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Daily Rituals: The First Fifteen Minutes

By Alycia Zimmerman on January 9, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

The morning transition from outside to inside, parent to teacher, home to school is an important time for students. I don’t believe that there is one “right” way to start the school day. I have my traditions, and I have watched beautiful and very different beginnings in many other classrooms. Below are just some possibilities. How do you start your school day?




PART 1: The First Fifteen Minutes, My Way

Phase 1: The Personal Welcome

Every student needs and deserves to be seen — deeply, and as an individual. For me, this means that I welcome every student by name with deliberate eye contact each morning. Before they enter the classroom, I try to share an observation, a pat on the shoulder, or a smile with each student so they are sure that I know they are here and that I appreciate their presence.

Phase 2: Embrace Our Space

I stand outside the classroom door while each student enters; I purposely let them precede me into the room. Pencils are already sharpened, our morning starter is on the board, ready for their entrance, and I have soft music playing. My students have the experience of waking up the classroom themselves — not of walking into my room.


Phase 3: Warm Up Work

Students “warm up” at different speeds. Some are adjusting from a stressful home environment and need a moment for themselves; others want immediate academic or social stimulation. My students know what they need to accomplish during the initial unpack and “Do Now” work time, but I provide a fair bit of leniency in terms of pacing and environment.

While students work on our daily math starter, some sit at tables, other lie on the rug, some work independently, and others sit quietly with partners or small groups. Afterwards, they can swap their library books, read independently or with a partner, work on class newspaper articles, or browse Scholastic News headlines online. (Scholastic saves us a lot of time by providing ELA and math Daily Starters, complete with daily facts.)

While I set the agenda, this is ultimately their time to take over their space (and allows me ten minutes to take care of clerical work, individual issues, and more welcomes).

A quiet moment on the rug with a book allows this student to gradually transition into school routines.

Phase 4: Come Together, Right Now . . . 

After these preliminaries, I finally address the class as a community. We begin with the schedule and announcements, morning meeting, our weekly song, and morning math routines. In another “Daily Rituals” installment, I’ll share our math routines, so stay tuned . . .  (Check my post "Classroom Songs" for more about our daily singing routines.)


PART 2: “Tips From the Trenches” i.e., Other Teachers’ Voices


Tips From the Trenches . . . Unpacking and Clerical Matters

Allison M. repeats the same unpacking directions at the door to her classroom each day her 1st graders thrive on the familiarity of this ritual. She says, “I do not speak over them, and I take that extra minute or so to make sure everyone is listening. This helps to set the tone for the entire day.”

Ali’s 4th graders immediately sort their homework into labeled bins she has placed in the classroom. She scans any parent notes in the “Notes” bin before beginning her first lesson and leaves the rest of the homework to look over later during the day.


In my classroom, my students are responsible for recording missing homework assignments by themselves in my “Black Book of Homework Shame.” This saves me a lot of time, and it forces the students to own up to their missing work. For more about my black book and other routines, see my blog post, "My Classroom Management Must-Haves, Part 2: Float Jars and More."


When Debbie’s 4th graders hand in incomplete homework, she sticks a label onto the assignment that directs the student to redo it and include a parent signature. The labels keep her students accountable while saving her the effort of handwriting notes on each incomplete assignment. Download these labels to print onto 4" x 3" labels.

My students stow their lunch boxes in ottoman seating cubes that line the front of my classroom. They provide handy storage and seating, and were a steal at a big-box discount store.


Tips From the Trenches . . . Musical Beginnings and Class Jobs

In Yanik’s 1st grade classroom, her students have exactly three minutes the duration of Bob Marley’s upbeat song "Three Little Birds" to unpack and place their homework in the “Inbox.”

Susannah’s 2nd graders take their classroom jobs very seriously. Morning DJ is perhaps the most coveted job. The DJ chooses a song from the class iPod to play during unpacking time and a second song as background music for morning work.

