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10 Classroom Procedures that Will Save Your Sanity

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The difference between a good procedure and a bad procedure is the difference between “everything is running fairly smoothly” and “this is driving me nuts. I’m gonna’ pull my hair out.”

Sometimes it’s easy to think of a procedure, and other times, a question will have us stumped for years.

Take pencils for example.

They’re these little lead things, y’know. They shouldn’t cause so much trouble.

But I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to keep my kids supplied with pencils. There just seemed to literally be no simple solution.

Until I finally heard an idea this summer that just might work! (more on that in a sec….)

10 classroom procedures that will save your sanity

Here’s a few procedures that have worked well for me – and a couple awesome ideas I’ve run across since I’ve stepped out of the classroom (like that pencil thing….)

10 Classroom Procedures that Will Make Things Run More Smoothly

  • Tell kids they can’t use the restroom. Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out. When kids ask to use the restroom during instructional time, my typical answer is, “no not right now.” Sometimes I follow this by telling them a time they can go, telling them I’ll let them leave class a minute early, or telling them I’ll write them a pass to have a couple extra minutes to go between classes, but the gist of the answer is “not right now.” The thing about saying no right away is that if the student really has to go, they’ll ask again (more urgently) in a few minutes. At which point you go ahead and say yes. 
  • Use short phrases like “prepare for a quiz” that stand for a combined set of directions. I teach my students that when I say “Prepare for a quiz” they are to clear their desk of everything except a pencil and a clean sheet of paper to use as a cover sheet. They are also to have a pen handy to grade. At first this takes a lot of instruction, but later in the year all I have to say is “prepare for a quiz,” and the rest happens (somewhat) automatically. 
  • Use call-and-response sayings to get your class’s attention. Basically you teach your students to respond when you call out something. So, for example, you say “All set?” and your students respond with “You bet!” This is infinitely better than just asking your students to be quiet because when they respond “You bet!” they actively stop what they are doing & refocus on you. I wish so much I had known about these when I was teaching – it would’ve prevented so much frustration! (Click here to get a free call-and-response sayings poster, or for more info check out Whole Brain Teaching.) 
  • Teach your students to use question marks when grading in class. When your students are grading work in class, don’t take grading questions. You just don’t have time for a million versions of “is it okay if Jerry didn’t capitalize the first letter?” Instead, teach your students to put a question mark by any question they’re not sure is correct. Then look at the question marks when you record the grades. 
  • Go over tests at the end of the class period. If you try to go over a test at the start of class, you’ll never know how long you’ll spend on it or how many arguments you’ll get about why such-and-such answer really should be fine. Instead, if you want to spend 10 minutes going over a test, stop class 10 minutes early to go over it. That way, you are pretty much guaranteed to only spend 10 minutes, and if anyone has serious questions they can stay after class to ask them.
  • Have students pass their papers backwards or sideways. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you have your students pass their papers forward, they can’t see them coming. So Brandon has to poke Celeste 5 times with the stack of papers or ends up banging her over the head. Instead, have your students pass their papers over and/or backwards so they can see them coming their way. Oh, and if you train the last student who ends up with the papers to paperclip them and put them in a designated spot, that’s one less thing for you to worry about. 
  • Have designated in bins. Simple enough, but so many teachers don’t do this. Have a spot for that last student to put the stack of papers. And for students to turn in late work or work from when they were absent. 
  • Have students pass back papers for you. Now I’m not talking about tests or anything confidential, but if your classroom’s anything like mine, there are plenty of papers that need to be passed back that students can definitely help with. I create an “out” bin for each of my classes. Then I have one student per class (they normally take a turn for a month or two) who is trained to grab whatever’s in the out bin and pass them out at the start of class. 
  • Have an absent secretary. Designate a student to write down what you do in class each day and what the homework is. Keep this list in a special folder so that absent students (or their parents) can easily find what they missed when they return.  Get an example absence secretary form here.
  • Purchase & give out golf pencils. Okay, so I just heard about this idea this summer in our Create Your Dream Classroom summer book club, but it sure sounds like it’s worth a try. You know that impossible pencil situation? Buy a couple boxes of golf pencils (like these) and hand them out when your students don’t have a pencil. They are so many (& they’re cheap enough) that it doesn’t matter whether or not you get them back. And since students don’t like that they’re so small and have no erasers, they’re more motivated to bring their own. Sounds ingenious to me (insert evil laugh). 🙂

These procedures will help make your classroom run more smoothly – but only if your students actually follow them!

