3 TOP-SECRET Classroom Management Tricks for Primary Grades (K-2) with Video Demos

I created a VLOG to go along with this content. You can see it here:

Y’all, I’d never brag on myself- it’s truly against my religion- but I can faithfully say that I live, eat and breath CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. I sincerely believe without effective classroom management strategies in Kindergarten, First and Second Grade- you’ll never be happy or reach your potential as a Teacher. Personally, I’ve been told on various occasions that I’m exemplary at managing student behavior and organizing my time to reach optimal result. Why am I like this?  Well, I took a deep interest in it during my first year teaching- during a time when I was incredibly unhappy with my decision to go into this field. (Read about how I found ultimate happiness in the classroom HERE.) I was a “hot-mess express” for sure, until I really dug into the power of Classroom Routines and regulating bad behavior through a well-managed environment. Ever since, I’ve been HOOKED on this teacher-lifestyle and I work constantly to implement new strategies that are highly effective.

Today, I’m pulling out my most secretive and beneficial classroom management tricks. I’m SURE you’ve never seen them before because I CREATED THEM and have only shared them with people who happen into my classroom to observe. (Hints the title, TOP SECRET, right?)  I use these on-the-daily, year-after-year because they are some of the most effective strategies I have in my ever-expanding teacher toolbox. I seriously COULDN’T TEACH A DAY WITHOUT THEM and if you give them a shot, I’m sure you’ll claim this too.

I feel like I’m releasing my babies out into the wild right now, giving out some of my best ideas- but they deserve to wonder out into the World to help other teachers and students. If you plan to implement these ideas- don’t miss the FREE IMPLEMENTATION GUIDE included later on in this post. I’ve written down all of the steps for you, so you can just print & implement.

Here we go! (I feel a pinch of anxiety over this, but I’ll be fine.)  Just a quick FYI, I use the term “NINJA” a lot in my classroom and you’ll see that reflected in all of these strategies.

Secret #1: The Transition BREAK

When I taught Kindergarten, transitions from one place to another were a nightmare at times. I tried lots of cues, songs and chants to make it work more smoothly, but nothing was quick and effective enough to suit me. (I’m a productivity nerd, just to clarify.) My goal was to get my kids from one place (the carpet for example) to another (their reading tables) and actively working towards another task- IN AS LITTLE TIME AS POSSIBLE. If you’ve ever spent valuable minutes transitioning only to go to the next area and give monotonous instructions with a great sense of inner disdain- you know how I felt. So, I created a stellar solution that I’ll use until the day that I retire. I call it the “Transition BREAK.”

During the learning phase of this routine, I explain it with coach-like enthusiasm like this:

“You know how football teams huddle together before a big game and talk about something important- maybe a plan to steal the ball or even a winning play? Well, after their coach tells them EXACTLY what to do on the field, they do something awesome to keep them focused and excited about their job. They do this: “1, 2, 3—BREAK!”  (Demonstrate with great enthusiasm, clapping on BREAK.”) Right after they break, all of the players get out there and do exactly what they were told to do in order to win the game! Well, we are going to use this drill in our classroom too but we’re not going to pretend to be football players- OH NO!- we ARE ninjas! So after we break, we go into ninja mode and get to it as stealthily and quickly as possible. In a minute, we’re going to put our stealthiest ninja moves to the test and practice this new routine. Here we go, ninja squad!”  

During the practice phase of this routine, I walk students through these steps:

1.) Students pretend to be actively working or discussing (as they would be during normal use of this trick.)

2.) Teacher initiates “eyes on your teacher” call back. (I’ll explain this later in this post.)  

3.) Students listen closely as teacher explains directions for their transition. . I explicitly explain startup instructions for their next area by using the phrase, “When we break…. (insert instructions.)” I always limit it to three pieces of simple instruction or less. These must be short and sweet.  (In the video demo here with 2nd Grade, I used two items – “Take out your spelling AND Ready signal.) I emphasize “ninja eyes” (sharp eye-contact) during this step.  Repeat instructions at least one time here.

4.) Teacher proclaims the initiation sequence— “1…. 2…. 3….” (Students do NOT repeat this part.)

5.) Students and teacher clap together in unison and proclaim “BREAK!” (Sometimes, students need practice staying in sync. Practice over and over until you get it right. I’ve learned that their involvement here somehow sets the tone for how focused they are in following your instructions quickly.)

6.) Students scurry off as quietly and quickly as they can (without running) and get started on their mission.

7.) Teacher circulates  through the area, bringing positive attention to students who are the sneakiest, quickest, etc. (“Wow! Look at this super ninja over here! They are already working to get their supplies out.”) I also quietly re-direct any students who didn’t listen on the carpet and have no idea what to do.  (We know that never happens though, right?)

I practice this several times in a row after first introducing it and again THROUGHOUT the year whenever needed. If implemented and maintained, the result of the Transition Break is a classroom of students who have switched from one area to another and who are already prepared (or maybe actively workin on) their next task.  

Here is what the Transition Break looks like in my classroom.

Secret #2: The Ready Signal

One of the most commonly used phrases in my classroom (and at home when teaching my girls) is “Show me your ready signal!” or “I see a ready signal!” What in the World does that mean? Well, the “READY SIGNAL” is my own creation and it is a simple tool I couldn’t live without.  

