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March 2015 Tip of the Month: Create Value In Your Starting Routine

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
March 31, 2015

Tip Of The Month



"...having a starting routine that has value will help you start class on time and greatly reduce classroom management issues that so often plague the first few minutes of class."

In 2011 Louis Menand published an article in The New Yorker (Live and Learn: Why we have college) which considers what, if anything, students are learning in higher education. In the article a student asks a great question, “Why did we have to buy this book?”  The author discusses the notion that students in higher education want to know the value of their education.

I recently reread this article and it got me thinking about whether or not students find value in how we begin class and whether or not that perceived value can influence student success and reduce classroom management infractions that too often plague the first few minutes of class. In February's Tip of the Month, I argued that we can help students see themselves differently - to see themselves as students - if we have everyone in the classroom engage in the starting routine at the same time.  This will begin to create value in your starting routine, and can dramatically improve the outcome of a lesson.

From what I have observed, a typical starting routine consists of students entering a classroom, taking out a piece of paper, then recording and answering a warm-up question posted or projected in the classroom. If we can agree that this is a typical starting routine, I would like you to answer one simple question, “Where does this piece of paper go once the student has completed the warm-up?” Over the years of asking classroom teachers this question, I have only had two teachers respond with a succinct answer, while most in the audience look back at me with no answer.

How can we expect our starting routine to do anything for students if it has no worth?  Most students will realize in short order, that this piece of paper has value for the two minutes between the time the bell rings and the time the exercise is over. If, when those two minutes are up, it has no place to be filed or it is not collected, it then becomes meaningless. When the message is being sent to students within minutes of class start time that something has zero value, how do we expect it to motivate students to engage?

For the struggling teacher who continually fails to get class started, the breakdown is not a question of management but a question of value.  When a routine has no value, students are not going to engage in it.  Students will however, ask the question “Why are we doing this starting routine, what value does it have?"

The simple answer is to have a starting routine that has value for both the teacher and students. The value for the teacher is significant. When students engage in the starting routine the class will more likely start on time, taking attendance is a breeze, and within seconds there is a chance to re-teach the previous day’s standard or objective.  Additionally, the classroom environment is instantly academic; the teacher has the chance to interact in a positive manner with students rather than redirecting all of the class energy trying to get them back in their seats and focused.  More importantly, when students know what you want them to do (i.e. the starting routine is explicit) they tend to engage accordingly.

It will take some work and time to help students see how your starting routine has value.  If your starting routine fulfills some (or all) of the following criteria it will have value to your students:

  1. Is there an authentic re-teaching of the previous day’s standard or objective?
  2. Are students held accountable to write and respond to a prompt?
  3. Does the entire class write and answer the prompt together, at the same moment?
  4. Can students succeed at answering the prompt while being challenged academically?
  5. Is it okay to initially get the answer to the prompt incorrect? Is there a chance for students to correct it?
  6. Does the starting routine have a point value in the gradebook?

Also, avoid having students record the starting prompt on a piece of lined paper or scratch paper. Instead, have them use Organized Binder’s Lifeline (Page B), or something like it:

OB-5-day LINES B


The format of the paper is not the concern, the formality of this paper is what is important.  Students pick up one of these B Pages every Monday and use it five times a week (if using a traditional bell schedule) to start class, five times a week to end class, and it is turned in at the end of the week. The Lifeline (Page B) has a specific place in students' binders and  it is worth 5 points per week. In other words, this page has VALUE!

When students ask, “Why?” I can respond in several ways:

  • It is worth 5 points a week (90 points a semester).
  • It is how we all start class together as a community.
  • The Kick-Off helps you clarify what we learned the previous day in class.
  • All the Kick-Off prompts and responses will help you study for upcoming quizzes and exams, not to mention the final.
  • The Kick-Off prompts will likely appear on the next exam.

I can go on and on, and I do, when students ask me, “Why?”  Having a starting routine that has value will help you start class on time and greatly reduce classroom management issues that so often plague the first few minutes of class.

Thanks for reading,


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