There are many reasons why we need to use routines in our teaching spaces. Routines are a helpful ‘shorthand’ for getting things done quickly and efficiently. Routines help us ensure that the children are safe, and that there is a calm, purposeful atmosphere in which to learn. Routines let the children feel safe and secure, because they know what is coming and what they are being asked to do. And routines can be a brilliant way for you to ‘get at’ certain aspects of learning (which, after all, is the purpose of school.) One key routine that is needed, particularly in the primary school, is a routine for how children line up, and how they move around the school, for instance to assembly or in from break.
Method One: Tightly Controlled (The Basic Line)
Learning Objectives: How to follow instructions; why it is important to follow instructions; learning self-control; waiting your turn.
This approach is useful when you are starting out with a class. It offers a secure and controlled way of getting your children into a line and learning how to move around safely. It is very useful indeed for ‘fire drill’ lines. With the children sitting in their seats, or on the carpet, explain that you are going to talk about lining up. Ask the children what they think – why do we use lines, what kinds of behaviours are important when lining up, what does a ‘great’ line look like, and how should they move safely around the school? Next choose a leader for your line – “Let’s see who looks like they would be a great leader for our line … ah, Nancy is sitting beautifully and listening, Nancy would you go and take the front spot in our line?” Make sure that you have a different line leader each time, and aim for every child to get a turn. You could also choose a reliable child to go at the back of the line (which is typically where issues arise anyway). Now allow the children to join the line, a few at a time, using lots of personalised praise to encourage them. Once your line is in place, you can practise moving in and out of the classroom, and around the school, quietly and sensibly. Talk a lot about why this is important, as you do so.
Method Two: Target + Team Work (The Increasingly Independent Line)
Learning Objectives: How to work cooperatively; how to behave independently; learning self-control when working as part of a group; meeting targets.
Once your children have got the hang of the ‘basic line’, you can start to spice things up a bit. This may feel scary at first, as you are handing over the responsibility to your children. What if it all goes wrong? (If it does, pull back from the activity and begin over again. Use ‘the fun’ to encourage them to control their own behaviour.) This time, explain to the children that you are going to give them a specific target to achieve, when making their line. This might be to line up: without making a single sound; in less than 20 seconds (without any pushing); in height order, with the shortest first; in reverse height order; in order of their birth dates; in alphabetical order of their first names, and so on. Depending on how old the children are, and how well they work together, they may need some support and help in doing this. If necessary, break the activity down into stages, or model it first for them.
Method Three: Imaginative Focus (The Creative Line)
Learning Objectives: Using an imagined focus; building personal creativity; developing self-control; developing the imagination; movement skills.
This is the ‘line with the cherry on top’. You take a simple routine and develop it into a place where creative thinking can happen, both for the teacher and for the children. This time, tell the children that they are going to move into the line, and around the school, with a specific imaginative focus. Explain to them that an observer should be able to figure out what the focus is, without being told. You could mention that this is what drama does for us. Your children may become over-excited with this approach, so have a clear expectation of calm and sensible behaviour. Your imaginative focus might be to line up: in slow motion; as though they are in zero gravity; as if they are trudging through mud; as though the floor is sticky; imagining that there is a sleeping giant under the floor; pretending that the floor is very fragile and might easily break; in the manner of … (a police officer, a very old person, a monster, a king or queen).
If teaching was purely a science, you could create a set of ‘methods for routines’, ones that would work for everyone, in all circumstances. However, it is not. Teaching is partly a science, for sure, but it is also an art form, a craft and a ‘humanity’ (in the sense that it is about working with young people, in all their messy, wonderful complexity). The routines we use need to work for us, and our children, in our own specific contexts. And we should never forget that (as with everything we do in school) routines are about more than just control, they are about learning too.
A great post on lining up/entry routines at secondary school by Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) can be found here.
(You can find more imaginative ideas for routines in my book ‘The Creative Classroom’.)