In my classroom, students also take care of their jobs after unpacking. The class Herpetologist feeds our frogs and does the weekly water change. The Meteorologist looks up the weather forecast online and copies the weather data onto the board. Closet Captains make sure that backpacks and jackets are stowed neatly and closet doors are closed. Job assignments change every week.


Tips From the Trenches . . . Morning “Do Now” Work

Allison’s students race to unpack to be among the first students seated on the rug facing the SMART Board for the “morning meeting” and group work. The first students showing their best SLANT active listening position earn “Miller Dollars” (her incentive system).

Leah sets out dry-erase lap boards and markers before her PreK students arrive. After the students finish breakfast, they practice writing or tracing their names.

Kristi’s 1st graders use glue sticks in baskets on their tables to glue a half-page of morning work into a composition notebook. The morning work alternates between word study and math work.


Debbie’s 4th graders read the morning message on her “Welcome Board” to find their directions for the morning or perhaps an inspirational quote to reflect upon.

Dana’s kindergarten students grab their book baggies and head to the rug as soon as they’ve hung up their coats and backpacks. Dana sets a timer for five minutes of independent reading and five minutes of buddy-reading. Her students strive to maintain perfect focus during the reading warm-up so that afterwards they can sit in her rocking chair and share a reading strategy they used with the entire class.

What most of our varied beginnings have in common is an acknowledgement of the individual as well as the community, consistent daily structures, and an upbeat tone to set the mood for the day.

How do you begin the school day in your classroom? What do you do to welcome your students, help manage the paperwork, and more? Please share your ideas and insights in the comments section below!

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Comments (8)

Singing a wise and gentle song gets students focused sweetly and ready for the day. ADHD and ADD students especially benefit from the even breathing required in singing something familiar and calming. The even flow of air focuses a child's attention (think yoga). I'm not speaking of yelling out with enthusiasm which can actually get kids riled up. I'm speaking of a quiet and thoughtful lyrics attached to an easy to sing fun melody that flows gently.

I work with kids one and one and witness miracles. It really doesn't matter where a teacher teaches. A little bit of happy singing is a great little ritual to wake kids up into the day. One song. Just pick the right song. And NO yelling.

I agree with Wiggler71. All kids no matter where they come from thrive and enjoy structure and routine with a little bit of creativity thrown in. It is up to us to provide our students with a feeling of security even when our classes are situated in places where they feel there is none. I feel sorry for the kids in Anonymous' class. How do you expect your kids to lift themselves out of the trenches when you constantly remind them with your attitude of where they are?

Just FYI, responding to the the ghetto comment above, Mrs Zimmerman teaches across the street from a project housing structure. The school is probably 70-80% afro-american and of color. She is a talent, widely respected in her school and is probably the most highly educated teacher at this level. With no context, your assumption of a high tax zone is not only wrong, its presumptuous. Her accomplishments have been amidst a lowered budget and teacher cutbacks. Her kids are as 'real' as they get. Probably better for you to sit and take a lesson.

This sounds good. What would you suggest for middle/high school, a setting that changes every hour or so?

This sounds good. What would you suggest for middle/high school, a setting that changes every hour or so?

Anonymous sounds jaded and needs to re think "Why" she/he began teaching. ALL students respond to routines and kindness.

Thanks for the great ideas--I teach higher level than early elementary but the same ideas can be applied to my classes as well. Getting to know your students and providing them with structure is KEY!


I am a bit offended by your comment. I worked in a school for 14 years that one might refer to as the "ghetto". I still held high expectations for my students, which many of them were more than willing to meet. We had procedures for everything. My students thrived on the consistency and structure. In many cases we are the only consistency and structure they have in their lives. Yes, I would have loved more parental involvement and support from home. But regardless, the students still deserved what students from other environments deserved. It is our job as educators to do our best to provide that for them. Perhaps you are in the wrong district or possibly even the wrong profession.

looks like you teach elementary school in a nice, white-bread district where the parents pay lots of taxes and actually care! not like my reality of all, teaching REAL kids in the ghetto.

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