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5 Routines for Specialists!

It’s August/September and it’s time to go back to school!
Are you ready?
I have some new parts (like more classes) to my job this year and it is making me even more aware of the need for teaching routines and procedures in the first weeks of school. I know you are like me in expecting things to run smoothly and like clockwork as students come in that door every morning. I learned a long time ago that this is not the way it happens! The procedures and routines of any classroom have to be explicitly taught and practiced- just as much as math skills or swinging a golf club.
So, if you are a specialist, this will be a fun read and may give you some ideas. If you are a NEW specialist, you need this post and dozens more like it, to get you ready to start with multiple classes!
Let’s get going with the top routines I am planning to work on!
Specialists need to really work on those classroom routines and procedures because of the limited time students are in their classrooms. Check this blog post or a few ideas!
Just a tiny bit of background! After teaching a regular classroom for a really long time I switched to the specialist world. The very first year was quite interesting as I took on seventeen classes. Those first few weeks were a lot of fun, but I quickly learned that I made a big mistake. I expected kids to listen to me one time and then do all the things I wanted. Now, three years later I have a list of things we are going to tackle from the very first day. And by tackling I mean explicit lessons and practice. The ones I have listed in this post are the ones that drive me the craziest. I know you can relate to that.

Lining Up

Teaching procedures is a big deal! Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice it everyday for the first few days or even weeks of school!
Now, you would think kids know how to do this, but you probably know they don’t or they have forgotten what is expected. Or it is also possible that your expectations as those kids arrive at your special are different than their regular classroom teacher.
So, what can a specialist do?
Before my classes ever set foot in the door we stand in the hallway and go through procedures for my line up, traveling down the hall approaching my classroom, and waiting (if I happen not to be ready as they arrive). After talking through this procedure a couple of times we walk all the way to the end of the hall and approach the classroom again. And again. And maybe one more time!
At the end of this practice, we will talk about how this is what is expected each and every time they start down the lab hallway. With or without their classroom teacher. Even if it’s the day before Christmas. Same procedure every time.
Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice. Daily! It seems silly, especially if you have never done this. But, think about it- we practice spelling words, we practice our multiplication facts, and we can also practice routines and procedures. 

Seating Arrangements

Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you? Here's a fabulous hint: Don;t try to teach all your routines on the first day! Check this blog post for more!
This is a fairly easy aspect of the regular class. The kids sit in the same seats every day. You change them monthly or bi-weekly. With flexible seating, the kids can change up all day long.
Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you?
Here’s a story about my all-time favorite way to get kids to come in and get seated. This was the routine of our music teacher long ago. She had a large rug area right beside her piano. She taught the kids to come in and make a line of five in a row at the front of the rug. The 6th student started a new row and so on. When they were all seated they were in rows of five, one behind another. Then she did a call-back singing routine and it was fabulous! I always stood in her door and watched this because I loved it!
Now, I don’t teach music, but I do have a seating routine. My classes work in groups and each group has its own table. When the class comes in, their lab folders are at their tables, they walk counter-clockwise around the lab tables and find their folders, and sit down. It’s very simple, but we practice it anyway. I place name cards randomly around the room and on the very first day (after practicing the lineup routine) we talk about sitting and then practice it a few times.
There is more to this as we will learn later- which includes getting out materials and filling out the daily table report sheet. But it’s too much for the very first day! That’s another hint for you- Don’t try to teach all your routines on the first day. Pick the top 3-4 and work on those!

It’s Cleanup Time!

Clean up Routine: Every table has its own garage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class we have a clean up time. This is one of the routines we learn on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that be e thrown away. Another student walks around the table doing a floor-check. Another looks under the table and the fourth get that broom and gets busy sweeping.
One of the classroom routines we use to teach about community and responsibility is the cleanup crew. At the beginning of the year you train some kids to be sweepers and plant waterers and garbage patrol and then they teach others and after about two months this works perfectly. You watch over the little sweeties until they are cleaning up the way you taught them and then you release them to those jobs! Excellent.
What about specials? Is there a need for a cleanup crew? Big surprise! When I started as a specialist I had no idea that clean up was going to be such a big deal. But it is. HUGE!
Here’s what I do for this procedure and how we manage it at the end of class:

Every table has its own garbage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class, we have a cleanup time. We learn this procedure on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that need to be thrown away. One student walks around the table doing a floor check. Another looks under the table and the fourth gets that broom and gets busy sweeping. The stools are moved back out of the way and for a few intense minutes, we are all cleaning. Each group dumps its small garbage can in the big can and then all the cleaning tools are placed back on their shelves. The room is ready for the next class.