But don’t worry – we have a free training that will help you ensure students follow your procedures – as well as how to handle various other classroom issues.

Get the free How to Reduce Disruptions without Yelling, Begging, or Bribing training here.


What to Read Next
  • Also, some stores, such as Lowe’s or home Depot I believe, will actually take standard #2 pencils,cut off the erasers and cut them down to size for you. I also thought that was a good solution to the pencil problem.

  • As an art teacher (middle school) golf pencils aren’t an option for me. Instead I made a quick sign out form where they sign a pencil out and check it back in. It’s in the same place on my desk (so it feels like a teacher space and not a kid space, so they have to obey the rule), and after I teach the procedure, kids will come in and just check one out without needing to ask. (They’re even really good this year about checking them back in… and if they don’t check them back in I can hound them about it later.)

  • Tell students to highlight their name before turning in their assignments. This sounds dumb but seriously, you can’t highlight it if you haven’t written it! And highlighting is mysteriously fun! I have maybe one in a thousand papers without a name. Almost miraculous!

  • My second graders used to go through pencils like candy. Now I use a sharpie to draw a black ring around each of 2 dozen pencils just below the eraser. One child sharpens them in the morning. Kids can use “my pencils” any time during the day. If theirs breaks, they just grab one of mine. If all 2 dozen are back in the pencil mug at the end of the day, they earn 2 points for the class. Now I only replace pencils when they become too short to use.+

  • Great ideas! I always use the phrase “test mode ready” which signals nothing but a pencil and eraser on the desk and everything placed under the chair.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • I teach ‘testing positions’. They get clean cover sheet and turn desk from pair to
      Pre Appointment directions. I like them working in groups but just not during assessments.

  • I teach first grade and instead of highlighting their name, I have them put a star by their name. They love to make stars and it is the same concept as highlighting.

  • I love your ideas! Here is one from me – I have each student fold his/her test lengthwise and write his/her name on the back. When I grade them, I put the grade inside. So students can give the papers back and not see what their classmates’ grades are!

  • We gave out engraved pencils as gifts for Christmas. Over the break I bought a bunch of discounted candy and school supplies. I stapled them in a big bag and told kids the last one with a pencil gets whatever is in the bag! It’s crazy but I still have two kids in the challenge. I think it is amazing that three pencils can actually last this long and now they know it too! After Spring break we are doing it again for any kids that did the optional work packet! It is a small price to pay to have that frustration mostly gone!

  • I post my pencils on a magnetic board with magnetic alligator clips. Students learn they may borrow a pencil from that board without asking, but all clips must be filled with pencils again before class is dismissed.

    I’ve only gone through one pack of pencils this year and I never have to stop to find a pencil for a student.

    I also use an agenda at the beginning of each class. Students learn to “check the board” and find bell work (to begin as soon as the bell rings) While they are working I can get in a few minutes to check attendance, etc. It cuts down on the repeated, “What are we doing today?” as well. I teach high school, by the way.

    The Classroom Management Book by Wong and Wong has some other great procedures I use as well.


  • Thank you for sharing your knowledge with other teachers. I am looking forward to using some of these ideas during the upcoming school year. Thank you,
    T. Walidng

  • I purchased a bathroom plunger, painted the handle a bright color and that is what my 3rd graders use to let me know they have gone to the bathroom. No one asks for permission and I know where my students are. Only one student can go at a time. I set certain perimeters at the beginning of the school year and haven’t had many abuses in my years of teaching. I teach them to be responsible for their behavior and most of the time they step up to the responsibility.

  • Great tips! I’m studying to be a choir teacher, but I can still use some of these ideas in my classes in the future! I have another one about pencils: my geometry teacher had a rule that if you borrowed a pencil, you left a shoe. You couldn’t get it back until the pencil was returned. Needless to say, he didn’t lose many pencils. 🙂 It’s pretty hard to forgt that you’re missing a shoe.

  • Hello,

    I love the ideas posted here. I went to the link of the Absent Secretary Document but it will not load for me. Is there another way I could see that resource?


  • Great ideas! I teach kindergarten and I was over our pencil (or lack thereof) situation. I sharpened two brand new pencils for each student and I wrote their classroom number at the top and wrapped scotch tape around the number so they wouldn’t rub off. I know that this sounds like a lot of work, but I would allow the students who could present both of their pencils at the end of the week to choose a small prize from the prize box. Our behavior program tied into the end of the week as well so two birds, one stone. It worked so well that I rarely had to even sharpen pencils and I definitely wasn’t searching for the things!

