When I first started teaching there was only one word to describe the start of class – chaos.
I remember standing in front of my class as the bell rang wondering how on earth I was going to get their attention.
With half the class talking, 5 kids walking around the room, and 2 more coming in late, it seemed hopeless.
But it actually wasn’t as tough as I thought. There were just a few key things I was missing.
So whether your class is pretty much out of control or if it could just use a little fine tuning, here are some things I’ve learned about the start of class.
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How to Start Class Effectively
1. Have an assignment posted.
If you're not starting class with some type of assignment, you've got to try it. A start-of-class assignment truly makes such a huge difference because it gives your students something productive to do while you complete all of your administrative tasks such as taking attendance. Have a consistent place in your room where you always post the assignment.
Not sure what to use as your assignment? Keep reading - we'll give some tips for what makes a good start-of-class assignment in just a minute.
2. Teach your students to start the assignment without prompting from you.
Now, this is where I went wrong. I had an assignment, but if students don't start working on it, then it's not going to do you any good.
You have to train your students to sit down and get started without your having to say anything. If you're not even in the room they should automatically go to their seats and get started on the assignment before the bell even rings.
And, no, it's truly not impossible.. But it doesn't happen by accident. You have to be intentional about training them to do this. Check out my post "How to Teach Procedures that Your Students Will Actually Follow" for specific directions on how to make it happen.
3. Have a plan for what you'll do if students aren't on task when the bell rings.
At first, you're going to have to train your students to get right to work so that they're already busy when the bell rings. But after the class has learned the procedure, you'll need a plan for what to do when a few students (or occasionally half the class) are still talking or disruptive after the bell.
What Makes a Good Start-of-Class Assignment?
The most important thing is that the start-of-class assignment should need no explanation. I know, I know – there’s always a kid who wants an explanation. But it should be simple enough that you don’t feel guilty saying, “You need to read the directions and figure it out for yourself.”
It could be some review questions from the textbook, a journal prompt written on the board, or a separate worksheet with a quick exercise. Simply ask yourself, “What do my students need more practice/help with?” and then come up with a short activity that will help them master that skill. Keep in mind that you can use the same activity for more than one day and just give them 3-5 minutes at the start of each class to work on it.
If you're not sure what would work best for your class, ask a fellow teacher at your school or in our Facebook discussion group.
If you happen to teach middle school math, you can grab a set of the practice exercises I used here.
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