Tips for Building Strong Classroom Routines

August 02, 2023
Rachel Fuhrman

There are so many things to think about as you work to set yourself and your students up for success this school year. Whether you are a first-time teacher or a veteran, the first few weeks of school are your opportunity to create the foundation for your classroom culture through strong, intentional classroom routines. By taking the time to establish, introduce, and practice clear, consistent routines, you ensure that your students can fully focus on learning. 


Why Clear, Consistent Routines Matter

For any classroom to function smoothly, students need a clear understanding of what they are expected to do throughout the class period or throughout the day. In my 6th grade classroom, students knew that they were expected to come in and had 2 minutes to get to their seats and get started on the Do Now. This meant that every student knew they could chat with friends as they made their way in, but by the time the posted timer reached 10 seconds, they needed to finish conversations and shift their focus to the work. 

This one routine made the start of class run so smoothly because my students knew exactly what to expect when they walked in. This meant I didn’t have any students walking up to me asking “What are we doing today?” nor did I have to stress myself out about getting everyone to start their work. Students knew what to do and what was and was not acceptable during those first two minutes of class and could therefore get themselves settled into the mindset for learning. This set the tone for the rest of class. 

While that was only one of many classroom routines, it illustrates the power of consistency in the classroom. When students know the routines, and understand why they exist, they can more easily focus on learning. 

Not only do routines help students shift their focus to learning, but clear, consistent routines are also extremely helpful for students with anxiety. Imagine walking into a class without consistent routines: you aren’t sure where to sit, you aren’t sure what you need to have on your desk, you aren't sure what to be working on, can you ask the teacher a question right now? Not to mention any anxiety about the actual content! By ensuring every student can walk in and immediately know what to do, you create a supportive environment that allows every student to start class with confidence. 


Determine What Routines Look Like for You and Your Students

The routines for your classroom will depend heavily on the grade you teach, the subject you teach, and your own unique style. As with everything we do at Fishtank, we empower teachers to consider their unique students when making instructional decisions. However, there are some general considerations when determining what routines might look like for you and your students. 

In general, it is helpful to consider routines for the start and end of class, and routines for what students should do if they finish their work early. 

Because the very start of class can set the tone for the entire class period, it is incredibly helpful to establish a routine for this time. If you are working with younger students, you might be the one responsible for determining this routine and then sharing it with students. If you work with middle or high school students, however, it can be very impactful to involve them in the creation of those routines. 

At the beginning of the year, I wanted my students to come into the room silently and get started on their work. I quickly realized that it was not working and I was wasting so much energy trying to enforce a routine that wasn’t necessarily suited for my students. So, instead of continuing to push against them, I asked them how we could reshape the routine to reflect their needs too. This is when we established the 2-minutes to your seat routine. It truly changed our time together; I was no longer starting class already frustrated that my students walked in talking and, because they felt ownership over the routine, they stuck to it. At the 2-minute mark, students were silently working at their desks. 

When thinking about the end of class, this routine is not only important for you, but it makes a huge difference to the next teacher or staff member your students are going to see. Maybe you’ve had this experience: your students come to you after a bit of a wild class and their energy is all over the place. If not, you’re lucky! 

In my own classroom, the last 5 minutes of class were dedicated to packing up our stuff and a whole class reflection. Sometimes, students shared that they really enjoyed an activity we did or that they thought the day’s content was particularly challenging. Sometimes, this was a time to address classwide behavioral concerns or push my students to take more academic risks. Whatever the 5 minute conversation involved, it ensured that my students were taking time to reset and refocus themselves before leaving my classroom for the next subject. 

Once we had determined what the start and end of class would look like, I focused on what students would do if they finished their work early. You have probably had a student before that was consistently finishing work early. Maybe this student sat quietly and waited to move on, but in my classroom, this student would start chatting with friends right away or doing anything to entertain themselves. To help prevent students from getting themselves or their classmates off track, I created options for my students once they were done. 

Students were expected to either read their independent books or could choose a fun worksheet from a bin I kept on my desk. These worksheets included quick fluency practice, review problems from previous units, sudoku puzzles, and word games. By creating the routine that students would continue working on a task silently if they finished their assigned work, all students had the opportunity to work in an environment conducive to learning. 


Introduce, Practice, and Revisit Routines

Once you’ve determined what your classroom routines are going to be, you have to introduce them to students, practice them, and plan how to reinforce them. As I mentioned before, it can be helpful to involve students in the creation of routines. This can be done by introducing the routine openly to students and inviting their thoughts and feedback–students’ involvement will depend on their age and grade level. 

Once you and your students are clear on the routine, it's time to practice! It might seem like a waste of time to practice something like walking into a classroom or packing up materials in a given amount of time, but the practice helps students internalize the process, and can be a fun way to get students invested. 

I always started by having my students practice any new routine the wrong way: if the routine were walking in and silently getting started on work within 2 minutes, I would tell my students to show me everything they shouldn’t be doing. They would be laughing hysterically by the end of this quick practice where students were singing, dancing, and continuing to talk well past the time. Then, we would shift to practicing what it should look like. This gave us an opportunity to talk about why the routine mattered and how it would help everyone learn more effectively. 

Once we had practiced our routines, students were able to follow them pretty easily. But, I knew there would likely be times I’d need to revisit the routines. Revisiting routines had two main purposes in my classroom: reinforcing the routines and expectations if students were no longer following them or changing the routine to better align with where our classroom was at the time. The day after a long break would usually be a time to reinforce routines and expectations after not seeing my students for multiple days.

The start of a new quarter or semester would be a time to revisit and potentially change the routine for my students. At the beginning of the year, students had to stay in their assigned seats during independent practice. But, after a semester of showing maturity and accountability, I allowed my students the opportunity to sit where they chose while working independently, as long as they continued to complete their work. 


Want more ideas to set your students up for success this school year? Dive into the Fishtank Blog to find strategies for engaging every student, guidance on using Fishtank resources, and the latest on what works in the classroom. Create your free Fishtank Learning account today to access thousands of free, standards-aligned, lesson plans in ELA and Math. 


Rachel Fuhrman is the Curriculum Marketing Manager at Fishtank Learning. Before joining Fishtank Learning, Rachel spent 5 years as a Middle School Special Education Teacher in New Orleans, LA and Harlem, NY. Outside of the classroom, she has been a frequent contributor to multiple education blogs and focuses primarily on student engagement and instructional practice topics. Rachel earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and her Master of Science in Educational Studies from The Johns Hopkins University.

Related Blog Posts

Create a Foundation for Communication: The First Family Call

Learn how to leverage positive phone calls home to set the foundation for strong communication all year long. You'll also find additional strategies to keep families connected with Fishtank resources. 

Giving Clear Directions

Whether you are teaching in-person or online, the clarity of your directions can have a major impact on how well your students engage and succeed. Check out our video primer on ensuring your directions are as clear as possible. 

Request a Demo

See all of the features of Fishtank in action and begin the conversation about adoption.

Learn more about Fishtank Learning School Adoption.

Contact Information

School Information

What courses are you interested in?



Are you interested in onboarding professional learning for your teachers and instructional leaders?



Any other information you would like to provide about your school?

Stay Up to Date

Stay Up to Date

Register for a free Fishtank account and stay up to date with the latest resources and guidance to be your most effective in the classroom.