“Si al comienzo no muestras quién eres, nunca podrás después, cuando quisieres.” 

“If at first you do not show who you are, you will never be able to afterwards when you want to.”
From El Conde Lucanor, Cuento XXXV, by Don Juan Manuel (Medieval Castilian writer, 1282-1348).

The first week of school is a magical and vitally important time. This is the honeymoon period, those brief few days when it seems like every single one of your students like you, like the class and like each other. Almost every year the honeymoon phase will trick you into thinking you don’t really need a coherent classroom management plan because these kids are the ideal group you have been waiting for.

Don’t get fooled again. You have just a few days to establish the tone while the students are malleable, before the class begins to create their own routines they will follow. You don’t want those routines.

You know those student-created class routines. They’re the ones that you’ve seen as you walk through the halls of the school during your planning time  and peek into other classrooms: Students wandering in late. Students blatantly using cell phones during class. Just one or two superstars answering every question. Students lining up at the door five minutes before the class is over. And other horrors, both subtle and gross, too numerous to list.

In the first few days of class establish the “bookends.” Bookends are the procedures for beginning and ending class. You must get these down before anything else. And if things are getting lax in class later in the year, focus on the bookends again.

THE BEGINNING OF CLASS (The first bookend)

• PasswordsGreet students in the hall and get them using classroom vocabulary and thinking about the class before they even enter. Using passwords lets the teacher connect with each student and head off trouble by noting student body language and issues before they even enter the classroom, the airlines do.

Passwords with extremely polite sayings are helpful during the first four weeks to help establish a tone of respect and courtesy.

Read more about passwords here. Get my book on passwords here.

Review: 5 questions from yesterday’s lesson as a warm up. This gives students something to do while the teacher is greeting their classmates at the door.

The Review is graded, but it is not a quiz–students can quietly ask one another or look on their notes to figure out the answers if they need help. Grade it every week or two for accountability. In Spanish this is called the Repasito (little review). For more about Repasitos read these posts.

• Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Points: If student behavior is a problem in your school, instituting a PAT procedure can be extremely helpful. This is a strategy from the Fred Jones book Tools for Teaching. It uses peer pressure to enforce positive behavior. A way that has worked for me is: Everyone is on time = 1 point. Everyone is prepared = 1 point. Everyone is quiet during the first 2 minutes of class = 1 point. Points add up and are used for PAT, usually a rowdy and loud game on Fridays. The class votes from 2-3 options. Accrued points = minutes of PAT.

These points are also helpful in controlling off-task outbursts in class. No outbursts for 10 minutes = 1 point. Assign a student job to time this and record the points. Here are some winner PAT activities.

THE END OF CLASS (The other bookend)

• Down Time: This is 1-2 minutes before the end of class. Students may put away their materials. Use this time to use non-course related language and to make sure everyone is OK.

• Dismissal Ritual: This must be established on the first day. Practice it, don’t just say it. The teacher dismisses the class, not the bell. No lining up at the door before class is over. And let the out early at least once a week–this is not a power trip where you make them stay late all the time. I like using this one from Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code. In language classes this is of course said in the target language by both teacher and students.


-Yes, sir? 

-Thank you for learning. 

-Thank you for teaching us. 

-My pleasure, see you tomorrow.

Over-the-top? Yep. Excessively formal for an American public school? Probably. Corny? Maybe, but it reminds us all of our roles every day and the teacher gets to thank students for learning. That is not happening in most other classes and it makes an impression on them.


• Start Teaching: What you talk about first is what students will remember. You want to make the right impression, so start with content on the first day to get students excited about what the class is all about. In every other class the teachers will be droning on about rules, but in your class they will come away with something. In a novice level class, this probably means teaching the most commonly used course vocabulary in a fun way such as with TPR or short stories.

Call and Response Signals: Use these to get students’ attention in a fun way.

Classroom Jobs: To get student ownership of the classroom and help with the myriad small tasks that need doing so the teacher can focus on those tasks that only she can do.

• Procedures: You will need to introduce and practice classroom procedures during the first two weeks. How do we get and return books from the classroom library? How do we choose materials for free reading? What does it look like during reading time? How do we behave during Kindergarten reading? What is the appropriate way to enter class when you are tardy? How do we get in pairs?

• “Persona Especial” Student Interviews: Begin these early so that they seem like a normal part of the class. Find out how to do them hereherehere, and here.

• Rejoinders: Rejoinders give students a way to respond. Post rejoinders on the wall and assign a classroom job of counting how many are said in the class during each period. Give PAT points as a reward for hitting the target you set. Here is a list of rejoinders to get you started. You can also buy the on my website.

• Choral Responses: Get the whole class answering, not just two superstars. The confidence and speed of the class choral answers will tell you if you are getting through. Most of your class questioning will be for choral responses, not the pathetic “Anyone? Anyone?” modeled in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.

• Targeted Questions: Periodically ask individual students different levels of questions, according to their learning speed. This way no one gets left behind and top students get pushed to acquire everything they can. Have a special gesture to show that you are asking one specific student for an answer and not the normal choral response from the whole class. Here is what I am talking about.

• Catch Them Being Good: Super Points. Explain what “Super Points” are and begin doling them out liberally. Super Points are given when students are exceptionally kind, generous, courteous, respectful, helpful, courageous, or brilliant in class or out of class. The reward after 5 Super Point is a call home by the teacher… when the student wants it.

• Catch Them Before They Get Too Bad: Think Sheets. These are for minor disturbances in class, which are most of your headaches as a teacher. This is a Time to Teach strategy.  Think sheet for pre-literate students.   Think sheet for MS/HS

It will take at least two weeks to present some content while establishing these procedures each day. It will not seem like you are getting through as much course material right away but it will pay off down the road.

There are examples of all of these in the categories and archives of my blog.