Classroom Routines

Being the slightly OCD, analytical teacher person that I am, I LOVE a good routine. Here's some I've developed so far.

Bell Ringers: 2-5 middle school problems printed on paper inside a page protector. One per group of students. Students used dry erase markers to work problems. I give 2-4 minutes with my timer and collect. I set all four on the board and we compare answers. Students explain what they did. I record how many each group gets correct and the team with the most at the end of the week wins a survivor game piece. I do bell ringers Tuesday-Thursday.

Mental Math Monday
: 10 middle school problems that I read out loud to students one a time. They use their dry erase markers to work on the desk and write their answers on a laminated card. At the end we trade and grade. Each group gives me their table totals and I record them. The team with the highest total wins a survivor game piece. If the class has an all time best, we celebrate with a funny youtube video.

Bell to Bell Teaching: I teach all hour, every day. I do not give free time or free days. Students start with a bell ringer and then move on to whatever I have planned. If we finish early and I have nothing else prepared, we get out dry erase markers and either work on the desks or at the board. I make up problems based on whatever we're currently doing or something I think they need to remember. This year I've been better about having the next activity ready in case I need it but I always have the whiteboard as back up. I have found that my discipline problems dropped dramatically and the class environment became a lot more focused on math.

Two Nice Things: Once a student says an insult or rude comment, they have to say two nice things. It doesn't matter if it's about themselves, their mom, a celebrity, a person not in the room, etc. Now the two things are usually made up or insincere, but it's the consistency of making them do it that gets them. It's hard for them to publicly say nice things (sadly) so it slows down some of the verbal diarrhea.

Binders: I gave all of my students three ring binders, sticky labels to put their name on the spine, colored card stock and sticky tabs to create dividers, an empty page protector to hold things, and a concept list of everything I plan to teach during the year.  Tabs are labeled notes, quizzes, and tests. Binders stay in my room at all times except the night before a test. I have a bookshelf with one shelf per period for students to store their binders. Except they normally look like this. How hard is it to stand your binder up?

Miniature Trash Cans: I use these anytime students are cutting. It collects scraps, prevents 80 million people getting up 80 million times, and keeps the floors much cleaner. I leave them there all day if everyone is cutting or if it's just for one hour, I return them to the cart and dump them at the end of the day. Sometimes students will dump them on their own. I got these at the Dollar Tree and they are even our school colors. Love.

Command Center: This hanging file has clothes pin with stickers on them labeling each class period. When a student is absent, I write their name on the paper we did in class and stick it here. The next day, they are responsible for getting it and copying the notes. The hanging file also has a pocket for my dry erase markers which is conveniently right next to my white board.The date is my magnetic numbers that I change at the end of each day. The blue magnetic container below contains the extra numbers. The blue digital clock also acts as timer, random student selector, and thermometer. I use it frequently so that when I say, "I'll give you four more minutes" that I don't waste extra time. The cart below is my supply cart on wheels and each drawer is labeled with a laminated card. Scissors, glue sticks, markers, erasers, paper, protractors, measuring tapes, highlighters, and mini staplers.

Mini Whiteboard: This miniature whiteboard is attached on the outside of my classroom door with sticky strips. I use it to remind students of quizzes and tests, if I take my class to the computer lab etc, and I write bus times for sports on there as well.

Table Tubs: Each table has a tub with fourish calculators, four mini dry erasers, and the mental math Monday cards. At the end of each hour, I record which groups left theirs clean and they earn a survivor game piece. Again, got these from the Dollar Tree.

Unit Tubs: I have a tub for each unit for all three of my preps. I keep all my originals for the unit, any unit manipulatives or activities, and the pacing guide for that unit.

Dry Erase Marker Storage: One member of each group in every period is in charge of holding the markers and the survivor game pieces. I give them a zip up pencil pouch with three rings that stays in their binders. This has severely cut down how quickly I go through markers because they aren't so quick to waste their own. Before, I kept them in tub and every class used the same markers. Wasteful. When their marker runs out, they have to turn in a survivor game piece to get a new one.

Weekend Stories: EVERY Monday I ask students about their weekends. I find it's a pretty good way to get them talking and start the week off on a positive note.

Homework: I don't. The end.


  1. I love your Unit Tubs! Are those also from the Dollar Tree? And, do you just keep one "original" of each handout? I've hand a terrible time staying organized this year - so I'm looking for new ways to improve my system! Thanks for this, btw!

    1. The unit tubs are from Wal-Mart and are closer to $3 each. I keep a Manila folder with just one original each and answer keys. This is the best way I've found to store manipulatives which are awkward and bulky to store. And it's super organized which I love!

  2. Lol @ homework: I Don't!

    Wow! You are INCREDIBLY organized!! I also do bell-ringers/warm-ups!

    I love your "no downtime" mentality. I definitely need to use my whiteboards more often. If you have them write on the desks, how do you clean the desks? What do you use, because I'm interested in how you maintain that?

    I like the binders/data notebooks idea. We are required to keep them, but we DEFINITELY don't use them how they're supposed to be used.

    Clearly, I need to step my game up. My room doesn't look like that. I'm very impressed! Lol..

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      We use regular dry erase marker erasers which are shown in the picture of the tubs above. If you look at the bell ringer picture at the top, it shows the kind of desks I have. The erasers work well and if they do get messy, I have Clorox wipes on hand. They always work well.

      Thanks for asking :)

  3. Thanks for sharing. How long are your class periods? I am always interested in math teachers that don't assign homework. I have 44 minute classes and I don't think the kids have enough practice in without assigning a small amount of homework.

