Conception of the good

Insights into our current education system

Month: August 2017

Routines in the classroom

This blog post is a summary of a workshop delivered at Teach First’s Summer Institute with Nick Hutton.

Why are Behaviour routines effective?

Routines are behaviour tools to help teachers train pupils to behave or complete tasks in a certain way. Routines can serve many different purposes, they can:

Save time

There are many tasks that pupils take a significant amount of time to complete but those tasks are necessary, for example: passing out or collecting in exercise books, entering the classroom, exiting the classroom.  If they are completed in an inefficient manner then huge amounts of time accumulated is wasted. Routines can save precious seconds that total to hours.

Improves Behaviour

With explicit narration of how you want pupils to behave or what you want pupils to be doing at different stages of the lesson can improve behaviour. Narrate to pupils what you want them to be doing and what you don’t want them to be doing.

Creating a positive and purposeful

Part of implementing a routine is narrating to pupils the purpose behind the routine. When they see that there is an important purpose behind a routine pupils can understand why they are praised for complying and accept demerits when they aren’t. An understanding of routines create that purposeful environment and positive environment.

Here are a few routines that can be implemented in the classroom. I have included the instructions I would use.

Handing out books.

I have my classroom organised in rows and the pupils’ books are placed on the windowsill. Pupils were taught how to pass their books down in the most time effective manner. Here are the instructions that were given to do this:

“The person sat at the windowsill, raise your hand please. You are the most important person in handing out the books! The faster you pass the books the faster your peers will have their books to start the task. You want to make sure that your row is the fastest one… 

Your book will be on the top of the pile. You will take the pile and take your book. You will then pass the pile of books to the pupil next to you.

The next pupil, your book will be next in the pile. Take your book and pass it on.

So, the pupil at the window will have their book at the top of the pile. The pupil next to you will have their book next in the pile.

The pupil at the end of the row will have their book at the bottom of the pile.

Once you have your book, open it to your last page of working out and then SLANT to let me know that you are ready. We aren’t looking out of the window. We want to be ready!”

“When we pass our books back. The pupil at the end of the row. Your book will be at the bottom of the pile. When the next pupil gets the pile, you ALWAYS put your book on top. Not below. ALWAYS on top. Where do we put our book in the pile, Hamza?”

“We then put our pile of books on the windowsill. Once you have passed on your book you will slant.”

My instructions to the pupils are crystal clear. I have emphasised the role of the pupil who needs to take the pile of books. I have explained:

  • where they can find their books
  • what they have to do with the pile
  • who they pass the pile on to
  • what to do once they get their book
  • what to do once their book is open to show me they are ready

I have also added a bit of flavour to my instructions in the sense that I have hyped up the kids to try and make sure they are the fastest row in passing out their books.

To get the pupils to get faster at handing out their books it would be a good idea to use a timer. I would then record the times for each day, and motivate the kids at the start of each lesson by saying

Yesterday we passed the books in 42 seconds. Today we want to break that record. Let’s see if we can pass the books in 41 or 40 seconds? Ready…(scan the room to build suspense)…Go!”

Or you would set a countdown. This gives each pupil a sense of urgency that we don’t want to waste any time. It gets the pupils excited to beat a record.

The instructions for every lesson would be:

“When I say go, and not before. I want you to pass your green books and textbooks. Once you have your green book open it to the last page of working out and slant. That way I know that you are ready. You have 30 seconds. Let’s see whose row is the fastest. Ready…(watch class and pause to create suspense)…GO!

25-24-23…Lauren is ready…18…17…16…Hannah is slanting already…9…8…7…6….Emily’s row is ready…4…3…2…1…and slant! WOW, we broke our record – 29 seconds.”

A query that participants mentioned was “What if I haven’t got a windowsill? What if I haven’t got my tables in rows but in groups of 4 instead?” If I had my tables in rows and I had no windowsill or had my tables in groups of four then I would layout each rows’ pile of books just before the lesson.

This routine can be adjusted depending on the layout of your classroom. This routine simply saves time on a job that needs to be done. If I didn’t do this routine in a certain way then time would be wasted with books going up and down the row because a pupil could have another pupil’s book. The first pupil will waste time sifting through the pile of books to get their book. The time wasted accumulates to become hours. Pupils get frustrated filtering through books and I get annoyed watching this happening.

In summary:

  • Provide pupils with explicit instructions on how to do the routine before they hand out the books
  • If the pupils are doing the routine poorly then send the books back to the windowsill and get pupils to do the routine again. Keep doing the routine on a daily basis.
  • When pupils are passing out books you need to be vigilant. Watch the pupils. Praise the ones who are ready early. Nudge the pupils who are taking their time.

Here is a clip –

How to use Mini-whiteboards (MWB).

Using mini-whiteboards in the classroom can be stressful unless you have taught pupils how you want them to use them. Here are a few questions to think about beforehand:

Where do you want the pen to be when you are talking? In the pupil’s hand? On the table?

Where do you want the pen lid to be when pupils are using their pen?

When pupils are writing on the mini whiteboard do you want it to be on show to their peers or hidden away?

