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12 Transition Ideas: Save Time Moving Between Activities & When Lining Up

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Show Notes:

We are going to have a bit of fun this week talking about 12 of the best transition ideas I’ve found so that you can easily create a routine for between activities AND for transitions when your students are all lined up and waiting to leave the classroom.

Heaven knows that if you have kids all lined up with nowhere to go, that can quickly become a disaster because within 30 seconds they are bored and will look for ways to entertain themselves if you don’t give them something to do. 🙄

I’ve had a lot of teachers tell me that one of their biggest challenges as a new teacher is time management, and if you are spending too much time throughout the day moving from one activity to another and if you don’t have a clear process or routine for doing so, you are going to feel like your day is a little chaotic.

You’ll probably also feel the cumulative effects of feeling like you didn’t accomplish nearly enough with your students if you don’t have quick, clear, and effective ways to transition from one activity or lesson to the next.

Before we dive in, I have to be honest... as a new teacher, I really had no idea that I even needed a routine for transitions between subjects or lessons.

However, when I realized how much time I was actually wasting trying to get the kids settled and in their desks again so we could start the next lesson, I realized that this was something I really needed to work on.

It wasn’t just the time we were wasting  - I also realized that by the time my kids actually got focused again, I was EXHAUSTED because I spent so much of my time saying things like...

“Pay attention,”

“What are you doing?”

“Let’s get started,”

“No talking!” 

“Time to stop talking!”

Sound familiar? I spent so much of my energy trying to get my kids focused again that I was worn out before I even began my lesson. I knew it was bad when even I began to hate the sound of my own voice - lol!

So today, I’m going to share some great ideas that worked for me, and I’m going to walk you through how I actually taught my students how to do transitions in my class.

My goal is that by the end of this episode, you will be able to create your own clear plan for how you will be able to establish a transition routine (or several) that work for your own classroom.

Before we get started, I want to be clear that teaching your students a routine for how to transition from one lesson to the next needs to be taught as carefully as anything else you teach in your classroom.

This might seem obvious to you, or you might be more like I was and be thinking, “What? This isn’t that complicated.”

However, here’s what I learned and what became clearer to me the longer I worked with kids:

You can’t take ANYTHING for granted. EVER. Things that seem like common sense to you and to me is NOT common sense for kids, simply because they have not had years and years of school to become practiced in these kinds of things.

It may seem like common sense to you and to me that we shouldn’t waste a lot of time in between classes to transition to the next thing, but your students are not that concerned about it and certainly won’t even give a thought about it until or unless you have taught them exactly what you want, and unless there is some kind of a consequence, either positive or negative, on them.

Here's an Example:

So, let’s begin with an example of a common transition routine I used in my classroom, and then I’ll break it down for you and share with you how I taught it (and what happened if my students didn’t follow the routine).

  1. In my class, when we finished one lesson and I needed a couple of minutes to get the next lesson materials ready, I put on one of my students’ favorite songs (or I let my Special Person of the week choose a song). 

  2. My students were free to get up and move around during this time, using quiet voices, and talk to their friends and visit, and they knew that when the song ended, they needed to be back in their desks, ready to learn, by the time I came to the front of the class to prepare them for the next lesson.

  3. Instead of spending time saying things like, “Okay, time to stop talking!” I would simply count down from 10 as I moved towards the front of the class, and my students knew that by the time I got to “Zero noise,” they needed to be back in their seats, have a sharp pencil, and put one hand up and look at me without any talking.

  4. Then, I would instantly reinforce the good I saw in their behavior with something like:

    “Oh my gosh, I am so proud of you! I just might have the very best class in the entire world. Look at you! You are all in your desks and you are ready to go."

  5. Then, I would immediately reward my kiddos for their behavior.

    For those of you who have been listening to my podcast for awhile or if you are a R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy member, you know that I had a treasure map in my classroom and my students could earn spaces on that treasure map.

    They loved to earn stories as we traveled around the world, so I would say something like, 

    “Alisha, please go and move our ship on our treasure map two spaces. I am so, so proud of you. Okay, let’s move on to science now.”

