Do you worry that your students feel like the child in this cartoon? In the elementary grades, there are SO many subjects to squeeze into such a short amount of time. This page will help you create a workable daily schedule that maximizes every moment you have with your students.
Ideas for structuring your day
Your daily schedule may be determined by your administration. I taught in very few schools that allowed me total freedom over how I structured our learning time. If you’re fortunate, you might be told how long you need to teach each subject and then allowed to arrange the subjects however you see fit. Here are some ways I’ve set up my daily schedule.
Sample daily schedules
These are schedules I used when teaching third grade in Florida. Our teacher hours were 7:30-3:00, and students’ hours were approximately 7:50-1:50 (depending on arrival/dismissal routines set up by school administrators). We had 6 hours total with the children, so minus a half hour for lunch, half hour for recess, and half hour for specials, that’s 4.5 hours of instructional time. Not a moment to waste!
8:00-8:30 Morning Work
8:30-9:30 Language Arts (includes bathroom and snack break)
9:30-10:30 Reading Groups
10:45-11:15 Specials (P.E., Music, Spanish, Art, and Science)
12:55-1:55 Science/ Social Studies
1:55-2:00 Pack Up and Dismissal
This was my favorite schedule in terms of how the subject areas were spread out around lunch, specials, and recess. We were given our lunch and specials times and teachers were allowed to work out the rest of our day, including recess, around those two things. Although our lunch shift was one of the last ones (12:30!) it was really nice, because I knew that once we went to lunch, we had an easy afternoon. (The kids have such a hard time concentrating after they eat–those years when I had 10:30 lunch were brutal because the afternoons stretched on FOREVER!). But this particular year we had a nice, long, uninterrupted block for literacy instruction and over an hour for math, as well, which is hard to do, with a brief time in the afternoon for the content areas.The mid-morning break for recess was nice and makes sense in very hot climates like Florida where waiting until the end of the day can be torturous.
8:00-8:30 Morning Work
8:30-9:30 Whole Group Reading
9:30-10:15 Small Group Reading
10:15-10:45 Specials (P.E., Music, Media, and Art)
1:00-1:30 Science/ Social Studies
1:30-1:35 Pack Up
I really enjoyed this schedule, too. I prefer doing reading first thing in the morning while kids are fresh. Right before lunch, we had less than 45 minutes, so that worked well for writing. (During a portion of the year, I tried doing math then and continuing after lunch, then doing writing immediately afterward, but I felt like that made the afternoon feel too long.) Since kids are usually antsy after lunch, I liked doing math at that time because the math partner games and manipulative activities kept them involved. Science and social studies are best taught at the end of the day, in my opinion, because they are arguably the least important subject. They can also be very interesting and exciting subjects, so the kids don’t usually dread having to do them before they get their recess. I *love* having recess at the end of the day, because you tie it into your behavior plan. I don’t think taking away recess is the most effective consequence for most infractions, but it was nice to have the option to do so. If the kids had major behavior problems at lunch or specials, or didn’t get their work done earlier in the day, they knew they’d miss out on part of recess.
Schedule C: Student-centered and untraditional with lots of flexibility
The year I used this schedule, my only mandate by the county were to spend a certain amount of time on each subject weekly, so I had tremendous freedom to structure my day however I liked. The principal did not closely monitor our daily activities and allowed us to do whatever worked best. I experimented with all sorts of different elements to our day!