When pupils have completed their work on the MWB do you want the board up on s

how or hidden?

These are all questions that I didn’t even think of when I started using MWBs in my first year of teaching. Here are a few routines to put in place to help pupils know what to do:

Using their MWB pen

“When I say go and not before, you will take your MWB, take off the pen lid and place it at the end of the pen. This is because we don’t want our pen lids to go missing. I am going to give you 5 seconds to do that and show me in 5. 5-4-3-2-1-and show!”

This tells pupils what to do when they are about to start the mini whiteboard activity. This also doesn’t cause 30 MWB pen lids to go missing.

Closing their MWB pen

“When I say go and not before, you will close your MWB pen by taking the pen lid and placing it onto the pen. We want to click the pen and pen lid. I am going to give you 5 seconds to do that and I want to here the click in 5-4-3-2-1-and click!”

This prevents 30 pens drying out over time. Pupils now know what to do when they are finished with their pens. Also, they know how to check that their pen lid is actually on because they will hear a click.

Using their MWB

“When we use our MWB we don’t want to show our working out to anybody else because we don’t want to encourage any cheating. I trust that nobody would want to cheat because you are not really letting yourself learn. It is ok to not know the answer because it is my job to help you. So when you do your working out you have to hide your MWB. You want to keep it a secret. In three I want you to pretend to be writing on your MWB so I can see who is the best secret keeper?

This instruction is explicit in the sense that the pupils know how to do their working out. I have also narrated the purpose behind why I want pupils to be hiding their working out. I have also tried to discourage any cheating. There is also an opportunity for pupils to demonstrate doing their working in the way that I want and the competitive edge gets kids keen to do their best version of the routine. Offer some praise when the kids attempt the routine:

“I think Emily is the best secret keeper because she is using her arm to cover her MWB.”

What do you want pupils to do when they have completed their working out?

“When you have completed your working out you still want to hide your work. You will hold your MWB so the working out is facing your desk. That way nobody can see it. You will hover your MWB above your desk and track me. That way I can see that you are ready. We do not put our MWB up in the air because that means somebody else can see your work. I’ll give you a warning and if you do that again then you’ll have a demerit.”

I would then give pupils an attempt to try hovering their MWB.

“When I say go and not before, I will give you a question to complete on your MWB. Once you are finished hover your MWB. When I countdown from 3, you will put your MWB up in the air when I say ‘show’ and not before.”

If pupils aren’t putting up their MWB altogether then I would get pupils to do it again

“We aren’t showing our MWB as a team so do it again. 3-2-1-and show! Better, I have 100%”

These are just a couple of routines that can be applied in your classroom. The main take away is that your instructions have to be explicit for pupils to understand what they need to be doing at each and every stage of the routine. Explain to pupils what the routine should look like. Explain to pupils what the routine does NOT look like. Narrate the purpose. Add a bit of fun factor to the routine. Time the routine so pupils know that they have to act speedily. Pupils like to be told what they need to be doing. You are happy and so are the pupils.


Gladwell: The English number-naming system is highly irregular

I’m currently reading Outliers: The story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and in one chapter there is a brief extract from Stanislas Dehaene’s book, The Number Sense. This chapter discusses why pupils in China, Japan and Singapore experience less confusion when learning elementary maths. Gladwell states that “a part of the disenchantment is due to the fact that math doesn’t seem to make sense; its linguistic structure is clumsy, its basic rules seem arbitrary and complicated.”

Here are a few key differences  between number-naming systems in Western and Asian languages:

1) Chinese numbers are brief

For example, 4 is ‘si’ and 7 is ‘qi’ which takes a quarter of a second to say compared to pronouncing the same numbers in English which takes a third of a second. Dehaene believes that “the memory gap between English and Chinese apparently is entirely due to this difference in lengths”. The Cantonese dialect of Chinese allows a memory span of about 10 digits.

Here is an experiment conducted in Dehaene’s book. Attempt to memorise this list of numbers: 4, 8, 5, 3, 9, 7, and 6. English speakers will have a 50% chance of remembering this list perfectly. Chinese speakers will list the numbers correctly every time. This is simply because “as humans we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds. We most easily memorise whatever we can say or read within the two-second span.” Chinese speakers are able to fit all those numbers into two seconds

2) The English number-naming system is highly irregular

The numbers above twenty such as twenty-two, thirty-five etc all follow the structure where the ‘decade’ comes first and then the unit number second. Compare this to the teens (18,16) which is the other way around where the unit number comes first fifteen, eighteen. China, Japan and Korea have a logical counting system, examples:

Eleven: ten-one

Twelve: ten-two

Thirty-five: three-tens-five

3) Asian children can perform basic functions (e.g. addition) far more easily because of the regularity of their number system

English speaking children need to convert the calculation of thirty-five plus twenty-three from words into numbers to then complete the addition. Compare this to adding three-tens-five and two-tens-three makes it easy to do the calculation since the order of the digits is within the sentence.

These are just a few facts that I was not aware of before reading Gladwell’s book. I highly recommend it for many more reasons as well as this one section about mathematics.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success.

Dehaene, S. (1997). The Number Sense: How the Mind creates Mathematics