How To Teach Routines

Anything you ask your students to do repeatedly should be made into a routine.

For example, whenever your students enter your classroom, transition from one activity to the next, or line up for recess, they should do so in the same efficient manner.

The reason, simply put, is that routines save learning time. They also make your life a lot easier. You see, it’s during these repeatable moments when most misbehavior occurs.

The idea, then, is to standardize these moments into routines your students can do quickly and independently.

But here’s the thing. Most teachers don’t teach routines very well, and the timesaving value gets lost in the stress of reminding, reteaching, and repeating yourself over and over again.

The key is to teach routines in a way that compels your students to perform them correctly—and without your input—every single time.

Here’s how:

1. Model how to.

Start your lesson seated at a student’s desk—or wherever the routine is to begin—and simply show your class what you want them to do. Make it simple and straightforward, but highly detailed. Play the part of a student and act out each step, down to the smallest detail.

2. Model how not.

Call upon your experience in the past and model how not to perform the routine. It’s okay to have fun with it. In fact, exaggerating poor behavior makes the strategy more effective because it underscores the absurdity of misbehaving in your peaceful classroom.

3. Have a student model.

Now choose one student to perform the routine from start to finish. If you see even the smallest mistake, the smallest deviation from the script, have the student go back and do it again. Ask for a few more volunteers, and again, hold each one to the highest standard.

4. Have a group model.

Select four or five students to model the routine as a group. Observe carefully and continue to be exacting in your expectations—even if it feels like you’re overdoing it. (You’re not.) The smallest, most insignificant details are what resonate with students the most.

5. Practice with the whole class.

Now ask your entire class to perform the routine together. Use your ‘go’ signal and have them practice until they perfect it. Once they’ve proven they can do it without any guidance, be sure to let them know. Your students must experience what success feels like in order to repeat it.

6. Go live.

As soon as you’re able, have your students perform the routine as a regular part of the school day. Again, you want them to get used to the feeling of success, of doing things the right way. And if it’s not perfect, then send them back where they started and have them do it again.

Note: Perfection does not mean robotic or militaristic. It simply means performing the routines as taught. You can make them as casual or informal as you wish.

Pursuers Of Excellence 

Routines save time, dissuade misbehavior, and make your teaching life a lot easier, to be sure. But their real power comes from their ability to transfer excellence to everything you do.

Pushing in chairs, lining up for lunch, behaving politely, dividing fractions . . . it’s all the same steady drip, drip, drip of excellence you require of your students.

It’s your calm insistence on doing things the right way, starting from the first day of school and cross-pollinating from one routine and one subject area to another.

Until it clicks.

And your class of disparate individuals . . . becomes a class of students, of scholars, of pursuers of excellence.

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14 Responses to How To Teach Routines

  1. Stacey March 21, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Wow! Your strategies are lifesavers…..thanks so much for sharing!! 🙂

    • Michael Linsin March 21, 2013 at 6:58 am #

      You’re welcome, Stacey!

  2. Lourdes April 22, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I´ll try this out with my first graders and then I´ll let you know how it worked. Sounds great!!! Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Jake July 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    So many of these articles are helpful even for my high school students. Thank you!

    I have some ideas for a routine for turning papers in to me, but I don’t have a good one for getting the papers back to them without wasting time or disrupting the class – help?



    • Michael Linsin July 26, 2013 at 7:23 am #

      Hi Jake,

      It’s not the cleverness of the routine itself that is important. Certainly, you should shoot for efficiency above all else, but the key is teaching your students the routine and the behavior you expect during the routine.


  4. Steve September 13, 2013 at 5:15 am #


    How would you suggest making adjustments for your tips and strategies to fit an 11th grade classroom?


    • Michael Linsin September 13, 2013 at 6:12 am #

      Hi Steve,

      I hope to write an article or ebook on this topic. It’s too big to address here. I think there are a good number of modifications, but they’re small and mostly obvious. For example, I think it’s still important to separate students–to some degree–who don’t follow your rules. Only, you wouldn’t call it time-out. Your students are nearly adults and thus classroom management should reflect this reality. You may still practice routines, but they would be more focused on the individual than the class as a whole.


  5. Cathy November 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    I love this article, I shared it with one of my co-workers(she works in a Toddler classroom) and I think she could really benefit from these suggestions. I started my year off teaching my students the routines of the day and for the most part they are doing great(hey they are 3-5 yr olds there will be bad days).

  6. Karen May 31, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Hi, I’m a 1 – 5th grade science specialist in Minneapolis. I see all the children once a week for 55 minutes. I am thinking about trying the warning, time out, letter for next year and have introduced it and tried it out on a few classes. I can see many benefits, but I’m concerned that because I see so many different kids (500), that I’ll be sending a lot of letters home. It will take a lot longer to get them to know I’m serious with so little time with them — 36 times a year. Any thoughts?

    • Michael Linsin May 31, 2014 at 7:02 am #

      Hi Karen,

      The classroom management plan can and will work well for you, but with some tweaks you can’t find here on the website. The new book was written for specialists like yourself in order to solve unique situations like the one you describe. I highly recommend it to get a full picture of how your consequences would work within the structure of a once-per-week class.


  7. Kitty July 19, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Hi, I struggled last year with a tough group. I’m reviewing your articles such as this one and pinning them. Unfortunately every article doesn’t have an image regarding what it is about. That makes using Pinterest to keep them as a collection is a problem. I have a couple of your books at school but I’d like to be able to access the articles online easily.

    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin July 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

      Hi Kitty,

      Indeed, many of the older articles don’t have images. If we get a chance, we’ll try to add them.


  8. Jan June 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Any special tips for teaching 8th graders how to get started when they come into the room? (I know they are TIRED of sitting and have energy they need to get out.) Towards the end of this last school year I found myself asking more and more students to sit down and start their warm-up. The cue should be the bell, but our school’s bells didn’t always work. I thought of putting on a timer but didn’t want that hassle every day. Ideas?

    • Michael Linsin June 20, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      If you feel they need to talk for a few minutes, then allow them to until your signal. If you want the to enter and get straight to work, then be clear that this is the expectation. The key is to teach and model what you want, then enforce it.


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