You might be thinking – well, all of that sounds great, but most of my students still wouldn’t be in their desks, and they probably wouldn’t care much if I had to tell them about 15 times to get back to their seats so we could start.

That used to happen to me, too.

So, what I did was let my students know that if they made the class wait – if they weren’t ready to learn by the time I got to “Zero noise,” I would simply tell those students that they had lost the privilege of free time to talk to their friends during transitions for the rest of the day.

Gulp. Yup, that's what happened. Every - single - time!

It's a natural consequence, right? And it worked.

Instead, during transition breaks for that day (or for the entire next day if it happened towards the end of the day), I would have that student or those students come over to me and I would hand them a rag with a bit of cleaning solution on it, and ask them to do a bit of cleaning that I needed done (in separate areas of the classroom, by the way).

Now, that wasn’t nearly as much fun as getting a few minutes of free time to chat with their friends, so it never lasted more than a day. 😉

Simple and easy-peasy.

In addition, I took a lot of time to carefully teach my students exactly what they were allowed to do and not allowed to do during our transition time, and I constantly gave them very specific feedback about what they were doing well and what we needed to work on.

Also, I stayed with the same transition routine for at least a few weeks before I added in another option.

So, for the first few weeks of school, for example, my students knew that during breaks, they would hear one of their favorite songs, and that when it was time to come back to their desks, that I would count down to “zero noise.”

In the beginning of the year, you may even want to use the same song each time until your students get used to this routine in your classroom.

Once they were used to this routine and were really good at it, I would teach them a second transition routine and begin to mix it up a bit.

However, I would suggest that you stay with the same transition routine for a while until you are sure that your students can be successful at it before you add in something else, or your students may end up just being confused and the routines that you are using to save time could actually end up wasting even more time because everybody’s confused and doesn’t quite know what to do. 

So, choose one routine that you are super clear about and that is easy for your students to follow and that they can be successful at before you add in some others.

(By the way, my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy members had a whole lot of fun generating some of these ideas, included in the freebie below, during a Facebook challenge I led. These are ALL classroom tested ideas that I think will spark your own creativity and imagination for your classroom!)

All right, let’s talk about 11 more fun options for transition routines in your classroom!

  1. Use Go Noodle:

    There are so many fun and simple brain-break ideas on this platform that kids absolutely love, and you can choose either a more low-key brain break or something that is a little more high energy, depending on what you want. They have yoga options for kids and really calming music, and they also have some awesome options for getting kids up and moving.

    It’s hard to imagine a time before Go Noodle because it’s so wide-spread now, but what a gift to classrooms!


  1.  Just Dance:

    If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a motion-based video game that features choreographed dance moves to popular songs.

    What people have done is recorded this game and put these videos up on Youtube, so your students can actually dance along to some of their favorite songs using choreographed moves so they don’t feel so self-conscious about moving.

    There are great videos available like "Waka Waka" by Shakira, "YMCA," "The Macarena," or "I Gotta Feeling," and so many others.

    I’ve included a bunch of links to student favorites in the freebie for this episode, and I’m sure your students will love this!


  1. Put on a Timer:

    Simply set your timer for a certain amount of time, and then teach your students what they are allowed to do and not allowed to do during that time.

    Be sure to be specific about what you want things to look like when the timer goes off and how much time students have to be ready for the next lesson, and remember to practice this with your students and keep giving them feedback about what you loved about their behavior.


  1. Play Follow the Leader:

    The leader should be you at first so kids have a good model of what this looks like, but then after you’ve led this several times for your students, you can ask for volunteers for who would like to lead the next transition.

    Kids LOVE games so this is always a popular one, and you could even put up a list of action words so that the leader doesn’t have to keep thinking about what to do next, like “jump, run, skip, hop, etc.”


  1. Play 7-Up:

    However, this game takes a little more time, so I wouldn’t use it when you only want your students to take a minute or two of transition time.

    You might want to save this one for when you have an extra 10 or 15 minutes of time.


  1. Action Songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes:”

    Action songs work really well, especially if you keep repeating the song at different speeds and volumes, having them follow along with you.

