Plan the Beginning of Class on Purpose

In a typical high school or middle school room, the beginning of class often looks something like this:

Beginning class on PurposeStudents wander in from the hall. There may or may not be an opener assignment (bell ringer) but no one seems to be working on it. The teacher is at her desk, working on something of her own. Students are chatting, standing with friends, playing with their phones.

The late bell rings and Mrs Teacher jumps into action – but a battle ensues to get her students to quiet down and focus.

Have you been into a classroom like this? Does this look like your own classroom? And you are frustrated, feeling like you are wasting time (and gaining gray hairs!) at the beginning of class every day?

Do not be discouraged! With just a few tweaks, your first ten minutes of class can become your favorite ten ten minutes of the day!

Just as the first day of school sets you up for the rest of the year, the first ten minutes of class sets you up for the rest of that day.

So how do you start?

Start With Your Students First

For them, the day has already begun, you are just becoming part of it as they arrive at your room. I try to remember that my students actually have a life outside my class, and it is not always sunshine and roses.

You have no idea how their day has gone so far.

  • One student had a fight this morning with her mother about her boyfriend and is feeling angry and hurt
  • Another student was up all night long wondering where his mother even was, he is tired and stressed
  • This student  just found out his best friend is considering suicide, he is super distracted and worried
  • That student is stressed to the max with dance practice, softball practice, Student Council, National Honors Society, and a 4.0 GPA she must maintain.

But somehow they must come in your room, engage with you and the students around them, and learn something.

How can you help them get ready for that?

Greet them. With a smile and a handshake. At the door, every day.

My students know they can not enter the classroom until they have gotten their handshake from me. I know this may sound weird, or uncomfortable, or awkward – but I promise a simple handshake goes such a long way,

Is it possible to improve student behavior with one simple change?
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Greeting my students with a hand shake every day has been my number one strategy for classroom management, preventing behavior issues, and building relationships!

Take a look at this article to learn more about the amazing benefits of the handshake!

But in short – it is a brief moment of the day where they connect with a positive, cheerful adult who is openly happy to see them.

It helps them (at least a little) to leave some of the stress outside the door. It’s a new hour, a new beginning, that starts with a warm greeting from their teacher.

The handshake sets the stage for how they will enter your room. No longer can students tumble loudly through the door and horseplay to their desks. You are the sentry – the buffer – between the chaos of the hallway and the peace of your classroom

And I promise you and your students will get past any awkwardness very quickly. They will look forward to your daily handshake! It is one of the things they openly complain about when they have a sub – there was no morning handshake.

I have seen some teachers (on YouTube) take this idea and run with it – they form a unique handshake with EVERY student! WOW! If you are up for that, AWESOME! Take a video and send it to me – I would love to see!

But it does not have to be fancy. The most important element is a genuine heart. You care, and it shows.

Start on Purpose! 

The beginning of class needs to have structure and routine. Just like you have goals for your day’s lessons, you must have a goal for your students as soon as they walk in the door.

  • Something productive, worth the class time
  • Something that gets your students into ‘thinking mode’
  • Something graded – they will likely need the motivation of a grade
  • Something that will only take ten minutes, tops

One of the best, most productive ways to start the beginning of class is reviewing content. For my first five years teaching I called these Opener Assignments. Now I call them Check-Ins.

Check-Ins are designed to do just that – give students (and me) a check-in to see how well they learned the previous day’s lesson, or the homework from the night before.

My goal is for the Check-Ins to be between 7 and 9 questions long – all multiple choice. This provides enough questions to cover the specific learning goal I had for the day before, but not too many as to take too long.

The beautiful thing about giving a Check-In is that you know at the very start of the day…

  • If your students have mastered the learning goal from the previous day’s lesson
  • If your students just need a bit of review, a quick refresher of the lesson
  • If your students need a total re-teach of the lesson

Related: Daily Differentiation – a method for using Opener Assignments to

Differentiation for the classroom - how to find students who need more help, and how to help them.

find students who need help, and how to help them.

So the next question you are probably asking is, how in the world does a teacher grade an opener assignment fast enough to use that information??

Two words – Google Forms.

I am in love with Google Forms. I use Google Forms for EVERYTHING. Okay not everything, but I use them a lot, for a lot.

Check out this article to see seven new ways to use Google Forms in the classroom.  (for Escape Rooms, Student self reflection, Progress monitoring and more!)

One little (possible) hitch – using Google Forms means that your students will need some type of device to access the internet.