7:55-8:30 Unpack, Watch Announcements, Morning Work
- Calendar math: skills practice varies by month
- DLP (Daily Language Practice): edit sentences for grammar, spelling, punctuation
- Word wall work: various tasks for vocab and spelling practice
- Multiple-meaning word books: add today’s word
- Partner re-readings for fluency
- Spelling buddy practice
I’m not a morning person. I thought it would get better with time, but I finally accepted the fact that I am not a teacher who begins instruction as soon as the first bell rings. I need lots of time in the morning to feel ready for the kids: I need to read notes from their parents, collect forms, take attendance, deal with kids who are tardy, etc. Plus, when they come in, they’re generally subdued and get right to work silently, so I like to take advantage of that! The morning work listed above are all tasks that students can complete independently. I like this morning work routine because it doesn’t require my having to think up new tasks (or busywork) for them each day. There are set tasks they complete each day (usually 2 or 3 of them, and I vary them throughout the year so it doesn’t get boring), and students can move around the room to complete them. If they finish early, they can read, which is a great use of their time. Just think–no dittos to copy or grades to take!
8:30-9:00 Morning meeting (morning work review and language arts instruction)
- Calendar Math 10 min
- DLP (Grammar/Spelling) 10 min
- Word Work (Vocabulary, Spelling) 10 min
- Bathroom and snack break 5 min
With this schedule, if kids come to school late, they won’t get to finish their morning work, which means they’ll have to do it during Morning Meeting. That’s a pretty strong incentive to be on time, because kids generally love Morning Meeting! I sit in the rocker with the children sitting on the rug and we sing an opening song, discuss the day’s schedule, and make general announcements. We’ll go over what the assignments they did for morning work–some days specifically, some days quickly gloss over it, emphasizing certain skills over others. There’s time for calendar math (also known as Everyday Math, which helps kids apply math skills to real-world concepts) and Daily Language Practice which can include quick mini-lessons on mechanics, punctuation, etc. We may play a word wall game or too or play another game that builds vocabulary or reinforces spelling skills. The meeting format stays essentially the same throughout the year with the activities changing to fit the skills we’re learning. Depending on the class, I might switch out some of the academic components of Morning Meeting for social problem-solving and community-building activities. Afterward, we’ll go to the bathroom quickly and students can eat snacks from home if they want to while I begin the Reading/Writing Workshop. You can read more about Morning Meetings on the Powerful Class Meetings page.
9:00-9:45 Language arts workshop
- Shared Reading or Writing/Think-Aloud/Mini-Lesson 30 min
- Centers/ Independent Practice 15 min
Some days we’ll focus on writing: we’ll create a shared story as I model writing strategies, and then the kids will write independently or reinforce their skills through writing centers. Other days we’ll focus on word work (suffixes and root words, homophones, etc.) and the kids will do a follow-up activity on their own so I can assess what they’ve learned. Mostly we’ll do comprehension think-alouds or shared readings using the basal series: I’ll model the use of reading strategies as I read and have the children interact as we make connections and create meaning together. We’re not going to go through every story in the basal and take weekly tests like I’ve done in past years because a) some stories are boring, b) the tests are poorly worded and don’t provide me with enough meaningful information to help plan my future instruction, and c) the kids can practice reading strategies just as well using other texts such as magazines and novels that they help select. Some weeks we’ll just read an excerpt from the basal story so I can do a think-aloud, or I’ll read the whole story to them as a read aloud or shared reading experience to model using a reading strategy. This will be followed by independent time to practice through reading, centers, a worksheet, or project. I don’t want to focus on spelling or grammar very often here since there’s 20 minutes for that daily in Morning Meeting. Sometimes we’ll need to use this time for practice in applying strategies in a standardized test format, but I try not to do test prep more often than once a week (usually Wednesdays).
