Transitions are Managed Well

From moving into groups to putting books away to exiting the classroom at the end of the period, successful transitions help your class run like a well-oiled machine. 

When transitions in your room are managed well, not only is there more organization and less mayhem, you’ll be able to direct your students through the flow of activities without raising your voice – and you’ll save lots of time!


Being able to transition appropriately is something that can be taught like any other skill, and every teacher from the first year beginner to a seasoned veteran can reap the benefits.

Becoming intentional about the way you manage transitions in the classroom is a part of MTSS Tier 1, because it helps provide students with an environment that maximizes learning time in a supportive, positive way.

Students can be taught how to smoothly transition into activities such as:

  • Entering/exiting the classroom
  • Beginning bell work
  • Moving in the halls
  • Putting materials away
  • Getting out their computers
  • Cleaning up a work area
  • Moving into group seating
  • Turning in homework

General steps for teaching transitions:

  1. Prep
  2. Explain & Model
  3. Practice
  4. Monitor & Provide Feedback

Step 1: Prep. Use a signal to gain the students’ attention, then introduce the transition, providing a rationale or introductory comment for what’s to come. This includes a Pre-correction statement such as, “In a moment we will be standing up to put away the laptops, so remember how we hold on to them”. These Pre-corrections should happen just before the cue to transition. 

Step 2: Explain. Give instructions for the procedure you will be expecting the students. Model the way you would like the procedure to look, including what signal you will use. As students become more fluent with the procedures, longer verbal directions can be changed to non-verbal cues (i.e. music, clap, hand signal, call and response, etc.), or phased out completely.

Step 3: Practice. Allow students (sometimes several tries) time to “get it right” and in the time frame you expect. Eventually the time it takes actually teaching the transition can be lessened. Front-loading the explicit modeling and practice will pay off as your class eventually runs smoothly even with little to no cues at all.

Step 4: Monitor and Provide Feedback. Observe students as they carry out the expected routine. If the majority of the class is NOT following the instructions for a smooth transition, go back to Step 3 and practice again. Keep it positive, but matter-of-fact. Reinforce successes, and challenge them to improve with a payoff (every once in a while) that can be earned. Periodically debrief what is going well, and what can be improved as a group, or privately if an individual needs transition assistance.

Troubleshooting tips:

When transitions don’t flow as smoothly as you would like, ask yourself…

  • Did I provide enough advanced notice or did I catch the students off-guard while they were absorbed in their work?
  • Were my instructions clear?
  • Did all students hear/see my signal?
  • Is it time for a “refresher” practice session as a class?
  • Did specific students create a disruption?

Ideas to improve your transitions:

  • Have a student model the correct behavior
  • Have a student be the signal-giver
  • Time the transition and encourage one table/period/side of the room to compete and “beat” the time of the others
  • Give ample time to prep students that a transition is coming
  • Change signals every so often
  • Use music or rhythm
  • Involve students in the attention-getting phase so they have to stop what they are doing to attend to you (i.e. “clap three times” is better than flicking the lights or ringing a bell)
  • And if all else fails, re-teach the transition again until they get it!

Once the school year enters the second semester (sometimes sooner), it’s a good idea to revisit your classroom expectations overall, and particularly your transitions practices. This refresher, even for the most well-behaved classes, is especially a good idea after holiday breaks and long weekends!

Here’s to calm, orderly, and efficient classrooms at our school, now and in the weeks to come!

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