Classroom Walkthroughs

By Ruth Manna on March 16, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

This year as a new curriculum director I’ve visited more classrooms and observed more teaching than I’ve observed in my entire career! Having been an elementary teacher for more than 20 years, I’m at home in classrooms. Five-minute walkthroughs give me surprisingly accurate snapshots of what’s happening in individual classrooms as well as entire schools.

If your principal conducts regular walkthroughs, you're familiar with this observation model. You already know that frequent, short visits enhance your development as a teacher and learner. And walkthroughs are more manageable than longer, formal observations for teachers, administrators, and coaches.

Whether you’re familiar with walkthroughs or not, keep reading to learn what I (and your principal) might note during a walkthrough.


533436985_78cf22bffb[1] When I walk through classrooms, I’m looking less at teachers than students. I’m concentrating on students' facial expressions, body language, engagement, and questions/responses. My focus is on students and on how teachers facilitate their learning.

There are so many details to observe, from classroom management to bulletin boards, and from teaching with technology to teaching the Standards. It’s challenging to know where to start!



This bulletin board features student writing.

Below are three big things I look for, the aspects of teaching and learning your principal might observe on a walk through your classroom.

DSC00128[1] 1. Evidence of Student Writing
I’m always interested to see what students are writing and drawing. Because writing develops after speaking and reading, it’s one of the most complex tasks we ask of students. So, I want to make sure I see writers and writing.

Specifics might include:

  • Writing across content areas — science, math, and social studies
  • Collaboration among students — students writing and reading what they've written with partners
  • Mini-lessons and group sharing 
  • Writing displays, signs, posters, and bulletin boards
  • Use of technology in the writing process
  • Journaling


A-Selection-of-Painted-Trees-(Images-from-a-parent-&-child-weekend-workshop),-Tempera-Painting,-Multiple-Ages.[1] 2. Content-rich lessons with a purpose, taught in context
It’s important that lessons be taught in context, with rich content. I hope to see teachers connect the day’s lesson to previous lessons and to standards and units of study. Simply saying, “We’re learning this so we can pass the statewide test,” is not a purpose.

Sometimes I check in with individual students and ask,
“What are you doing today? How's it going? Why are you studying this?”

Specifics I might listen for from teachers are:

  • “What did we do yesterday? Here’s how we’re going to add to that today.”
  • “How does today’s work connect to our study of . . . (insects, fractions, the Civil War)?"
  • “Who can tell me why we are learning this? Why is it important to know?"
  • “Does this remind you of another read-aloud we read recently? How are the two books connected?”
  • “This skill seems like something all 3rd graders need to know. Why do we need to master this skill?” "How will learning _____________ help you in the future?"

Math_calendar[1]3. Higher Order Thinking Questions
Literal comprehension questions are important, but when I observe teachers, I’m looking for more than bare bones questions. Among follow-up questions I’m hoping to hear are metacognition questions. I listen for questions that enrich and expand class conversations. I hope to hear students challenge one another with their questions.



Specific questions might include:

WHY questions: “Why does ___________ make sense?”

“Why did the author write this book?”

CONNECTION questions:

“What does _________ make you think of? It reminds me of __________."

“What were you thinking as you solved this problem? Come up and show us your thinking.”
“Who thought about this problem differently and has a different solution?”   

EXTENSION questions: “Let's find out more about ___________. How can we find more, reliable information? Who can we ask for help?” "This sounds like a writing topic for later. Jot that idea down in your writing folder."

WHAT IF questions:
“What if the dog had been the main character instead of the boy? How would that have changed this story?”
“What if the story had ended differently? How might it have ended?”
“What if we solved this problem with multiplication instead of addition? Who can show us the equation?”

Teachers_talking1[1] After a walkthrough, ask your administrator or coach for feedback if you don’t receive it right away!




Additional Resources

 To learn more about classroom walkthroughs, read the following articles:

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides a list of resources for walkthroughs, and I particularly recommend the "Learning Walkthrough Organizer" and "Characteristics of Standards-Based Teaching and Learning: Continuum of Practice." Also check out Table IV, "Effective Instruction" in their "Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment." 

And most importantly, post your experiences with walkthroughs!



I have found a classroom walk through to be a positive reinforcement for the Administrator as well as the team member. This article gives several useful ideas to make each walk through a success. In an Alternative School situation a daily walk through is required. Teachers are encouraged to post work of the students in the hallways as well as the classrooms.
This article is full of wonderful ideas that can be used in all grades and in all work situations. I found this article to be very helpful in giving me points to look for I may have overlooked in the past.

I enjoyed the article. I have just returned from working on a SACS CASI school review where we as evaluators do 20 minute observations. I will use the suggestions from the five minute walk through looking at writing samples, looking at student involvement and interaction, looking for "what if questions, and extensions of the lesson. Good things to notice.

I was interested in the 5 minute walk thru with a focus. The author gave us three different areas to observe, but allowing the walk thru to be dictated by 'what the children are doing' will allow for more focused feedback to the teacher who is delivering the instruction. Students show us what is being taught/learned. Students can provide the evidence of proficiency within content areas and those standards that still need attention. I plan to read the other articles suggested at the end of the piece for more examples of walk thrus and their power!

Here's an article on walk-throughs that you may like to read:

How Schools Improve Pages 52-55
Using Observation to Improve Instruction
by William Powell and Susan Napoliello
in Educational Leadership February 2005 | Volume 62 | Number 5
How Schools Improve pp. 52-55

Hi Barbara, Thanks for writing. I wish I'd understood walkthroughs better when I was a classroom teacher. It's only now that I'm out of a classroom that I'm starting to get it. :)

This was a great article. i am a very visual person and I loved being able to "see" as well as read about the expectations. This is really good information!

Stephanie, Asking great questions and follow-up questions is an art, which is why I like the idea of writing them out in advance. You want questions to have a logical progression. I think I learned about this from Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.

I like the idea of writing the higher level thinking questions on index cards, even having general questions written down and in my hand or clipboard will help me remember to ask them regularly.

Maree, Thanks for your comment. Being a coach or curriculum dir. is so different from being in a classroom. There's a lack of control and less ability to influence outcomes than I thought there'd be, though I'm learning a lot. It's challenging!

This was really interesting - thank you for this. I am considering making the move from classroom teacher to a role with more leadership and this has given me a lot to think about. Thanks

Mary, If you write a selection of higher order thinking questions on 3" X 5" cards, the cards will remind you to use the questions while your administrator is in your room. By writing out questions you'll be sure you get to higher order thinking. We all get nervous when being evaluated, so do everything you can to help yourself.

Hi Mary, Let me know if I can help you in any way. Good luck with your evaluation!

Thanks for this piece, I have formal evaluation next week. Great insights.

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