Five veteran teachers share their secrets to a smooth start to the year with tips for setting up your classroom, getting students acquainted, and motivating learners for the year ahead.
Settling In to Kindergarten
Techniques for creating a sense of order and a positive environment at the start of the school year
For most in-coming kindergarteners, sitting still, raising hands, making lines, and other "school behaviors" are unknown concepts. So, one of my most important back-to-school tasks is to provide clear and consistent classroom rules and routines that will help students get the most out of their school experience.
Learning to Pay Attention to Directions
I have two techniques I use to teach children how to focus on directions. I start using these on the first day of school, often during a class meeting.
The Rhythmic Clap: "When you hear Mr. B clap his hands like this (rhythmic clap) you should stop what you're doing and clap back. It means I have some important news to share with you. I'm going to clap again. When you see me put my hands down, you try to copy my clap. I'll know you're done when you're looking at my eyes. Here, let's try it."
A Chant: "If you can hear Mr. B, put your hands on your hips. If you can hear Mr. B, put your hands on your shoulders. If you can hear Mr. B, put your hands on your tummy...." Try modulating your voice, as you call out these directions. The students closest to you will probably respond first, followed by the rest of the class. If a child continues with her activity and does not pay attention, I'll follow up the chant with, "Make sure you have empty hands and your eyes can see my eyes."
With both of these techniques, I am careful not to talk over children. If I need to wait for students to focus, then I wait. It may take practice for students to respond appropriately, but these are the days when I am setting the tone for the rest of the year. Students need to know how to focus so they can hear directions, share their thoughts with peers, and communicate effectively in general.
Teaching Choice Time
Teaching in a full day program, I have the ability to schedule a daily "choice time" block. This period of free play affords students opportunities to work with materials and peers they may not have had time to otherwise. At the beginning of the school year, I moderate choice time in a number of ways.
Try these techniques in your classroom:
- Gather students on the rug and introduce one of the materials that will be available during play. Give them time for free exploration while you monitor how they interact with the materials and each other. Talk about safe ways the materials can be used and expectations about how they should be cleaned up and stored safely.
- Be positive with these expectations. Instead of saying, "You shouldn't throw Legos into the box," ask a child to demonstrate how to safely clean up the Legos.
- Slowly introduce new materials. Give students time for free exploration. Don't feel like all of your centers and materials have to be available on the first day of school. I might introduce pattern blocks in the morning and dramatic play in the afternoon.
- When centers are open, discuss how many children can be in a center at a time. I usually allow four children in dramatic play, five in block area, and two at wood working. Legos and drawing have more room so there is usually no limit to the number of children who can use those. I gauge the number of students based on the amount of space and amount of materials available.
- On the first day of school, I take my students on a tour of the classroom. We walk from place to place, talking about what we see in different spots and centers and have a brief discussion about what the expectations are. I don't expect the children to remember all of the information they pick up on this tour. This is just a brief introduction to help them to get acclimated.
Modeling is the name of the game for young students. I try to be aware of how I'm speaking, tone, pronunciation, eye contact, and often point it out. My teaching assistant is a great help in this. During morning meeting I may start a conversation with her:
"Mrs. Bernier, I noticed that when you were talking with Joey, your eyes were looking right at his eyes. He could see that you were listening, and you could see that he was listening. What great eye contact!"
"I know Mr. B. It's always polite to have good eye contact when you're talking to someone. It's good manners."
Now, I realize it sounds simplistic, but many children haven't had practice with making eye contact during a conversation. I often follow up by having students come up and demonstrate how to make eye contact during a greeting. I stay close at hand, in case the children need prompts about what to say. Their interaction is quickly followed by verbal praise and a round of applause.
This probably seems like a lot to take in, but be consistent in setting the tone at the start of the school year, and you'll find you have a happy and well adjusted class down the road. Good luck!