How to: Get students to line up quickly and quietly

Ever had one of those moments when you see another class lined up perfectly straight, quiet and attentive while yours run riot in the hallway? Truth is I think we all have, and its easy to want to scream and shout at them asking ‘Why can’t you be nice like that class?!’ however, don’t despair – it’s actually easier to fix than you might think.

You see the key to the lovely, quiet, orderly class is actually consistency – I know, I’ve mentioned that before…here.  But there is good reason for bringing it up again (and again).  It’s true.  So here’s my ‘How to’ guide for lining students up (of almost any age … you’re on your own with the under 3’s!).

Step One: Set Your Expectations

Decide exactly what your line should be like (this is really important because you want to avoid going back to change it later), ask yourself these questions:

  • Where will they be lining up?
  • In what order?
  • How do you want them behaved? (I go for silent, still and listening for the next instruction)

Step Two: Communicate Your Expectations

Sit the whole class down and tell them exactly what you expect, as much as possible, make sure everyone in the room understands every detail. If you have a teaching assistant make sure they are present for this conversation.

Step Three: How Will We Know We Have Succeeded? 

While everyone is sitting down and listening go over these few things:

  • Tell them you are going to silently use hand signals to communicate with them.
  • If it is going well you will give them a thumbs up when (and only when) you reach your intended destination
  • If anything at all, no matter how small, is wrong you will show them a clear sign for ‘stop’ and then ‘go back’ – if this happens everyone returns to the classroom (or wherever you started)
  • Make it very clear that this will happen every time until it is done right.

Step Four: Practice Time

Once you have explained everything carefully it is time to practice.  This is only going to work if you stick to the rules. This means that as your class begin to line up you must (silently, using hand signals) stop them and send them back for even the smallest error.  One kid whispers and we all go back.  One person if paying attention and we all go back. If someone talks before we’re lined up we all go back.  If they talk 2cm from the destination we all go back. This needs to happen every time it usually takes at least 10 attempts, my record so far is 23. Don’t speak, don’t react; just use the silent hand signals to return everyone to the classroom.

Step Five: Stick To It!

Now you’ve done it once do not deviate.  Every time you line up follow the same procedure and rules – it will get easier with practice.  This is where consistency is key – if you break the rules once you’re going to lose all that progress completely. The more you and your students practice the better it will get and the less involved you will need to be.

I’d recommend doing this as early in the year as possible (I do it in the first week) and leaving plenty of time to get it right.  It’s tough sometimes to justify spending 20 minutes practicing lining up, but look at it this way. If you can line your class up in 1 minute every time rather than 5 you’ll save 4 minutes a time.  Say you line up, conservatively, 5 times a day.  You’re saving 20 minutes a day, every day for the rest of the year.

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