    1. My class periods are 47 minutes and I try to practice as much as possible in class rather than lecture. I do feel that students need more practice but I don't feel that homework achieves it. Most will copy and not do it at all and the ones that do it aren't the ones that need practice. So I find it is just a hassle for me to attempt to grade and beg people to do it. So I don't!

    2. How many days do you spend on each concept/lesson? I feel overwhelmed about the amount of concepts in the Algebra 1 Common Core Standards. This leads me to feel like I need to move on to new concepts quickly and only spend 1-2 days on each. So, one of two things happen…
      1) I lecture on the book section, which usually has 4-5 different types of examples, and then give students time to practice/start homework/do another activity. I work in practice and small group discussions during the lecture. This usually gives students more homework and more lecturing.
      2) I don't lecture as much, but students also do not see as many different types of examples. Many have a learned helplessness where they are scared/hesitant/flat out refuse to try a problem that looks remotely new. This leads to great hashing of teeth as students try to practice in class, and they usually end up with homework because we hardly get through any practice problems in class. (We are starting to work on some problem solving and writing activities that will help with the learned helplessness, but it's been a fight with students this far into the year. Hopefully starting off with these next year will be better.)

      So, what is your experience with providing enough practice time in your class with such a great number of standards? When you do lecture, what does it look like?

    3. I would say at least 2 days per concept, maybe more if I feel they still can't do it on their own.

      My lecturing looks like scaffolding at the front end to prepare for the types of problems they may encounter. I try to build in at least 3 problems of each example that I want them to be familiar with. Sometimes I post the answers at the same time as the problems for students who work at different paces. I do a LOT of questioning and I feel like that also helps prepare them for new problems.

      I also go into to it knowing that I am not going to teach everything I need to. It helps to create priority standards at the beginning of the year, things that MUST be taught. Then I feel less guilty for skipping things that aren't priorities.

      I never make it as far as I would like but I feel like if I am teaching bell to bell every day, I have to be making some kind of difference in their mathematical abilities. And each year I try to make a more precise pacing guide in hopes that one day I will actually finish it!

      I think the battle you are facing is one we are all facing so we just have to struggle through and do what we can. I know that's not helpful but know that you are not alone!

  4. So interesting. Sometimes I ask my students if they would like to do a chapter with the homework optional. They like the idea immediately, but the they begin to think about it and say they wouldn't do it unless I would assign it. I really like the days when the problems I assign can be done in class instead of at home. Keep up the great blogging! I love reading yours... reminds me I am not alone in this crazy career. ;-)

    1. Sarah,
      If you like when problems you assign can be done in class, maybe you could you could rearrange your plans so that part of class is doing the problems on their own? Don't call it homework or grade it. Use it for formative feedback. Call it independent practice or classwork. Build it in by taking out some lecture and then homework doesn't have to be an issue.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. One more question - are you grades solely on quizzes, projects, and tests?

  5. Elissa, I absolutely love your blog and have been reading for around a year now! Thanks for posting all of your amazing lessons and organization tips! I am a first year teacher and have been able to get so many great ideas! You are awesome!
    I have one question about the survivor games and game pieces. I have read your blog post specifically on the Survivor Games but what kind of prizes/rewards can students earn with the survivor pieces? What are the luxury item pieces? And did you create a game board as you mentioned to the post to display all team info? I love this idea and want to incorporate into my classroom next year and would love to know more on how this runs in your classroom! Thanks!

    1. Ammie,
      Thanks for your compliments!

      The Survivor Games is a year long competition so the prize(s) don't apply until the end of the year. The luxury item game pieces are anything that is not food/drink or tool/weapon. For example, hammock, tent, toilet paper, tool belt, etc. In lieu of a game board, I posted numbers around my room that represent levels. Each group created a team name and spelled it out with foam sticky letters (from Dollar Tree) on a foam flag (from Target). They advance their flags to the next level. I have 8 levels and right now level 4 is the farthest along any group has gotten.

      I plan on my end of the year prize being a combination of things: free snack at snack time for a week, each student gets a turn sitting in my comfy chair for a class period, homemade dessert from me, get to leave early for lunch every day for a week, a certificate from the Survivor Games Hall of Fame, and a medal/trophy. I tried to think of privileges rather than things that cost money. So that's the plan.

      It's not been super awesome but it's going okay. They really hate that they've been in the same groups all year. I'm trying to think of a way to do it on a more individual basis next year. Any ideas on what that would look like?

      Thanks for asking :)

  6. I LOVE your ideas. I am currently in the end of my second year and I use game based learning for individual lessons and use a point system to similar to your survivor games. I want to do something like this next year. To your last comment this is what I do to avoid them being in the same group all year: Each marking period is a fresh start. So in your case the game could end each marking period. The first day of the marking period form new tribes, make new flags and restart. Who doesn't like a fresh start? Also, to form new tribes I found this to be a great method: Say you have six tribes. Call up six students to the middle of the classroom while everyone else stands on the perimeter of the room. When you say go the students in the middle get to choose their group. The catch is that no one in the same round can sit in the same group. So if you don't want Tommy and Johnny sitting together you just call them up in the same round and they must sit at different tables. And if you want each group to have an 'expert' student just call all of them for the same round and they will divide themselves up. Students like this because they get some say in where they sit and you secretly also selected who they sit with!

  7. I probably won't do it again next year but I definitely will mix up the groups