9:45-10:30 Social studies/science (non-fiction reading strategy instruction) 45 min
45 minutes daily is the most I’ve ever allotted for science and social studies, and I’ve found time for it by extending reading strategy instruction. Most days, we’ll use our science and social studies texts, books from the classroom library, newspapers, online articles, magazines, Time for Kids, etc. to practice non-fiction reading comprehension strategies. Some days we’ll be focused more on the content itself, completing science inquiry projects and going in-depth with historical events, etc., but I’ve been very mindful of how I approach the text. I want kids to be aware that the strategies they learn are not just supposed to be used during reading groups, but are actually useful as they learn more about their world through interesting texts of all kinds. I think I can strike a good balance with the language arts workshop: if we’re doing writing during that time, we can do non-fiction reading strategies during science; if we’re doing reading strategies in language arts workshop, and the kids need a break, we can use that day to focus more on science content. There would also be some on-going science investigations and social studies projects that kids can work on. I like to have the whole thing be very student-centered so the instruction meets their needs. I also know, realistically, that things come up and something in the schedule will need to be cut on a particular day, and this is the block of time I usually steal from most often for mandatory testing, computer lab, spelling pre-tests and post-tests, copying weekly HW packets, Fun Friday, to finish projects, etc. If I can get in just 2 or 3 days a week of solid content area instruction, it’s a huge improvement over what I’ve been able to accomplish with other schedules.
- FCAT dailies 15 min
- Direct instruction/Guided practice/Independent practice 45 min
- Math fact practice (Math Tubs) 15 min
The FCAT is Florida’s state standardized test, and in my district, teachers are supposed to give the kids practice questions daily. We have transparencies with 2-4 questions to a page. When the kids come in from specials, it’s already on the overhead projector. They get their math journals and complete the work, then practice their math facts silently when done. After a few minutes, we review the answers as a class. They actually enjoy this format and it’s great distributed practice (kids have to retain knowledge because the FCAT Dailies include skills learned from throughout the year). Then I teach my math lesson, which usually consists of having the kids take notes on vocabulary or concepts as I model them, then having them practice (preferably with manipulatives and then with pencil and paper), and then having them try 5-10 problems on their own, bringing the work to me when they are done so I can identify and correct misconceptions right away. Students who understand start Math Partner Games with one another, and those who want or need extra help sit on the rug with me and we go over the problems on white-boards as a small, informal group or individually. All students get at least a few minutes for math fact practice through the math tubs (partner games). We do addition and subtraction first because most of them still don’t know their facts well from second grade, and then go into multiplication. The daily review makes a remarkable difference in how quickly the kids solve math problems, and they LOVE doing it!
1:00-1:40 Guided reading
- Read aloud w/ reading strategy or Sci/S.S. Integration 10 min
- Flexible reading groups/ Individual conferencing/ SSR 30 min
I use the term ‘guided reading’ loosely to indicate a time when I am guiding children through the reading process–nothing more technical than that, not a definition from any research. First, I’ll usually do a read-aloud on a topic that the kids are interested in–sometimes a book they bring in. Some days I just read and let the kids enjoy it! Other days I might do a think-aloud with the text (modeling how good readers think as they read) to tie in the reading strategy we worked on in the morning, or emphasize non-fiction text features if it’s a science or social studies-based book. It depends on the kids’ needs and interests that day. I primarily read non-fiction to students because I like to get them excited about history and interested in learning about current events and how the world works, but sometimes I’ll do novels or poetry.
After the read-aloud, students read a book of their choice silently (there’s more about this in the Self-Selected Reading chapter of The Cornerstone book). I pull one or two kids individually for reading conferences, because independent reading time must be structured and monitored for kids to gain the most benefit. Then I’ll pull a small group of kids to work on a skill (decoding, main idea, cause/effect, whatever I noticed them having trouble with during Language Arts workshop or during conferences). My groups are flexible, not fixed, so that kids work only on the skills they need to and have a chance to interact with different students without a ‘label’. The majority of my reading instruction is done whole-group with individual follow-up, so lots of small group work is not required. (See Reading Essentials by Regie Routman for more about teaching reading through methods other than small groups, especially in intermediate grades. Routman states that guided reading groups don’t need to be given as much time as they often are, especially in third grade and above, IF proper modeling is done during daily shared readings and think-alouds. There are people who are horrified that I don’t meet with small groups everyday, but this method is backed by research, and my students’ reading levels and test scores prove that it works! It might not be right for you…but that’s how I do it.) Students who aren’t meeting with me in a group or individually are reading silently in a self-selected location in the room, followed by a few minutes at the end to share with a partner, small group, or the class a favorite passage, quote, word, or idea that came to them while reading.
