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Teaching challenge

Mr Price wants to have a classroom where pupils enter quietly and begin their learning promptly. However, only about half of his pupils are starting the lesson in this way. Some pupils are taking up to ten minutes to settle and are slow to start tasks during the early part of the lesson. What might Mr Price do to tackle this challenge?

Key idea

Establishing and maintaining routines can increase both the amount of time that pupils spend learning, and the quality of that learning.

Evidence summary

The power of routines

Routines are just any aspect of the classroom that have a repeating and familiar pattern. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that establishing and maintaining routines leads to positive, predictable and motivating classrooms (Kern & Clemens, 2007).

When pupils are able to predict the events that happen during their school day, they are more likely to be engaged and less likely to exhibit undesirable behaviours. Routines are great ways to increase the predictability of the classroom, particularly at the start of the school year.

Aspects of the lesson that are ripe for building strong routines include:

  • How pupils enter the classroom and start the lesson.
  • How pupils finish the lesson and exit the classroom.
  • What pupils do when they complete activities or get stuck.
  • How pupils engage in classroom discussion.

Setting expectations

To set up routines in ways that work and last, teachers need to communicate and reinforce expectations of what should happen. If pupils are not clear about what they are expected to do, routines are unlikely to take hold and remain.

Research has demonstrated that the higher the expectations that teachers have of their pupils, the better the behaviour will end up being. And if multiple teachers are able to set and maintain expectations, then behaviour will be better across the school as a whole (Kern & Clemens, 2007). Mr Price should recognise his responsibilities as part of a wider system of behaviour management, but also understand that he has the right to support and training from senior colleagues.

Communicating expectations around routines are most effective when they are:

  • Concise: Communicate the routine using a few clear steps. Complexity can be added as routines get embedded.
  • Positively framed: Say what you want pupils to do rather than what you don’t want them to do.
  • Modelled: Regularly show your pupils what you want them to do, particularly when you are in the early stages of establishing a routine.

Getting routines to stick

As well as setting clear expectations for a routine, we also have to think carefully about how we make that routine last. Routines will simply dissipate as pupils forget and other things interfere, unless we take intentional steps to make them stick. To maintain routines, we can (IES, 2008):

  • Revise: Continually repeat our expectations of what we think the routine should be like and why, even after pupils have ‘got it’.
  • Re-practise: Keep getting pupils to do the routine. In the early days, you can even get them to do a ‘rehearsal’ or two.
  • Reinforce: Use the school behaviour system (e.g. praise, rewards and sanctions) to help pupils keep to the routine. To be effective, reinforcement should be mostly positive and consistently applied.

When routines are established, not only do they create more time and a better environment for learning, but they can help teachers see and deal with undesirable behaviour as soon as it arises. Routines create predictable patterns of classroom activity and so make it easy to spot when behaviour deviates from what is expected. Catching and correcting challenging behaviour early can make pupils feel safer and creates a warmer classroom environment where learning is more likely to occur (Kern & Clemens, 2007).

Nuances and caveats

Is it realistic for Mr Price to expect all the pupils he teaches to meet his high expectations and adopt routines? Research suggests that clear expectations and predictable consequences are beneficial to both pupils with and without special educational needs, and especially useful for younger pupils (DfE, 2017; Gathercole et al., 2006).

Key takeaways

Mr Price can use routines to establish positive behaviour for learning by understanding that:

  • routines can create a positive and motivating climate in the classroom
  • high expectations can improve pupil behaviour at both a classroom and school level
  • for routines to take hold expectations must be clearly communicated and modelled
  • for routines to stick they need to be revised, re-practised and reinforced

Further reading

IES. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom.


Department for Education. (2017). SEN support: A rapid evidence assessment.

IES. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom.

Gathercole, S., Lamont, E., & Alloway, T. (2006). Working memory in the classroom. Working memory and education, 219-240.

Kern, L. & Clemens, N.H. (2007). Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Psychology in Schools, 44, 65-75.