How to Manage Activity Transitions in the Classroom

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teachers need to use management strategies for every aspect of classroom interactions, especially transition times. This lesson reviews methods they can use to make smooth transitions from one activity to the next activity.

Managing Transitions in the Classroom

David is a first-year teacher with a lot of enthusiasm. He knows that using different instructional methods, like large and small group work, allow students to experience learning in different ways. He's a pro at coming up with activities that engage students and can manage student behavior during work time. However, David struggles with managing transitions, moving from one activity or learning experience to another. The students who just moments before were on task and focused seem to turn into little balls of energy, and David feels he has lost control. He's losing a lot of instructional time on transitioning.

David needs to develop and implement routines and expectations for transition time, just like he did when he set clear expectations for other areas, like classwork and activity time. A routine is a predictable sequence of steps. For example, when students need to get a tissue, they raise their hand and signal the number 3 with their fingers. This means 'I need a tissue', and David can allow the student to retrieve one. David taught this and other routines at the beginning of the year so the students now rely on these and feel a sense of safety in their predictability.

How can David teach routines for transitions? He needs to:

  1. Choose a transition stimulus or signal.
  2. Teach students how to recognize for the signal.
  3. Instruct students on how to react when they recognize the signal.
  4. Practice the routine several times.

First, David needs to choose a stimulus that he can use to let students know it is time to transition. Let's say he decides to flip the light switch when activity time is up. David should tell students about this signal, and allow them to experience that, making sure every student understands the signal and how it works, in action.

In our example, David will show students what the light in the room will look like when it is time to transition - a brief off-and-on, compared to simply turning the light off when it is time to leave the room. Next, he will tell students what he wants them to do when they see the signal. Should they finish the work they started, or begin cleaning up immediately?

Once David teaches students how to react to the signal, the class should practice the new routine a few times. They should practice enough times that David is confident they clearly understand his expectations and can self-monitor their behavior, or be able to complete it independently, without David's help. When students know what to do, where to go, and how much time they have to get there, they're able to complete these tasks independently. The light flickers, and they put away letter tiles, shelve their books, tidy the work space, and meet the class on the carpet. This allows David to rely on students to transition smoothly while he finishes up work with groups of students or prepares for the next learning experience.

Strategies for Transitions in Classrooms

Teachers are creative people and there are countless methods of handling transitions in a smooth way. The other educators at David's school shared some of their ideas for signaling students. Take a look.

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