1:45-1:55 Class meeting
- Prepare for dismissal: reminders/ HW/ questions 5 min
- Compliments, SSR sharing time 5 min
We’ll end the day with a routine that kind of evolved one year. Kids check their mail (papers to go home), pack up, stack their chairs, and come to the rug. I sit on the rocker, signing off on individual behavior plans that a few kids have and chatting with the children. When everyone has joined us on the rug, I give reminders for the following day, give homework reminders (packets are due weekly so I don’t have to discuss much on a daily basis), and take kids’ questions that inevitably come up (When is the field trip? Can I bring in a book to show the class? etc.) We then do compliments (share positive things with one another), which I think are a concept from Responsive Classroom. Then children have a chance to ‘share’. It’s similar to Show and Tell except they don’t have to show anything, and I encourage them not to because I don’t want it to turn into a contest of who has the best toys. Sometimes they’ll share a souvenir from a vacation and tell what they did with their family; sometimes they’ll share photos of a new pet and tell an amusing anecdote; sometimes they’ll want to share a dream they had the night before because they thought it was weird and interesting! It’s great oral language practice and gets them comfortable talking in front of their peers, and also allows them to practice being a good audience and ask thoughtful questions, since each child is allowed to take 3-5 questions (depending on time) from the class afterward.
I also use this time to have kids share favorite excerpts from the books they read during SSR. My kids each have a number (1-20 or however many are in the class), so the first 5 share on Monday, #6-10 on Tuesday, etc. That’s their ‘sharing day’ and that’s the only day they can share on, no exceptions because they’ll drive me crazy with all these ‘really important’ special occasions! If there’s no school on a child’s day or the child is absent, they have to wait until the following week–but I always promise to allow double the time so they can share as much as they want, which pacifies them!
When the final bell rings, the kids who shared stand by the door with any objects they have to show us (because kids always want to look closer, hold it, and ask more questions) and those with no objects are just available if anyone wants to ask questions or discuss what they shared. I call the kids a few at a time to give me ’a hug or a handshake’ (whatever they want) and go to the door so they can stop and chat with the ‘sharers’, and that’s it! It’s a wonderful, pleasant way to end the day and always reminds me…these are HUMAN BEINGS in my classroom, not robots ready to be filled up with as much information as I can cram into them. They have real feelings and thoughts and interest sand lives outside of school–standardized testing and three digit multiplication are not the most important things about this job. Ending the day this week reminds me that I teach children, not concepts, and however exhausting the kids might have been earlier in the day, they’re really are cute and enjoyable if you take a few moments at the end of the day to relax in a comfortable chair and watch them interact naturally with one another about the things that matter to them.
Free printables referenced in the book
Blank long-range planning form
Homework: already listed
Homework: sectioned by day
Homework: sectioned by subject
Language arts block planner
Lesson plans: first week
Math assessment sheet
Missing work form 1 (large)
Missing work form 2 (new)
Missing work form 3 (original)
Planning pages blank
Founder and Writer
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Dear Ms. Watson,
I,m a English teacher now. Been working as a translator and interpreter for almost 15 years. Now recently started to work as an English teacher in my hometown, Skopje – R. Macedonia. Working with children from 5- 15 t.e. teaching English in the I- IX grade. New among the colleagues and obviously different in respect of my previous work and life experience, I stick out for my western ideas and education. I’m having small problems with everyday school activities and administration regulation. All these things make me a bit frustrated ,but doesn’t stop me loving my new job and contact with the children and their positive response towards me and my (worlds) new ways of approaches in the teaching of English as a second language.
Please, for an advise and pointer of links and teaching materials on line that can help me and win over the other teachers, too
I thank you in advance and must tell you that I’m happy for the existence of such sites as yours and others.
I greet you with respect,