Kindergarten kids are naturally antsy and HAND-sy. Those little hands are constantly moving, fidgeting and exploring (sometimes at very inappropriate times of the day.) Before I created this strategy, I was desperate for a quick and simple means to get those little hands (and bodies) to be STILL and VISIBLE for a moment. At times, cute songs and longer cues were appropriate to accomplish this- but at other times I just needed an immediate response from my students. So, I created a “SECRET NINJA SIGNAL” to solve the problem.

In the introduction phase of the routine, I explain it like this with true “Ninja Instructor” enthusiasm:

“Ninjas are the coolest people EVER. They sneak around, defeat bad guys and save the World. Well, they can only do all of that because someone TRAINED them. In order to be properly trained, they have to be READY TO LISTEN at any given moment.  Today, I’m going to teach a SECRET NINJA SIGNAL that they use when they are ready to listen to their master-ninja-instructor. It looks like this… (Demonstrate by putting hands together on top of table, shoulders high and face aimed forward.) Yes, when their instructor says, “READY SIGNAL!” the ninja’s stop whatever they are doing, put everything out of their hands and do this.”

During the practice phase of this routine, I teach students with these steps:

1.) Students pretend to work or discuss.

2.) Teacher unexpectedly proclaims, “Ready Signal!” or a phrase similar to “Ninjas, show me your READY SIGNAL!”

3.) Students immediately clear their hands, turn around in the proper direction and clasp their hands together on top of their table. I emphasize the need to sit nice and straight here (as ninja’s do, ya’ know. Later on in the year, I even require ninjas to give their best ninja grin.)

4.) Teacher brings positive attention to those Ninja’s who executed the signal the quickest and most effectively. (“Wow, Ninja Brody has already mastered this incredible ninja move!”)

Such a simple concept, but I use it every day, all-day-long. It is very versatile and can be used before transitions, in the middle of active instruction or at any other point when those little hands need to be anchored in order for you (the Teacher) to gain a moment of sanity.

Here is what the Ready Signal looks like in my classroom.

Secret #3: The Unpredictable Call-Back

We are all very familiar with the use of call backs and their role in getting our students to acknowledge our existence in times of utter chaos. You can find TONS of them online and they can be fun and creative.  I personally LOVE call backs, but have struggled with them in years past. Most of the ones I’ve found are problematic for me (a hyper-productive lunatic) for two reasons: 1.) They have to be explicitly taught (which initially takes a lot of time, focus and practice) 2.) They have to be used regularly or students forget them and don’t respond to them effectively. Adversely, when they are used regularly enough to recall, students get bored with them.

In my early years, I used several call-backs of all different variety, but noticed a loss of valuable time and effort. So, at some point I got annoyed with callbacks and created a spin-version of my own to solve those issues. I call it the Unpredictable Call-Back because students know exactly what to do when I initiate this call-back, but can’t predict what follows- which requires their full engagement. It is basically a focus-attracting game that I play with my kiddos that I’m happy to play. I use it 10 times a day in 10 different ways.

In the introductory phase of this routine, I explain it to my students like this:

“We are going to learn a call back today that I learned when I was in the Ninja training academy. This is what “Ninja Trainers” use to get the attention of their class. First, I say these words… “Eyes on your Teacher!” and you repeat after me while doing this (Demonstrate fingers point next to eyes in direction of the Teacher. You can see this in the video below.) Next, I will tell you where to put your hands and you will repeat after me and do what I do. For example, I may say “Hands on your knees!” and you’ll say “Hands on your knees!” and put your hands there as quickly as you can. From there, you’ll do what all ninjas do… hold really still like a statue until I give you further direction. This is how ninjas do it, and I’m always watching to see WHO THE BEST  ninjas are. Let’s practice this!”

In the practice phase, I teach students with these steps:

1.) Students pretend to work or discuss.

2.) Teacher unexpectedly proclaims in a rhythmic tone (see video) “Eyes on your teacher” and uses hand motion next to eyes.

3.) Students call back and do motion, looking directly at teacher for next bit of instruction.

4.) Teacher proclaims, “Hands on your hips!” and demonstrates motion.

5.) Students call back and complete motion. Students stay incredibly still with focus on teacher until further direction is given.

6.) Go back to step #1. Repeat with other hand locations. Emphasize the need for staying in unison with words and motions. (The coolest ninjas work together to complete secret missions, after all.)

Extra tip: Variations for hand locations you may use are: Ankles or toes (if sitting on carpet), shoulders, elbows, behind back. Ear lobes, lap, on-top of head, cheeks, arms, collar-bone, arm-pits and my personal favorite… belly-button!

Here is the Ready Signal in action:

Don’t run off just yet…

I always get questions and compliments from visitors in my classroom when these strategies are used. If you use them right, you will too. A strong word of advice about all of these techniques is –> implement them as routine. Students need familiarity and structure in their day to be most successful. I wrote about the importance of routine in an earlier post (see it HERE) and there is no exception here. These tricks will only be effective if you implement them properly and maintain consistency.

FREE Implementation Guide: Print & Implement

Ready to give these tricks a go-around? I hope so because I know their power to make a teacher’s job easier and happier. If you are ready for this change, I have created a free IMPLEMENTATION GUIDE to make it as easy-as-possible for you. Just print the guide and get to it!

Hey, Happy Teacher! Make your impact on another Teacher-friend by sharing your MOST PRIZED MANAGEMENT STRATEGY (doesn’t have to be secret) in the comments below. I can’t wait to see your most effective tool! I might have to steal it for my own classroom.

I hope these ideas help you and that your students love and appreciate them as much as my kiddos have.

Good luck and God bless you, Teacher Friend!

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