1. Get yourself a timer. This does two things: It holds the kids accountable, and it holds you accountable. It will be your best friend and your worst enemy. However, it really trains the kids (and you) to be aware of what a given amount of time feels like. Now, to be successful with a timer, you need to let your kids know what the incentive is if they can accomplish something within your time frame. You also need to let them know what the consequence is if they do not accomplish something in the time frame you gave them. If the younger kids do not understand time yet, I always have them count up or count down with me. It is a great way to integrate math and number sense while transitioning.
2. Sing! If you have any concepts you are working on such as skip-counting, math facts, spelling words, etc., sing! If you do not have a song, make it up! Kids love singing. Just make sure it is not a super long song or you will get a super long transition.
3. Assign a Secret Superhero. Do not tell the class who it is until the transition is over. Be sure to go over expectations before you allow the kids to transition. After you are done, let the class know who the Secret Superhero was and why. You could shower them with praise, and or give them a tangible incentive. If they did not have Superhero behavior, I kindly let them know why, and I make it a learning experience.
4. Tell the class you really need their help. Tell them you trust them and give them their steps for the transition. You will be so surprised by the way they respond when they know they have your trust. They will not want to let you down. I want to express that you should not use this transition all the time, because the novelty wears off quickly as with anything. This should be a special transition used carefully at your discretion. I usually use this type of trick two or three times a week.
5. Use 1, 2, 3. I use this when I am getting my little ones used to multiple-step directions. For example, when we need to get in line, I will say:
1. Stand up.
2. Push in your chair.
3. Walk quietly to your spot in line.
You could easily add more steps to this once they grasp the concept.
6. Like the previous trick, I will ask my students to put their fist in the air. I then tell them to put a finger up and I will say the first step. Then, I ask them to put their second finger up, and I give them the second step, and so on. Then I have them tell their partner the steps, so they really have to tune into what I just said. This is also a great way to integrate those listening skills with your students.
7. Before I let my kids transition they can not go until I am finished with my directions. If you let the kids start standing up and start to where they are going, they are not listening to you. I have to say "you may go," before they can move. This does take training and you have to make sure you set that expectation of hearing "you may go." Sometimes I forget to say it and my kids are still sitting there on the floor, and some just assume I forgot and they start to get up. If the transition is awful, it is completely my fault. They will not be as successful if you forget, so try to use a magic word or phrase each time you send them off.
8. Tell the kids to give you a thumbs up when they have what they need and are ready. Wait until the entire class has their thumb up. Allow the kids to remind their partner and table mates to be ready and to also give a thumbs up. This is something that should be done regularly if you want it to work. Don't try it for the first time during your evaluation:)
9. When kids go back to their table, have them get their materials out, and when they are finished, have them put their heads down on the table. This helps them to refocus and it minimizes talking because it slightly closes their diaphragm. Should the kids have their heads down for every transition? No. Can you use this once in a while? Absolutely. I usually do this one at the end of the day, and I allow them to lay their head on their hands and read a book if they wish. I do this because it is really important I get the kids packed up and out the door and I can see if they have their head down, they are telling me they are ready. If they have their head down, and they are not ready, I can easily correct them.
10. Establish good routines and solid classroom management. This one does not happen overnight, and for me, it did not happen until the second half of my first year. Your transitions are not going to get better until you tighten up your routines in other areas. Be sure the kids know what their job is. Have a system for behavior. Have routines for getting materials and moving centers. If you don't have a routine, make it up! If you make it up on the spot, and it doesn't work, just change it later!
One rule I live by is "Fake it 'till you make it." Just get really good at faking it. I promise if you do what you can to prepare yourself, and fake the rest, you are one step in the right direction. And yes, I still fake it.
Remember, it takes time and routine to make your transitions faster. Do not expect perfect right away, be patient. Once I accepted that I was the common denominator of successful or unsuccessful transitions, my transitions slowly improved. I stopped blaming the kids, and worked on my own bag of tricks. Did each one work the first time? No. Is there one trick you can use all year? No. Kids love the novelty, so keep them on their toes, and you will learn that successful transitions are all about patience and persistence. Do not let up. Ever. Give them the structure and expect smooth transitions until the very last day of school.
Comment with any great transition tricks you use! I would love to add more to my bag of tricks!