Key Principles

Successfully Managing Transitions


Get the Noise Out

Sponge Activities

More Advice

//From a post to FLTEACH on October 12, 1997 re: Smooth Transitions.//
//I just started my student teaching last week and one of the problems I had was when I went from one activity to the next, the
kids started to act up and then it would take me a minute or so to calm them down again.  My question:  What can I do while
I'm changing activities to keep them quiet?  I found that it was when I started to hand out worksheets or go get my book that
they started to talk.  Should I have a student hand out the papers instead?  If so, what should I do in the meantime?//
Organize everything in advance.  I put each worksheet, activity, etc. in
a separate folder and stack them on a small table or stool at the front
of the room, along with my text and any other materials I intend to use
that hour.  As we move through the sequence of activities during the
period, I find that I don't have to go get my book, etc. because
everything is right there, in the order in which I intend to use it.
For things that cannot be stacked in the pile, (like manipulatives), I
simply write their names "paper plate clocks, for example" on a Post-it
note and put the note in the appropriate place in the stack.  In this
way, even though I have made out detailed lesson plans in advance, I am
not continually having to refer to them.  I always know what comes next
because it is on top of the pile.  (Sometimes, I carry a Post-it note
around on my finger which lists  my plans via one-word keywords to help
me stay on track when I am not right next to the table).
I have EVERYTHING on the board in advance when possible, simply covering
it with a map or the overhead screen until it is time to use it.  If I
am using visuals, I make sure that everything has tape already on the
back (or velcro or whatever), and that the visuals are in the order in
which I will be using them.  If we are playing bingo, all the Dixie cups
are already filled with bingo chips and arranged in rows on a cookie
sheet or folder box lid so that distribution is easy.  In other words,
by becoming consummately organized in advance, you minimize YOUR time
off-task and thereby give students less time to lose focus.
As to the transitions, it sounds to me like your biggest problem is that
you are probably waiting for everyone to finish before moving on to the
next activity.  I have found that this isn't very productive because
only one or two will still be working while everyone else has already
had 5 minutes to become engrossed in social conversations.  While it may
seem cruel at first, I wait until most of the class has finished (say
75%), and then begin the next activity.
In addition, when students are about 1/2 way through the activity, I
begin distributing the next worksheet or activity sheet, face down.
That way, when 75% finish, you can begin explaining the next activity,
"Everyone stop and look at me for a quick second.  I want to give you
instructions for the next activity so that those  of  you who are
finished can move on."  I instruct, get the majority started, and then
circulate to answer questions and help the stragglers.
Other suggestions:  A number of professionals have published books full
of transition ideas (often called "sponge" activities).  Barbara Snyder
and Helena Curtain both come to mind.   Sponge activities are activities
which require very little preparation, keep students busy, and allow you
to get organized on those days when you don't have everything quite
"together."  For example:
  • Lists--list as many adjectives in Spanish as you can, body parts, colors, numbers, etc.
  • Write down as many words in Spanish as you can that begin with the letter "P".
  • Write five commands that you might give to a younger brother or sister while at the store, park, etc.
  • Get with a partner and recite your numbers to them from 1-100 in Spanish.
  • Tell your partner five things you like and five things you dislike in Spanish.
Look at the vocabulary list on the overhead and write a paragraph that uses at least 10 of the words.  (I have a folder full
of transparencies located on my overhead cart which contains vocabulary lists from each chapter, as well as lists of
adjectives, verbs, etc.).
There are two keys to making sponge activities work:
#1 - You MUST do something with the activity when students finish.  If
they realize that it is just busy-work which has no relation to anything
you are studying and that you don't  intend to look at it, they will
stop doing it.  Act like it is IMPORTANT (and, once again, PLAN your
sponges when you can).  Try to have several ready each day which
directly relate to the lesson, whatever activity you intend to do next,
etc., and TELL students why the sponge activity is important:  "I  want
you to write a paragraph of at least 5 sentences in which you describe a
famous person.  You can use the list of adjectives on the overhead
screen to help  you.   You are going to need these paragraphs in order
to do the next activity, so make sure that you get busy or you won't
have time to finish."  Then, for the next activity, have 2 or 3 students
read theirs and let the class guess who they are describing.  Doesn't
have to be the WHOLE class reporting every time.
#2 - ALWAYS set a time limit and use an egg-timer.  When the bell dings,
we move on.  This removes the onus of "you're rushing us" from me and
(strange as it may sound) makes it the timer's fault.  Students realize
that I'm NOT going to extend the time (so be sure it is reasonable when
you set the time limit) and they work much more efficiently.
Like someone else mentioned--it is basically just a question of being
able to keep several plates spinning at once.  If you want kids to stay
on task, you probably won't have time to sit at your desk and grade
papers (although as you gain more experience, this DOES become more
feasible).  CIRCULATE!  As someone else mentioned (Richard Lee, I
think), body proximity and eye contact also go a long way toward
minimizing misbehavior.  One of the things I do with my student teachers
is walk them around the building and have them peep in the windows at
other teachers' classrooms.  Some teachers literally "barricade"
themselves behind an extensive wall of desks, filing cabinets, etc.
which extends across the front of  the room.  Others put these  things
off to the side, making it easy for them to reach the students in an
instant.  I have noticed that classroom control seems to correspond to
the arrangement of the classroom, at least somewhat!  We discuss the
fact that students (at least subconsciously) notice body language which
says--I'm afraid of you, I'm not really in control, am I?, etc.  One
student teacher and I really worked on ways to get her to come out from
behind the podium, then the clipboard, then her arms folded across her
body.  It may sound stupid, but it worked.  She developed wonderful
classroom management skills as she became less  defensive and more
self-confident about what she was doing and sent that message to her
students via her body language.  You might try  it and see if it works
for you!
//One more thing!!!  I find that in my Spanish 1 class, when Im trying to explain something(ie. directions) the students are
constantly saying:  "Whaaaat??  I don't understand!  Can you repeat that!"  I think that half the time they're just testing
me.  They figure the more time they waste the less they have to do.  I think this because I say the directions in Spanish
and then back them up in English and other times I know that they know what I'm saying because they've had the stuff before
(i.e.  ¿De donde eres?)  They look at me like I have 6 heads. ( I never thought that I would be intimidated my 25 high school
freashman) How can I tell if they understand or if they're faking it?  I would like to be able to figure this out before I
test them on the material.//
This is NORMAL.  Even my fifth year kids pulled this on me at the
beginning of the year!  Whatever you do, DON'T resort to English if you
think that they should be able to understand you in Spanish.  Repeat,
slow down, use gestures, draw on the board, model/demonstrate, whatever
it takes.  Once they realize that you aren't going to give in, they'll
suddenly "get it" so that they don't have to sit and listen to all that
EXTRA Spanish with which you are bombarding them.  Ignore them when they
//P.S.  I know that I shouldn't back Spanish up with English, but if I don't they will not have any clue as to what I'm saying.
As the weeks go by I plan to gradually eliminate English.//
They've already "got" you!  They've convinced you that they don't, won't, and can't understand you when you speak Spanish.
They'll figure it out if you don't give them any other choice.   It gets HARDER (in my experience) not easier, to gradually
eliminate English.  Stick to your guns!
Hope this helps!
Allison, if you want a copy of a list of some quick sponge activities,
send a SASE with a Post-it note that says "sponge activities" to:
Cherice Montgomery
Southeast High School
903 S. Edgemoor
Wichita, KS  67218