Right after I landed my first teaching job back in 2009, my husband who had been teaching for four years at that point gifted me his copy of Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School: How To Be an Effective Teacher. Even though so many things went wrong that first year, I am forever grateful for the Wongs for giving me a foundation for high school classroom management that still serves me today.
Here’s a brief picture of my first year of teaching: three different preps (English 11, English 10, and Honors English 10—all different curriculums), seven 40-minute classes a day, one 40-minute prep first period that I lost no less than 40 times to cover for other teachers, a new textbook that was ordered for all classes but was late in production and didn’t come in until October… I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you because I KNOW you have similar challenges every single day.
I KNOW you deal with interruptions, bad breaks, multi-tasking, and general challenges that come with teaching every single day. BUT, classroom management doesn’t have to be one. That’s why I’m sharing my secondary classroom management strategies that I’ve been developing over the past decade. They work, and they’re practical. If you’re a student teacher, a new teacher, or a veteran teacher, you can implement these ideas anytime and with impact.
Bellringers, Do Now, Get Started, Get Organized, Bell Work, the list of titles to describe an opening activity goes on and on. There are so many variations of the beginning of the class activity, but they all describe the same classroom management strategy: a procedure, task, attention-getter, or schedule ready for the students as they enter the classroom. This type of opening activity gives you time to tackle attendance and housekeeping while preparing and engagement students.
Some starters can function as “hooks” to engage students in content. I highly suggest reading Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a Pirate for “hook” ideas for maximum engagement. Sara Wicht, writing for Teaching Tolerance, provides a valuable example for content, “Bell ringers also offer opportunities to introduce social justice or anti-bias topics and to empower students who may not normally speak up in class.”
I encourage you to think of starters as a routine, rather than a song and dance—unless you want it to be a song and dance on that day. The point is one day might be a hook and the next day it might be a procedure. But, most of all, it shouldn’t be just another thing to do to add stress to your day. When time is short, providing students with a schedule or material list will maximize on-task time and form the routine.
Repeat after me: “more on task time = fewer disruptions and problems.” Thank you for indulging me! It’s true, though. An ideal is lesson has bell-to-bell engagement, and students are active and engaged that there is no time to disrupt. While this is ideal, it’s definitely not the reality every day. The goal is one to work for to maximize engagement and hence minimize problems and distractions. (I call this proactive classroom management because you’ll automatically prevent some problems before they start.)
One of the best tools, I’ve found for this is a simple classroom timer. A classroom timer can be a tool to create urgency for your students on a specific task (hence minimizing lag and downtime), but most of all, it’s a tool to help you keep track of time. It’s easy to lose your sense of time when students are working on a task and you are answering questions or helping students one on one.
For me personally, it’s a great way to “budget” the time in the classroom. Your timer can be a physical timer or a digital one. I like to project my timer on the Smart Board so we all can see the timer at once. You can find timers on YouTube or www.online-stopwatch.com. Keep in mind, they aren’t perfect. If you have anything else to project on the Smart Board, you must switch back and forth between the screens, and YouTube has some annoying ads you’ll need to filter.
If you’re looking for an even easier solution, I have you covered. I recently created a PowerPoint and Google Slides embedded classroom timer resource that you might want to check out here.
Closers are the starters for the end of the period. If I didn’t completely lose you there, I’ll elaborate. Like starters, they can have a variety of names (homework, pack up, exit ticket, ticket out the door, etc.), but they all do the same thing: wrap up the class. They can announce procedural tasks, assess student learning from the lesson, give an opportunity for feedback or questioning, etc. They are also a great strategy if you find your activity wrapping up too early, and you can easily add a closer at the end of the lesson on the spur of the moment.
My go-tos are a running list of activities that I can mix and match with any lesson. These activities can work for just about any class. Here are some of my categories that could work your class too:
- reading activities
- collaborative activities
- movement activities
- listening activities
- group work activities
- writing activities
This recommendation is mostly about seamless lesson planning; I like to keep this list in sight while I’m lesson planning. As a bonus, your go-to list will help you switch up your routine, add an element of surprise, and plan bell-to-bell engaging activities.
Another idea that I have found works even better is to compile a slideshow with a different slide for each of my go-to activities complete with directions for easy projection on the board. This works great for lesson planning AND for easy implementation during class. Plus, students can reference the slide and directions as they’re working.
Putting these strategies together creates a plan I like to call a classroom management toolkit. I started created my classroom management toolkit years ago when I worked with my first pre-service field student. Then, during the spring of 2018 and the spring of 2019, I mentored two student teachers. Throughout their time in my classroom, we worked specifically on building this collection classroom procedures, ideas, tips, and strategies to make lesson planning seamless, improve students’ time on task, and focus on pacing and organization during the lesson. I will admit it took a lot longer than expected to collect all these strategies. Plus, I had the technical challenge of figuring out how to embed timers in class slides.
Thankfully, after almost three years of work, this January, I finally sent them my Secondary Classroom Management Toolkit ready for the start of the new semester. This toolkit is complete with countdown, days of the week, starters, reading, writing, listening, group work, movement activities, discussion activities, closing activities, and miscellaneous slides with embedded timers for 2, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, and 60-minute. And now, you can have them too! Check out my Secondary Classroom Management Toolkit: Class Slides with Timers.
I hope this post has given you strategies and ideas for classroom management to create your own plan in your secondary classroom. If you found this post helpful, please share it!
- Burgess, Dave. (2012) Teach like a pirate :increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator San Diego, Calif. : Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
- Wicht, Sara. (2014). Ding! Start your class off right! Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/ding-start-your-class-off-right
- Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.