3 Secrets to Effective Classroom Transitions That Actually Work

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Updated | 5 min read

If you’ve struggled with classroom transitions, you’re not alone. Helping students move from one task to another can be a challenge, even for veteran teachers. But consider this: If you spent just 15 minutes on a classroom transition once a day for an entire school year, you’d lose more than 45 HOURS of instructional time!

That’s about a week of school lost to transitions. Want to get that time back? The teachers on the Teach Starter team sat down to take a look at the main three types of transitions and have some tried and true transition strategies that can help you spend more time on teaching — and less time trying to get students back on track.

What Is a Classroom Transition?

Put simply, a classroom transition is a process of moving from one lesson, space or event to another during the course of the school day. They happen several times a day, and they can be simple or more complicated with a need to change locations and the collecting or swapping of books and equipment.

Transitions can present a challenge for students who see an opportunity to get chatty — or get a little unwieldy — and that can mean a challenge for a teacher to maintain classroom order. But getting this part of the school day down pat is key to classroom management, and fortunately, we’ve got some solid tips from our years in the classroom to help you get on track.

Explore our teachers’ favourite classroom routines and resources.

What Are the 3 Types of Transitions?

Students will make a lot of transitions throughout a school day — more than you might even realise — but they all break down into three types of transitions:

  • Entering class
  • Switching from one activity to another
  • Exiting the class

Seems overly simple? Let’s break it down a little bit more. Here are just some examples of the classroom transitions you can expect to handle throughout the school day, which all tie back to those three main types:

  • Moving from carpet time to desk work
  • Coming back into the classroom after lunch or recess
  • Returning from P.E., music, art, etc.
  • Going to another area of the school such as the library or the computer lab
  • Rotating from one small group activity to another

Why Are Transitions Important in Teaching?

Transitions can be incredibly efficient if coordinated effectively. They give students a break by providing them the opportunity to get out of their seats and switch their focus to a new task.

Transitions give students an opportunity to stretch their bodies and take a break from learning — both incredibly important for maintaining concentration throughout the school day.

Classroom transitions can also be used to minimise disruption from restless students when timed appropriately. However, they can also cause excitability if mismanaged. So, now that we know why transitions are important, how do you make sure they’re effective?

Great Classroom Transition Strategies

Prepare Kids for the Signals

Classroom management involves a lot of repetition of the rules and procedures, and that includes transition management. From the first week of school, work to let your students know the signals that you’ll be using when it’s time to make a transition, so they know what they mean and can quickly adapt.

A key to successful transitions is making sure your students feel in control and feel like they are managing their own time, so letting them know what to expect and do puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to making good choices!

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Try our Attention-Grabbing Phrase Cards for a fun way to grab student attention! Whenever you’re ready to stop an activity and move on to the next one, simply call out one of the phrases on the cards, and watch them snap to attention!

attention grabber cards for teachers

Cues are Key

Getting your students to quickly drop everything and prepare to change activities does take some practice. You need your students to know exactly what to do when you want their attention, and they need to do it fast!

Some cues that members of our teacher team swear by include:

  1. Set up a countdown timer — play any of these free classroom timers any time you need them.
  2. Post a visual schedule in your classroom where students can see it. Five minutes before the transition, draw attention to the schedule and announce what will happen in 5 minutes. Then make an announcement at the 2-minute mark for students to start cleaning up to ready for their next activity. 
  3. Play music at a low volume in the classroom, and adjust the volume when it’s time to transition. Again, it’s important to prep students ahead of time for what to do when that music change occurs!
  4. Set up a doorbell in your classroom to play when it’s time to transition. You can find a variety of doorbells online these days with different sounds. Why not buy multiple and use different sounds to cue students for different activities — transitioning to new rotations activities, sitting quietly at their desks and so on?

Manage Materials

If you are asking students to collect and organise their own supplies, make sure it is in a place they can all easily access without causing a traffic jam. Alternatively, give one of your students the materials manager job for a whole week so there’s no confusion as to who’s carrying what!

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Print and post a classroom job chart so every student knows who is in charge of what!

Transition With Movement and Music

Transitions are a great opportunity to get your students up and moving — waking their brains up and giving them a good stretch. Instead of letting the movements get out of control, why not turn it into a little bit of fun?

Playing particular songs when you want your students to complete different transitions is a great way to train them to transition a certain way on cue, and the best part is that they know they only have until the song is up to complete the transition.

Move Your Body

Obviously, moving and grooving your body to music isn’t really feasible when you’re moving around the school grounds. So how do you make walking in the hallways interesting and engaging for your students?

There will always be a time and a place for a straight line quietly walking from one classroom to the next, but for those times in between, use our How to walk like a… Instruction Cards!

These fun movement cards encourage your class to concentrate on their walk through the school to ensure they complete the right actions. Their eyes are less likely to wander, their mouths are less likely to chatter, and their minds and bodies will be nicely exercised by the time they reach their destination!

Explore more activities and ideas for classroom management from our teacher team!

Banner image via shutterstock.com/Prostock-studio


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  • Meg Gill

    "Turn around game" Students walk in a line. When the teacher turns around they must freeze. If they move, they go to the end of the line. I have a line ender person so the students know where the line of students ends. They think this game is hilarious. We play it EVERYWHERE!

    • Dean Hughes

      Hi Meg, thanks for sharing the 'Turn around game' with us, it sounds like great fun for students!

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