Do we practice this? You better believe we do! On the first day, we walk through all the steps- Move the stools, walk around the table, floor check, sweep, dump, put it all back. I am thinking this year I may even walk around and throw some junk on the floor to help with the practice! Ha! Won’t that be fun!?
Here’s one more hint: When I know the tabletops are going to need to be wiped off I place some wet washcloths in a dishpan and kids use those to wipe off their tables. Washcloths work much better than paper towels!

Do You Have a Bathroom Routine?

Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third graders we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. Check this blog post for more procedures to tackle in the first week of school!
Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third grader, we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. I had a magnet board by the door and each student had a magnet. When one needed to go to the bathroom the magnet was moved into the bathroom space and off that student would go. One at a time, hurry, flush, wash your hands, get a drink, and come right back.
So, what on earth do specialists do? This has turned out not to be a huge issue for me. A lot of teachers have students stop in the restroom on the way to a special so they usually arrive ready to work. However, I do have a very simple plan. A boy and girl pass is hanging by the door. During work time if you must go, get the right pass, place it on the counter by the door, go to the bathroom, hurry, flush, wash, and get back! 
It has occurred to me that I will have to re-think my plan for my new first and second graders so if you have any magic tips for me with those ages, please leave me a comment!

Shared Materials in a Specialist’s Classroom

How do you store classroom materials? Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things? Check this post for some hints about teaching procedures for materials!

Big. Huge. Deal.
How do you store classroom materials? Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things? In my former third grade class, each student had a school box in which we kept glue sticks, pencils, scissors, and erasers. All the fun supplies were stored in cubbies so kids would not play with them all day.
But, specials are sooooooo different! A lot of specials only use pencils and paper so I am thinking it might be easier than a regular classroom. 
Here’s my procedure:

  • Each table has a main supply caddy with scissors and pencils and sharpies.
  • Each table has two supply drawers with markers, colored pencils, rulers, clipboards, and paper. 
  • Need a new pencil? Turn in the old one and get a freshly sharpened one.
  • That’s about as hard as it gets with my materials. The very first time we use any of the materials I have kids open the drawers and see what is in them. We practice taking things out and placing them back. I have kids pretend they need a new pencil and go to the pencil cups to trade in a bad one for a sharpened one. 

Here’s a couple of hints for specialists:

We never use crayons. They break off and get ground into the floor. We use markers and colored pencils. Speaking of pencils… are you ready for this? This year I am going to try ink pens for lab work with my big kids. Bic pens. They won’t need to be sharpened, they can’t be taken apart, they don’t break, and they last a long time. I will let you know how this goes!

And, yes, I am going to have to invent a procedure for using those pens……….*sigh*
One last hint for specialists: If you want to cement these procedures you have to practice them for the first whole month of school. The ones in this post are the first five we tackle. On the second day, kids come to me we repeat and practice these and then learn a couple of new things. The next week we practice everything and learn a couple more….. you get it, I know! Have fun!


  1. Kidpeople Classroom says

    I bet your time spent as a classroom teacher makes you a special area teacher extraordinaire… you have that much more to bring to it… like the routines listed. Happy start of school! Kathleen Kidpeople Classroom

  2. Sarah says

    How did using pens in your classroom work out? I am considering taking that route in my STEM classroom as well. Can you share any procedures you taught your students to help them use the pens in an appropriate manner?

  3. Carol Davis says

    Great question! We are still using pens! I buy the Bic pack that is about $1.10. The procedure is simple- each table has a pencil tub with 4 pens. They start the day with pens that have caps and I remind them as we are cleaning up that each pen should have its cap on before they leave their table. Yes, we lose some caps, ut not as many as you would expect. In the year and half we have used pens I have only had ONE pen leak and cause a major spill. We have discovered that using the pen point to poke holes in things does not work. It sometimes causes the ink cartridge to pull out. So, I keep a tray of pencils that kids can borrow to make holes in soft items like foam cups. I have not had any problem with kids taking the pens apart. I do occasionally have a kid that wants to write on their own arm or their clothing. But, they do that with markers, too! I LOVE not having to deal with sharpening pencils, having no erasers, and having no eraser dust. Kids draw their planning sketches with pens and write on their lab sheets with pens. They just mark through mistakes with a single line. It's a winner for me (with 3rd-5th grade)!