Do Your Students Need a Morning Routine Reset?

If the morning routine in your classroom has gone off the rails, this is the post for you. Let's get the beginning of the day back on track by identifying the trouble spots and applying a few simple techniques so you and your students have a morning routine that gets the day started right.

What do you want out of the first part of your day? I'm guessing a few things: 

  • students to complete the necessary morning routine tasks consistently and without reminders
  • flexibility for yourself to move about, greet and chat with students, and complete your own morning routine tasks (ahem, attendance)
  • and the right energy in the room: calm and positive, relaxed yet purposeful, with enough freedom for students to greet each other but with just enough urgency so students get things done and are ready and focused for the day ahead.

Let's break down the morning routine into two parts: logistics and atmosphere

  • By logistics, we're talking about the particular tasks students need to accomplish and the timing of accomplishing them. 
  • By atmosphere, we're talking about the feeling of the classroom, the noise level, the amount of hustle and bustle or calm and relaxed, the social interaction.

Even though we'll look at them separately, the logistics of your morning routine and the atmosphere you are striving for feed off each other, so making changes to one can have a huge effect on the other.


If things haven't been going well at the beginning of the day, I think it's important to take a step back and ask three questions:

  1. How much time do students actually have in the morning? 
  2. What tasks do students actually need to complete? 
  3. And how long does it actually take to complete those tasks?

How much time?

Tomorrow morning, take some data. Note the exact time students begin entering the classroom, and note the time when the last students enter (or should be entering, if there is excessive hallway dilly-dallying). Then subtract those times from the exact time you want to transition into the regular day.

Let's call the first student entering "Student A" and the last student entering "Student Z." So, for example:

  • Student A enters at 7:55
  • Student Z enters at 8:02
  • Regular day begins at 8:15

So, on a normal day, this class has 13-20 minutes for the morning routine.

What tasks?

Identify a list of "must do" tasks students need to complete as part of their morning routine: unpack their backpack? turn in homework? sign in for lunch? preparation of certain materials? Try to keep the list pared down to just the essentials for now.

Whatever the list of tasks are, make it visual for students, whether it be in the form of a projected slide, a poster on the board, or individual desk reminders.

Interested in my student to-do list templates shown in the photos? Find the sign-up box near the end of the post, and I'll send you all the editable templates--display slides, posters, and desk reminders--in all three designs: Boho Rainbow, Sunny Skies, and Succulents.

How long does it take?

Take a few minutes in the middle of the day to practice completing the list of morning tasks that have been established. Literally, have students pack up their backpack and go into the hallway and re-enter like it's the beginning of the day. Tell students you're going to time them to see how long it takes. Making students aware that you're timing them creates an underlying sense of urgency.

The goal is to find out the minimum amount of time needed. For our sample class, let's say it's 8 minutes. 

Note that if the time it takes your class to complete their to do list is more than the time your Student Z has in the morning, you may need to pare down the list even further.

But chances are, you're going to have some spare minutes in there. This is good, because those spare minutes are going to help with the atmosphere.


The atmosphere you're likely striving for is one that's inviting, calm, relaxed, and positive, all without losing track of actually completing the morning tasks.

A big part of this desired atmosphere is simply having a few extra minutes built in to the morning routine so that students (1) don't have to be in a hurry, and (2) they greet their classmates and socialize a bit. 

Besides, who wants to start their day in a rush or not have time to say hi to our buds?

In our example, students can complete their morning to-do list in as little as 8 minutes, and they actually have somewhere between 13-20 minutes. 

Therefore, even Student Z, the last student to arrive, can stretch that morning routine into a comfortable, relaxed pace. Doing so helps keeps the classroom atmosphere welcoming and easy-going.

But then what?

You've tightened up students' morning tasks, made them visual, practiced them, and even built in a few minutes for some light socializing. But then what.

Think about Student A for instance, who has 20 minutes of morning routine time, only 8 of which will definitely be filled. That's a lot of spare minutes. Enough that your "relaxed" atmosphere can quickly spiral into "noisy," even "chaotic."

That's why students should have something to do at their seat once they've completed their to-do list, something that: 

  • is engaging so students don't avoid it, 
  • can be done without adult assistance, and
  • has flexibility in its timing (as in, students don't all need to start it at the same time).

These were the driving forces in creating my Morning Work with Meaning resources.

In my Morning Work with Meaning - Top 3 Lists, students create and defend a top 3 list about an engaging topic, like your "top 3 dream jobs" or the "top 3 dipping sauces." Through the course of the week, each morning students do something different with their lists: justifying choices, combining lists with a partner, analyzing others' lists and drawing conclusions, and more!

A weekly record sheet provides accountability and predictability, but what I love most about these resources though is how they help warm up students' brains and gets them ready to move into the rest of the day. Click the image below!

In my other line of morning work, Odd Little Words, students engage with intriguing 3-letter words as the basis for high-interest vocabulary work, code-breaking, and collaboration! 

Use it as a morning work routine or even as an engaging word work activity.

With each "odd little word," students read short passages, solve puzzles, and even get creative. Click the image below!

Whatever task you choose, think of it like your transition from students' morning to-do list to the main part of your day.

Don't forget to sign up below to get my file of Student To Do List templates!