    You can just Google “action songs for kids” and you will get a whole lot of options popping up, but again, this is really geared towards students in kindergarten to 2nd grade. 


  1. Ring a Bell or Tap a Wind Chime:

    I used to have a little plush cow in my classroom who giggled hysterically when you pressed his belly, and my students LOVED when I pulled out this little trick to get their attention quickly as we transitioned to another activity!

    I saw all sorts of these little sound-making plush animals at Walmart around Christmas time, so that may be something you want to add to your classroom, too.


  1. Get Sporty With It:

    For example, challenge your students to do 10 jumping jacks with you, then 15 knee highs, 5 push-ups, hop in place, and then run on the spot as fast as they can for 30 seconds.

    However, I think it’s only fair that you do this with your students if you’re going to ask them to do it!

    We don’t get enough exercise in this day and age, and I think we all lead more sedentary lifestyles than is probably healthy, so this is something that I always loved to do with my own students to get the blood flowing and to re-energize in the middle of the day!

Here are a few go-to games I love to use when my students are lined up to go somewhere else in the school or are lining up to go home and you have a few extra minutes:

  1. The Statue Game:

    Here's how to play: One person is “it” and says “Statue!”

    The students must freeze & do their best to look like a statue.

    The student who is “it” gets to choose the best statue, and the game continues for another round!

    Sometimes I would ask them to freeze like the “silliest” statue ever, or like the “scariest” statue ever, and the kids just love it.


  1.  The Three the Same Game:

    To play this game, choose three students who have something in common based on a secret rule. So for example, they all have brown hair, they are all girls, they are all wearing yellow, or whatever. Then, let your students take turns guessing what they have in common.

    Once your students get the hang of it, you can invite students to take turns volunteering to announce different groupings!


  1. I Spy (with My Little Eye):

    This game can actually be a pretty effective way to end the day if you want to remind students of something they need to remember – like if you say “I spy with my little eye something that is purple” and you have a note on the whiteboard in purple marker reminding students to bring their field trip forms back, that can act as a great final reminder in the day, just before students head home.

So there you have it! Twelve practical and classroom-tested ideas for how you can make transitions more manageable in your classroom. I hope that as we’ve talked about some of these, that your imagination was inspired for what you might like to do in your own classroom.

It’s important to remember that kids need transitions just as much as we do – they really need little breaks throughout the day to take a brain break, stretch, move, and have the freedom to talk to their friends.

Allowing for and planning for regular transition breaks throughout the day will help your students to remain better on-task during lessons.

However, remember, that just as important as transition are, your ability to ensure that your students are on task and ready again when you are ready to move on to the next activity is also very important.

You can use my simple trick of counting back from 10 to “Zero noise,” or you can use a chime, a bell, or even a stuffed cow who giggles, but there are also tons of great “call backs” you can use to get your students’ attention quickly and easily.

For example, you can say “Holy Moly” and your students then respond “Guacamole!”

I’ve created super fun and colorful call-back cards with 20 of my favorite call-backs that are available for purchase in my new store, Beginning Teacher Talk, on Teachers Pay Teachers for you that you can display and use with your class so you can keep changing up the call-back you use in your classroom:

Also, don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of my Transitions Cheat Sheet so you can keep all of these ideas handy in your classroom:

Finally, I really don’t want you to miss next week’s episode, because it’s going to be an awesome one!

I am going to share 10 of my favorite books to use in the classroom for Halloween, and I’m going to tell you about how you can create an adorable glow-in-the-dark haunted house literacy project with your students – your kids are going to absolutely love this, so you don’t want to miss it!

Sharing & Reviews

If you’ve enjoyed this episode and you know another teacher who you think would benefit from it, please go ahead and share this with one friend who you know would like it.

The only way we are going to survive in this profession is by taking care of each other, so please go ahead and share this episode with someone who you know might really benefit from it.

And finally, if you're feeling extra loving, I would deeply appreciate it if you would leave a review for this podcast on iTunes

Until next week, remember that just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one! I hope you have a fabulous week.

Bye for now!

💛 Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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