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The Importance of Routines

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

The Early Career Framework states that teachers must learn that... Establishing and reinforcing routines, including through positive reinforcement, can help create an effective learning environment.

Routines are a sequence of actions regularly followed. A routine is simply a set of procedures for handling both daily occurrences (e.g., taking attendance, starting a class period, or turning in assignments), and minor interruptions of instruction, such as a student’s broken pencil or the arrival of a note from the main office (Kosier, 1998; Savage, 1999). Essentially, once taught, routines are daily activities that students are able to complete with little or no teacher assistance, which accomplishes two objectives (a) students have more opportunity to learn and (b) teachers can devote more time to instruction (Colvin & Lazar, 1995). Routines are an important way to establish norms, set expectations, and otherwise build positive relationships in the classroom environment (and the workplace). They help everyone involved be on the same page.

School life is full of routines and teachers can influence these routines so that they are both effective and efficient. This helps to maximise the time available for learning. Routines can also help create a predictable and secure environment for all pupils, which may be particularly helpful for pupils with special educational needs.

Routines can be helpful in many different situations. These will depend to an extent on your own context. Establishing a consistent and predictable routine serves a number of classroom functions. For example, a routine helps to simplify a complex environment and inform students exactly what to expect, what is expected of them, and what is acceptable behavior (Burden, 2003; Cheney, 1989; Colvin & Lazar, 1995; Kosier, 1998; Newsom, 2001; Savage, 1999; Strain & Sainato, 1987; Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm, 2000). Routines allow students to quickly accomplish day-to-day tasks that are required of both the teacher and students. Routines also help to create smoother transitions between activities and therefore allow fewer opportunities for disruptions to occur (Burden, 2003; Docking, 2002).

Common situations where routines are useful include:

  • transition points. Moving from one activity to another, especially when physical movement is needed, such as younger pupils moving from working at tables to sitting on the carpet

  • using equipment. Excess time taken in distributing and gathering equipment is time that could be better spent learning, so establishing efficient routines is important here

  • entering and exiting lessons. Simple routines to support entry and exit include the use of seating plans and ‘board activities’ for pupils to begin as soon as they enter the classroom

  • collaborative and paired work. Pupils benefit from clear routines to support them to work effectively and efficiently together. Working with others is most impactful when pupils are clear about how to do this well. For example, having defined roles for each member of a group, clarifying strategies for contributing and listening to ideas within the group, and establishing processes for feeding back outcomes to the class at the end of the task

  • safety. Different subjects pose different risks, but establishing routines, such as how pupils wear goggles in science, can help maintain safety for everybody

Establishing and maintaining routines, like any behaviour, takes effort, especially in the early stages of working with a new class. It can be helpful to think of this as a four-stage process. The speed and emphasis placed on each stage will depend on your pupils’ characteristics, your classroom context and the focus of the routine. It may be necessary to re-model or provide further practice if adherence to a given routine decreases over time.

  1. Clarify. Begin by clarifying exactly what the routine involves and why you are using it. For instance, the aim of the routine may be mainly about maximising time for learning safely.

  2. Model. Show pupils how to perform the routine and explain its purpose, highlighting the core principles or elements of the routine. It can help to show non-examples that represent common misinterpretations of the routine as part of this.

  3. Practice. Scaffold opportunities for practice when first using the routine. Including an element of competition may be appropriate here – for example, timing groups of pupils to see who can clear away equipment and be ready to exit the classroom in the least time.

  4. Reinforce. Regularly reinforce the routine by acknowledging when it is done well and providing reminders and further practice where it is not.

There are a several guidelines that most teachers follow in establishing classroom routines. First, teachers should identify recurring and predictable classroom events (Burden, 2003; Savage, 1999), which may include: (a) administrative procedures, (b) instructional tasks, and (c) interactive routines (Colvin & Lazar, 1995; Savage, 1999). Administrative procedures include activities such as storing coats or books; using the restroom; sharpening pencils; taking attendance; making announcements; and dismissing students to go to another classroom, the playground, or home. Instructional tasks include getting every student’s attention for instruction; reviewing spelling words or math problems on the board; ensuring that students behave in ways that maximize positive outcomes during teacher-led instruction or group-learning settings; handing in or returning student work; and having a set process for how students should write the heading on their homework assignments. Finally, interactive routines include knowing how to participate in discussions, behaving as expected in groups, and following rules for getting the teacher’s attention. Once these routine tasks are identified, teachers should establish clear, discrete procedures for handing routine events that are simple, easy for students to understand, and quick for them to perform (Savage, 1999).

Consider these questions.

  • Do students have routines they follow?

  • How should students manage their traffic flow in and out of the classroom, library, or other learning space?

  • How should students behave when arriving to class?

  • How do students access learning materials? How are these materials kept or managed, online and off?

  • How is the class dismissed?

References from the ECF

[Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.]

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Campbell Collaboration (2018) School-based interventions for reducing disciplinary school exclusion: A Systematic Review. Accessible from: .

Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., & Sheehan, M. (2013) School-Based Programs for Increasing Connectedness and Reducing Risk Behavior: A Systematic Review, 25(1), 95–114.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Rockoff, J. E. (2014) Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633–2679. .

*Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Hanushek, E. (1992) The Trade-off between Child Quantity and Quality. Journal of Political Economy, 100(4), 859–887.

*Institute of Education Sciences (2008) Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom. Accessible from .

Johnson, S., Buckingham, M., Morris, S., Suzuki, S., Weiner, M., Hershberg, R., B. Weiner, Hershberg, R., Fremont, E., Batanova, M., Aymong, C., Hunter, C., Bowers, E., Lerner, J., & Lerner, R. (2016) Adolescents’ Character Role Models: Exploring Who Young People Look Up to as Examples of How to Be a Good Person. Research in Human Development, 13(2), 126–141. .

Jussim, L. & Harber, K., (2005) Teacher Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Knowns and Unknowns, Resolved and Unresolved Controversies, Personality and Social Psychology Review 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 131–1557.

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016) Motivation Interventions in Education: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602–640. .

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018) Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707. .

*PISA (2015) PISA in Focus: Do teacher-student relations affect students’ well-being at school? Accessible from: .

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K., Richter M. (2018) Perceived class climate and school-aged children's life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0189335. .

Rubie-Davies, C. M., Weinstein, R. S., Huang, F. L., Gregory, A., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (2014) Successive teacher expectation effects across the early school years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 181–191. .

Slater, H., Davies, N. M., & Burgess, S. (2011) Do Teachers Matter? Measuring the Variation in Teacher Effectiveness in England. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, .

Tsiplakides, I. & Keramida, A. (2010) The relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement in the teaching of English as a foreign language. English Language Teaching, 3(2), P22. Retrieved from .

Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., den Brok, P., Wijsman, L., Mainhard, T., & van Tartwijk, J. (2014) Teacher-student relationships and classroom management. In E. T. Emmer, E. Sabornie, C. Evertson, & C. Weinstein (Eds.). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (2nd ed., pp. 363–386). New York, NY: Routledge.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007) The Scientific Base Linking Social and Emotional Learning to School Success. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(2–3), 191–210.

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