pencil only. Slowly we start writing around the room. First one word, then two, then three etc. I have a set of writing steps that I use with my K's that is really effective and once they know those (around November) then I start encouraging them to start trying to "write" messages. As the year progresses the expectations increase but the main activity is the same so the children always know exactly what they need to do. They even write their name every day right up until June, but after January we start learning and writing our last names too. I found that even the kids that came in knowing how to write their name in lowercase still made mistakes sometimes so the daily practice was really beneficial. When they're done they raise their hands and wait until I either go to them or call them to me. Then they read me their message/words and we date stamp it. Last year they would get to play with blocks or some other building toys when they finished but I found that some kids rushed too much so this year I'm going to change it up and make this more of a short centre activity with something they already know how to do. Once everyone is done and checked then we have our morning meeting. It works really well for us.