  • I would love the absence secretary form. Also, your idea for “All set? You bet!” is appropriate for which grades?


  • Another teacher I know will trade something of value (phone, keys…) for one of his pencils. At the end of class the student gives the pencil back for his item back. It works really well with middle or high school.

  • Hey! This is a great post. As a music teacher, some of these recommendations don’t apply BUT I will use the “all set” “you bet” and the passing items sideways instead of front/back.
    Thank you!

  • Another good pencil idea is the upgrade. If a student doesn’t have a pencil, I offer a new pencil to someone in the class who would like an upgrade for their small or no eraser left pencil. Prepared get the new one this rewarding those. The one unprepared gets the discard. I will also upgrade any tiny pencil that has been well used.

  • I love your ideas here, but honestly, am not at all in agreement on the bathroom thing. I get when a student is asking all the time, but then you need to find out if there is an underlying problem. My own daughter asked in 1st grade to go to the bathroom, was given this exact answer “not right now, maybe in a few minutes”, because she was going all the time. Since she was not very good at standing up for herself, she didn’t ask again right away and wound up having an accident. She was mortified. I was extremely angry as a parent, especially since I had even had a conversation with the teacher before school had even started about her frequent bathroom trips and urgency of them. She has since outgrown this, thankfully, but as a teacher, you are setting up a kid for an extremely embarrassing situation, that their peers do not forget.

    • Teachers should be informed ahead of time if your child has bathroom issues. If a teacher lets one student go to the bathroom while she/he is teacher not only does that child miss instruction, but then it starts a domino effect. People outside of education does not see this. But if you let the teacher know, they can make adjustments for your child.

      • She did say, “I was extremely angry as a parent, especially since I had even had a conversation with the teacher before school had even started about her frequent bathroom trips and urgency of them.”

  • The bathroom. This rule does not work for certain children. They will not ask again. Sometimes, I don’t think teachers understand how difficult it is for some kids to muster up the courage to ask the first time!! Last year and the year before I heard of several of my kids classmates having accidents at school. My son had an accident at school and that is not normal for him! These poor kids! You are assuming they’ll ask you again if they “actually” have to go. So, before school starts you assume bad intent if these children. Maybe, if their teacher assumed good intent and trusted them first, they would live up to that. Children will be what you expect them to be!
    This rule is crazy to me and all teachers need to rethink their entire ideology if they use this rule!!

    • She’s probably talking about older kiddos. I’d never do that to littles, but I have frequent flyers in my fifth graders and I swear I do this and those little stinkers really didn’t have to go. I never do this to students who rarely ask.

  • I teach the sign language signal for bathroom (crossing two fingers and holding them up). Kids quietly signal and I simply shake my head yes and let them go to the bathroom, with the expectation they will be gone only a few minutes (preteach that expectation too). It works very well in our 3rd grade— no accidents, no messing around in bathroom, no big production.

  • When dealing with elementary students, I ask them to write there name at the top and put a special shape beside it…like a star, a moon etc. They all put there name at the top and draw the shape…I change the shape according to seasons too…snowflake, leaf, heart, flower etc.

  • Dear Linda,
    I’m 56 years old, and have a after school care facility which I run from home. I already prepared a room for 6 babies and 6 todlers….. I am not a qualified teacher, and only did my grade 12 in 1979. The Lord gave me a passion for children, and I just want to teach them and show them the Love of Lord. The only thing is, I really don’t know what to do, and how to go about it. I want to teach the children. I have two grown-up daughters, whom both received their honors degrees at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

    • Hoping and praying that the Lord has opened a door for you to teach those little ones of the Lord. I have been teaching 8 year olds for over 10 years and I’ve learned that if you teach them with love, they will learn anything.

  • It makes a lot of sense to look into a cheaper option for handing out pencils. This way you save money but are able to help those who are in need of the powerful writing utensil. My cousin might like this tip as he looks into a classroom walkthrough.

  • Golf pencils work great for me, too. It’s amazing how many students “find” a pencil in their book bag when offered a golf pencil. Sometimes not “having” a pencil is just a way to delay bell work, especially at the high school level.

    Last year I also bought a box of Amazon pencils that cost less than golf pencils. I was able to recognize my pencils and retrieve them at the end of class.

  • This was super helpful! I am in my third year and have never thought to assign someone to pass papers back! You rock!

  • I laughed out loud at your golf pencil comment… I have students leave one shoe underneath my desk if they want to borrow one of my pencils and that way they are sure to return them. Of course my students are middle school students.

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