Creating a Morning Routine in a Special Education Classroom

Morning Routine in Special Education ClassroomCreating a classroom morning routine that works well can be tough... It's the first chunk of the day and it's often a hard transition for students.

Before I explain our morning routine, I want to give you a little background about my classroom. Classroom models like mine typically have anywhere from 8-15 students and we have a teacher and 2-4 paraprofessionals. It's technically a "self-contained" classroom, but all of my students have a general education teacher in their grade level and go to their general ed teacher for at least part of their day depending on their needs.

Now let's jump in to our morning routine: 
  • Our students start arriving at school at 7:30 am and continue to arrive until the bell rings at 8:05. 
  • At 7:30, all of our staff head down to the bus/ car drop off area. 
  • As students arrive at school, they either go to the classroom for morning work or they go to the cafeteria for breakfast. Note: Staff don't decide what students do/ don't eat breakfast. Their parents let us know at the beginning of the year if they do NOT want their child eating breakfast at school. If parents don't tell us that or students don't communicate that they don't want breakfast, then we send students for breakfast. 
  • Once 1-2 students who eat at school arrive, a paraprofessional walks with them there to start breakfast. The paraprofessionals normally take turns every day between who goes to the cafeteria first.
  • Once 1-2 students who do not eat breakfast arrive, then I take them to the classroom to start morning work. I'm normally always the person who takes students to the classroom first. Long story short is other teachers in my school don't have students at this time (it's additional planning time for them)... so I try to get little tasks done in the classroom at this time if I can. 
  • By this time, we have 1 para in the cafeteria with some students, I'm in the classroom with some students and 1-2 paras are still by the bus and car loading area.
  • As more students arrive, they continue to either go to the cafeteria or classroom. Some students are able to transition independently to those locations (we radio to staff members in that location to let them know the student is coming) and some students need someone to walk with them.
  • By 8:05 all of our students should have arrived. By this time, we will typically have a group of students (and maybe a paraprofessional) in the classroom with me and a group of students eating breakfast with 1-2 paraprofessionals in the cafeteria. 
  • As students finish breakfast, they start coming to our classroom for morning work (again some transition independently and some come with a paraprofessional). 
    • Note: It is a little bit of a science to figure out and plan what students need assistance with transitioning and where you should keep your staff based on where your groups of students are. But if you are using walkies and are in constant communication, you can figure it out pretty quickly! We don't typically decide where staff goes based on ratios, but more based on needs of specific students.
  • At 8:15, breakfast and morning work are finished. I start transitioning my group in the classroom to circle time and any paraprofessionals and students left in the cafeteria transition back to the classroom for circle time/ morning meeting. 

Here's how our morning work runs:
Let me start by saying, there is no right or wrong way to do implement morning work! You just have to find a system that works for you and your students. I like to mix it up with the materials we use pretty regularly and change the system year to year. In past years, my students have needed a structured work system to work independently. Last year, that wasn't the case so we did things differently and I loved it!

  • The students who do not eat breakfast end up doing morning work for about 30-40 minutes. Students who eat breakfast do morning work for anywhere from 5-20 minutes. The timing all depends on how early students get to school and how quickly they eat. 
  • When students come in the classroom for morning work they go straight to the morning work bookshelf to get their materials. 
  • The below bookshelf that has all of our morning work materials. It has drawers and binders labeled with every student's name. Students grab their labeled materials and head to their work spot. 
Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom

This is where all of our morning work is kept. Students either grab the binder with their name on it or pull from the drawer with their name on it. 
  • We have 3 large circle tables in our classroom that we use for a bunch of things, including morning work! Students are all assigned a spot at one of those tables for morning work. 
  • Students stay at their spot and work until the circle time transition timer goes off. When that timer goes off, all students return their work to the morning work bookshelf and head to circle time. 
  • I set it up/ organize it a little differently for each student. Some students:
    • Get work for the entire week in their binder, drawer or packet.
    • Get work for 2-3 days at a time.
    • Some students complete the same task 2-3 days in a row and only get 1 task at a time.
The key is to only be giving students tasks/ activities and work that they can 100% be doing and engaging with independently. If you're saying, "My students can't work independently yet!" then I suggest that you think of other alternatives like listening to audio books, playing with blocks or coloring for morning work. But you can continue to work on independent work skills!

The materials we use for morning work:
I use a variety of materials and switch them out every few days (depending on the student). Materials we use include velcro work binders, packets of worksheets, laminated workbooks, work boxes, etc. I find that when I mix up the materials and the format of materials, my students are more excited to work and are more engaged.

Here are a few examples of a some of our velcro morning work binders and laminated work books:

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
This activity is FREE in my TpT shop. Click here to grab it!

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
This is part of my sight word bundle!

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
Differentiated math work books are perfect for morning work!

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
You can grab this beginning letter sound activity in my TpT shop for $3 here. 
Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
These books can be found here.

TipYou can basically turn any set of worksheets into a workbook by laminating them, putting a cover on it (if you want), and binding them or putting them in a binder. I love to do this so I can reuse them over and over again and they don't require velcro!

 Here are some of the little work boxes we do for morning work:

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
These are from my counting/ number fluency math bundle!

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
Simple writing task boxes from my "What do you see?" writing pack.

Morning Routine in Special Education Classroom
These are also FREE in my TpT shop. Click to grab them!

It's also important to know that this routine took a LONG time for my class to learn! We started teaching them this routine in August... And honestly, it wasn't running smoothly until probably mid to late-November. That's just the way it goes when you're teaching students new routines! Just focus on positively reinforcing students and don't give up because in the long run, it'll be SO worth it!

What questions do you have? Do you have any tips or suggestions for a great morning routine?

If you want a few FREE tracing and copying worksheets that you can use during morning work, head over to subscribe to my email list! Click the picture below, enter your email address and click "Give me the freebie now!" You'll want to save or download the freebie at this time.