My Go-To Lesson Structure and 8 Classroom Routines for Better Classroom Management

I have way too much to do during the day teaching and grading to deal with all the extra stuff that happens in the classroom. I can’t waste any time on cell phones, extra talking, distractions, bad behavior, and unpreparedness. All that extra stuff takes energy, effort, and time to address. And I have a limited supply of all that during the school day.

During a lesson I have to keep things moving. I can’t waste time on waiting, mass confusion, and dependents. That stuff happened a lot more in my first few years teaching. I was figuring out the classroom systems and classroom management strategies that worked for me.

Over the years I figured out a lot of tips to streamline my classroom. I did a lot of research, but I always got the best tips from the amazing and super talented teachers I worked with. In this blog post, I’ll share my favorite lesson structure for a typical day. They are some of the essential routines that help maximize learning in my classroom.

#1 Beginning of Class Routine

I spend the first few weeks of school paying extra attention to the time before the bell rings. I want my students to come in and get ready for class. That way, I can take care of little things that come up, or just help and assist students. They pick up handouts that I laid out on the back counter before school started. They get their science notebook from their assigned cabinet and bring it to their desk. They sharpen their pencil. They read and follow the directions on the projector, and then they get to work on the assigned task.

Usually the task is either one of two things, a Warm-up (#2 in this blog post), or an Organization System task (#3 in this blog post). The entry routine is so important for me to have a successful lesson. When students come in willy-nilly, socialize, and walk in and out of the classroom, it is disruptive to the flow of my class. It takes time to get them to settle down and focus. I want students to be ready by the time the bell rings, not 5 minutes after. When students know what to do (and actually do it, haha) I have a minute to collect my thoughts and reset everything so I can do it all again!

My first year teaching, every student had an Agenda and it was a schoolwide policy to remind students to write down their homework. I found this SNAPS mnemonic online somewhere, and gave it a try!
An entry routine is essential for smooth transitions between periods and a calm beginning to class. I ask students to come in and read the directions on the projector to get started on a silent and individual task.

#2 Warm-up

Also known as a “Do-Now” or “Bellringer,” a Warm-up is an awesome way to begin class. I like to use warm-up questions that review the content from the previous lesson. Once we go over the answers as a class, we can pick up right where we left off and keep going. It is also a great opportunity to clear up misunderstandings. I like to target warm-up questions towards the concepts that students need more practice with from last class, perhaps based on their last Check-in (#7 in this blog post).

From experience, I like to stick to review questions and save brainstorming activities for class discussions and pair sharing. If the ideas are super novel, students have lots of questions and can get frustrated easily. That’s not how I want to start class! I create warm-ups that can be completed silently and independently so I can have a few quiet minutes for administrative tasks like attendance and touching base with students who were absent. Someone will undoubtedly ask (even in May), and the answer is, “Yes, always write in complete sentences!”

Students usually need 5-10 minutes to complete the Warm-up. I’m walking around the classroom and helping students, and reading what they have down so far. Then we go over the answers as a class. They are essentially easy or “free points” assignments that should be completed by the next notebook or binder check.

It takes time to create warm-ups on the front end, but then they are ready to go for next year! We go over the answers as a class. Students raise their hands, and I record their answers under the document camera so they can check their work and add anything if necessary.
I display the questions for students in Google Slides, and they answer the questions in complete sentences in their notebooks or on binder paper. When we go over the answers together, it helps to have the questions still visible like on this print out that I filled out under the document camera.

#3 Organization System

An organization system is another great routine for the beginning of class because students can do it silently and independently. If I don’t have a warm-up at the beginning of class, I often like to do “housekeeping” type stuff like organization. The two main systems are notebooks and binders. Less common might be a Google Drive portfolio. I actually knew a teacher in 2016 whose classroom was completely paperless! I’ve used both notebooks and binders, and each has their redeeming qualities. No matter which system I use, students learn organizational skills that will help them be successful in class and in life.

My tip for using science notebooks is to have a Table of Contents in the front of the notebook. I maintain a digital version of the TOC that is posted in Google Classroom and which I also display on the projector when we update our notebooks. When graded work is handed back, students can glue it in and update their TOC. When my school had a 1:1 with Chromebooks or iPads, I asked students to check their grade online. I want students to make sure the grade on the assignment handed back matches what is in the gradebook. It’s a big help to check for mistakes! Students know if they got a graded assignment back or not, and they can see in the gradebook if something is missing. They have more accountability this way.

Organization can take place at any time in the lesson. It is great as something to work on when groups or students finish the lab or activity at different times. If they don’t get to it, they will undoubtedly have another opportunity in an upcoming class period. If needed they can easily work on it at home and get caught up. Over the years I started to notice that students can get sucked into updating their science notebooks. They get in the zone and want to spend more than the 10 minutes I’ve planned for it. They ask if they can keep working on their notebook instead of whatever we have planned for that day! I dedicate class time for science notebook improvements before notebook checks. Students appreciate the opportunity to catch-up.

If you maintain an electronic copy of the Table of Contents, you can post it in Google Classroom. I like to display it on the classroom projector nice and big for everyone to see. If you highlight the assignment that is being added or handed back, students won’t ask you a million times what they should be writing, LOL!
This Unit Organizer is for Macromolecules, it is like a Table of Contents when using a binder system. I also give students a graphic organizer for the Vocabulary in the unit.

