Elements of Effective Transitions


A story I often tell is about a visit to a Pre-K classroom a few years ago.  The children were coming in from the playground, washing hands and then sitting on the carpet for large group time.  Two girls washed their hands, headed to the rug and sat down for a calm, quiet chat.  A few minutes later, three boys arrived or better said, the WWF (World Wrestling Federation)!  Open space, no teachers…the perfect opportunity for some body slamming!


The purpose for telling this tale is to demonstrate the importance of having transitions in place in the classroom.  When we have not planned for the time in between activities, mayhem can ensue, children can get hurt and learning time is lost.  Therefore, by following some key steps, transitions will be ready and effective.


First, transitions should be planned and purposeful.  Examine your daily schedule to assess where they are needed.  Think through what kind of transition will work best.  Can everyone move at once or should you stagger the movement of students such as when only a few at a time can use the restroom?  What is the role of each adult?  Can one person stay with children on the rug while the other teacher waits at the door where children line up?  Include a plan for each transition in your lesson plans.  This will help you be prepared to execute them throughout the day.


Second, transitions need to be safe.  Visualize what the transition should look like before it actually occurs.  Where will the adults stand so they can see everyone?  Where will the children put their hands while in line?  Where will the line stop to wait for everyone?  Finally, making sure that children have something to do in between activities will ensure children are safe rather than part of the dangerous wrestling match described earlier.


Third, transitions that are fully engaging will entice everyone to participate.  Looking at the same books every day after cleaning up centers will soon get tiresome.  Changing out old books for new ones or coming up with another simple activity children can do while waiting is sure to be successful.  Also, moving from large group to small group in interesting ways will undoubtedly catch everyone’s attention.  Sneaking like a ninja or wiggling through jello is way more fun than walking to the next destination.


Fourth, transitions must be quick and simple.  There is no time and no need to turn on the projector for a song.  Just sing a cappella or start a finger play that everyone knows.  How about a game of I Spy to reinforce the attributes of geometric shapes in the room?  Having a bank of ideas planned and ready to go makes this step easy.


Fifth, transitions are the perfect time to teach.  By embedding skills children have already been introduced to, teachers can maximize instructional time by using transition activities to reinforce those skills.  Many songs include rhyming words or examples of alliteration.  Any song or finger play starting with “Five little…” is a sure-fire way to practice counting, sequencing and many other math skills.


Sixth, implementing transitions with clear directions is imperative.  Students should know what the activity should look and sound like.  Modeling, adding visuals to the instructions and practicing provide the needed support for a favorable outcome. 


 Finally, letting children know why they are transitioning and what is coming next helps the human brain plan and then act accordingly.


While wrestling is fun to watch on TV, having it take place in your classroom can be very stressful!  Putting these steps into action will increase the likelihood of effectiveness during transition times.  Your day will run more smoothly and students will begin to develop responsibility as they anticipate transitions as a routine part of the day.


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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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