I never have a problem with this, as the majority of my high school students have a cell phone. The ones who do not simply use the handful of classroom computers that are available.

If you are not familiar with Google Forms, let me explain a bit about how they can do the grading work for you.

With Google Forms you can make multiple choice questions that are automatically graded in real time. But the best part is the DATA you can get from them! Google Forms shows you every student’s individual score, as well as how the class performed on each question.

Related: How to divide and differentiate!

Is there a question they all did well on? They got it! You can move on.

Is there a question they all struggled on? They need more help with that subject!

BONUS! Make the most of these Opener Google Forms by leaving them up on the class website (or Google Classroom, or a reference study page) all year. They make for a great review resource!

Related: Seven new ways to use Google Forms! Make Escape Rooms, Student self reflection, Progress monitoring, and more.

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Start With a Timer

Just putting a link, or QR code, on the board will not motivate most students to get started right away on the Check In. Your students are just like any one of us – they would prefer relaxing and chatting with friends over doing work. 

But you want them to get into the learning/thinking/doing mindset right at the beginning of class – even before the bell rings!

Which leads me to another necessity – the timer.

Timers motivate.

I set a timer for just about every activity we do in the classroom. It helps to keep me on track just as much as the students!

So set a timer and have it on the board, counting down, as they come in. They know that they only have 10 minutes before ‘phones down faces forward”. If its not done, their grade suffers.

Adjust the amount of time on the timer as needed for the number of questions on the Opener. Between 7 and 10 questions are usually best. The goal is to get started with class right away, and then move into the lesson.

Picture the beginning of class now –

Your students are quietly engaged in the Check-In assignment. Each one has been greeted by name at the door. Attendance is taken. You have even had several short conversations with students in the room, building relationships.

Spend Less Time Grading using the assignments you already have.
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You are moving quietly around the room, answering a handful of content related questions   and then quickly assess the outcome of the Check-In data.

You know what needs to come next – Moving on, Review, or total Re-Teach. You are ready for the day. They are ready for the day. And its going to be a good one!

Do you have tips or advice for how to get class started off on the right foot? Or experiences to share? Let us know in the comments!

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14 Replies to “Plan the Beginning of Class on Purpose”

  1. I stopped reading after the first few sentences. “Wander” not “wonder.” (And then there was that “your” which should have been “you’re.” That’s so basic.)
    From there, I just was like, “Meh.”
    Check yourself. I wonder if you proofread this at all. You’re a teacher.

    1. Erica,
      Thank you so much for your constructive feedback! I am sure we all make mistakes, as I always tell my students – we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I will certainly be more careful in the future!

    2. Erica, unless you are an English teacher who had extra training on spelling and grammar, many of us struggle with it. My last grammar and spelling class was 10th grade. I have my advanced degrees in Biology, and Environmental Science where apparently people are less judgemental. In my 16th year teaching, I still make grammar and spelling mistakes not because I don’t proofread but because spelling and grammar has always been something I struggle with.

      I love using openers with quick questions. My favorite technique had been with the old IR Clickers where you could have multiple choice questions up on the board that self-propelled. Students knew if they got there late where were extracted they would miss some of the questions. I counted them as little five-point quizzes which at the end of a quarter added up to 1 test grade

      1. Rochelle, I remember the IR Clickers! A Kahoot game would work in a similar way, where students would have to get there and logged in on time or they would miss questions. I think that would be even more motivational than a timer. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I think this is a great idea. I love forms as well. Also, just curious, how do you use your data for a grade…do you add then up throughout the week?

    1. Monica,
      That is a great question! I used to add them up for a weekly grade but it was very time consuming. In my quest to spend more time at home with my family, I have started putting each morning assignment as its own grade. My goal is success for students – if they took notes and participated the day before it should be an easy A!

  3. Fantastic ideas! And to Ms. Erica….I’m so happy that I never had a teacher like you. People make mistakes. We, (not including you) get into a rush, yes, we (once again, not including you Erica) even fail to check our work. Lighten up! I pray that both Erica and the author of this blog/article has a wonderful, fruitful year!

  4. Wow. Erica, you seem to think you know it all. Your critical feedback is a clear indication of the type of teacher you are.. which is not a lively one. Maybe you should read articles about how to be a happy teacher.

    Anyway, that was a great read. I feel challenged to trial some of these strategies! Thank you!

    1. Tracie, students are in assigned seats (rotated every two weeks to keep it interesting!) so I can take roll in seconds while they are working on the morning assignment!

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