#4 Teacher Script

I like to start my lessons with a Teacher Script, which I often use for lectures and notetaking. I carefully write my Teacher Script so that I review what we learned previously, introduce new material for the day, and clear up misconceptions. I include explanations, real-life examples, and questions. Some of the best class discussions have happened when I follow my Teacher Scripts. It is so awesome. I rely on my Teacher Scripts so I don’t forget anything. They help me be concise so that we have lots of time for labs, activities, group work, etc. My Teacher Scripts are one of the most important parts of my lesson planning. In order for me to get a good night’s sleep, I need to feel extra prepared for what I’m going to teach the next day. For me, that means writing myself a little script.

In my experience, I have the easiest time talking to my students towards the beginning of the period. They are the most sharp and captivated within the first 20 minutes of class. After that, it just gets harder to get their attention and bring them back as a class. I still have to do it, of course, but it is harder and I would rather just make my life easier by doing most of my teacher talking towards the beginning of class. If I keep it short and sweet, around 15 minutes, then it is even easier to hold their attention and say what I need to say. It’s a little built in classroom management strategy!

#5 Activity

This is the “meat” of the lesson. I try to do as many labs and hands-on activities as possible. Other activities include readings, note-taking, video clips, movies, simulations, worksheets, projects, and creative assignments like coloring pages, posters, and foldables. I like to mix up the types of activities frequently between individual, partner, and group work. While students work, I circulate the classroom and provide 1:1 help, ask guiding questions, and answer student inquiries. After the activity, I bring the class back together for class discussion. For labs, we might answer questions as a class, have a discussion, and then work on the analysis and conclusion individually.

#6 Vocabulary Log

Science and Biology are super vocab dense. Explicit vocabulary development is good for all learners, but especially English Learners. I enjoy the occasional foldable, but I rely on a Vocabulary Log for each unit throughout the year. I go into a lot more detail in my blog post, Vocabulary Logs. I like to assign a Vocabulary Log after a lecture and notetaking, or after an activity. If students don’t finish during the class time provided, they can finish for homework. In my opinion this was one of the easiest new classroom systems for me to implement.

I can assign a Vocabulary log at any part of a lesson: as an alternative to taking notes, as an activity, after an assignment, or even for homework.

#7 Check-in

Check-ins are one the classroom systems that I am most proud of. It is my special twist on an Exit Ticket or a Quiz, and it is a great way to wrap up a lesson. A Check-in is a few questions that are targeted towards the learning goal of a lesson. The special twist? Students can take a Check-in as many times as they want, and their highest score is recorded. It is a built in system for students to show what they learned, learn from their mistakes, and improve their grade. Mrs. Z, my mom said I have an F in your class and I need to get a B. Is there any Extra Credit? Sound familiar? Haha. Check-ins aren’t Extra Credit, but they can help boost students’ Test and Quiz average and improve their overall grade. I wrote about Check-ins in more detail in my blog post, How I Use “Check-ins” to Check for Understanding and Inform My Teaching, if you want to check it out! A few questions in Quizizz is a fun twist and another way to do a check-in.

#8 End of Class Routine

You know what principals don’t want to see when they walk through the hallways? Students standing by the door, with their things, 5 minutes before the bell rings. Not only do you miss out on valuable instruction time, but it’s a fire hazard! Teach bell to bell, as they say. A professor of mine in my teaching program told us if you waste the last 5 minutes of class each day, it adds up to 15 hours of lost instruction time by the end of the year! This was one of the hardest tasks for me in my early years of teaching. Students are the most rambunctious and ready to burst out of their seats at the end of class. Especially when you teach 115 minute block periods (aka torture for everyone). Here are some activities I use at the end of class to keep things engaging and make every minute count:

Offer a prize: “For a bouncy ball, who can summarize what we learned today about cells?” I ask questions to help the brave volunteer cover all the important details. Don’t forget to say, Good job!

Use an Exit Ticket: “How are you feeling after today’s lesson?” “What questions do you have about today’s lesson?” “On a scale of ___ to ____, how well do you feel you understood today’s lesson?” Just be ready for 150 extra little pieces of paper that you need to collect and review!

Play a game: Students love some friendly competition (and winning raffle tickets or prizes!). We can play a game on the board. I can use vocabulary terms related to the current topic. I love to make a Quizlet study stack for the current unit, and play Quizlet Live. Quizlet Live divides students into teams for you and students need to speak to one another and work together to match words and definitions. Quizizz is another favorite of mine. It’s like Kahoot, but students answer questions individually and at their own pace. I also like that the questions are displayed on their personal device, instead of far away on the projector. There is a Class Leaderboard that everyone can see and it’s a lot of fun! There are hundreds of interactive Quizlets and Quizizzes created by other teachers that I get inspiration from, saving me valuable time. Thank you!

Show a video: If I have an extra 5 minutes at the end of class, I might show a short video that is related to the day’s content. Flocabulary and BrainPop have lots of topics that are at the right level for middle school grades. Your school might already have a subscription! YouTube is another platform with many videos. Crash Course Kids and Amoeba Sisters have some of my favorite science related videos. If I just want something to keep everyone calm and give them a break for the last 5 minutes, I like aerial drone footage of megacities (it has cool music). It’s fun to chat with students about travel, geography, culture. Definitely preview all videos before showing to the class!

Even with lots of preparation, there’s just so much to do as a Teacher and I’m usually running around trying to get stuff done in between periods and before the bell rings. My lesson structure gives me little moments to get this stuff done. Students adapt to my routines, and classroom management is easier when they know what’s up and can go with the flow.

My go-to lesson structure is a good place to start until you find what works best for you. Being a new teacher is hard and stressful. If you feel overwhelmed, try to take a step back. You don’t need to be the perfect teacher all the time. In fact, I had some of the most fun in my first few years of teaching, before I had anything figured out!

What are the essential lesson structure components in your classroom? Let me know by leaving a comment. I would love to hear from you! To read more about me and my classroom, check out the blog posts below!

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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