Rethinking Morning Work

The days of being an elementary school student, walking into class in the morning, completing a worksheet silently, and pulling out a book to read when you’re done are over.


Wait. No they’re not.


This age old practice continues in classrooms across the country and I am curious as to why. Teachers (including yours truly) have expressed frustration as a teacher with this routine:


– Students who always do their work complete it quickly and find it easy. Those who need practice the most either don’t do it or can’t do it.
– Students who come in late are either rushing to finish morning work or don’t have time to do it.
– Even though students complete the work, you don’t have time to review it.
– Students are talking to each other or are distracting each other when it is supposed to be quiet.
– The routine of morning work is boring and does not increase rigor since it’s frequently comprehension or knowledge based problems.
– If you photocopy morning work you’re battling for copy machine space. If you have a problem on the board, kids are finding gum-wrapper sized pieces of paper that they’re solving the problems on.


…. and so on.


What if we were to rethink our mornings? What if mornings were a time where students were excited to come into class? What if students were doing activities that involved collaboration, strategy, creativity, rigor, problem-solving, critical thinking, or addressing various learning styles?


I first saw the idea of “Morning Choice” floating around on social media, but then saw it implemented in a basic version in one of my student teacher’s classrooms last fall. Naturally, I was curious what it would look like in a true, full blown fashion!


I employed one of my former students at Wake Forest, now a first year teacher in Atlanta, to test this out. Here is her story:




When I first introduced the idea of Morning Choice to my class, the students’ faces lit up with excitement. The thought of coming into school and having the opportunity to work with their peers while doing something enjoyable was incredible to them. The thought of not having to come in silently, unpack, and be forced to complete a worksheet was a dream and unlike anything they had ever experienced! But, first thing’s first – clear expectations had to be established for this new morning routine to be successful!
I explained to my students that the goal of Morning Choice would be to provide them with alternative morning “work” that would promote critical 21st century skills, such as teamwork and collaboration. Ideally, after a few weeks of mastering the routine, they would be able to come in and choose a choice to go to independently each day. However, to start it off, they would be assigned to a choice each week until the routine and expectations were mastered. I gave my students the opportunity to complete a survey and rank their preferable choices. Then, I created a master schedule based on these preferences each week that listed the choices and which students were assigned to that specific choice. This was posted on the board and the choices were labeled around the room, making it very clear to each student where they were supposed to go and who they were working with for the week. At the elementary school I teach at, there is a five minute countdown until the announcements are on and the day officially begins. My students know that their choice station has to be cleaned up and they must be seated and ready to go by the time the countdown reaches zero and the announcements begin.
What if a student fails to meet the expectations or is not on task during Morning Choice? Well, in this class discussion, I also allowed the students to communicate and decide on consequences. By allowing the students to devise the consequences, I felt that they would be more likely to take ownership of their actions. The consequences my class agreed upon for being off task was eliminating the choice for the next morning and silently reading at their desk.
With the expectations set and the consequences established, Morning Choice was ready to go! I have 24 students in my classroom with six different “choice” options. These options provide for the students to demonstrate independent critical thinking skills, collaboration, artistic expression, communication, leadership, and problem solving. With only four students per group, it eliminates chaos and provides an opportunity for all students to work together and foster relationships with one another in a small group setting. The groups change weekly, as the student locations at each choice also change weekly. This provides for variation and allows students to constantly be working with different classmates. Additionally, all groups can function with one person at a time, so when the other students arrive they can join right in and the first person is not dependent upon the arrival of their classmates.
Here’s a look at the choices in my classroom:
Choice 1 – Artistic Expression. The students have the option to paint, draw, or color at this choice. Students will have the entire week to complete their creation, or two. At the end of the week, their artwork is framed and hung up on a wall in our classroom, giving the students a sense of ownership of their learning space and they are proud that everyone who enters the classroom gets to observe their success!
Choice 2 – Problem Solving. There are a variety of different problem solving activities at this choice for students to choose from and can be completed independently or together. These activities include, Balance Beans, mazes, and Jigsaw puzzles. All activities encourage students to challenge themselves and use critical thinking skills to complete a task or create a design.    
Choice 3 – Computer Time. As students are assigned this choice, they enhance their math fluency skills by supporting our school wide program – FirstInMath. Within this program, students compete against one another in the class, in the grade level, in the school, and in the district with different math fluency games and problem solving activities. For each grade level, there is a “Player of the Week” and a “Team of the Week.” Students are motivated to come in and get to work to win for our grade level and help our classroom be the team of the week!





 


Choice 4 – Collaboration. At this choice, students use Legos to design and build different structures. Students can either create their own or look at a task card and complete the task to the best of their ability. Sometimes students will also challenge each other and race to see who can be the first to successfully complete the task.  The students are very excited about this station and often want me to photograph what they have created!
Choice 5 – Leadership. One goal I had for my students this year, as they are in their final year of elementary school, is to feel a sense of leadership. They are the oldest students in the building and I strive for the rest of the students, faculty, and staff to view them as leaders as well. One way this has been achieved is by teaming up with a kindergarten classroom to have some of my students review sight words with them or read them stories in the morning. Not only does this help the kindergartners grow and learn, but my students are challenged with devising creative ways to help them reach their success! They love having the younger classes look up to them and wave at them in the hallways as we pass by!
Choice 6 – Game Time.  This choice promotes good old fashioned fun and team work by playing games with one another. There is an independent game for the first student that arrives. However, once more classmates arrive, students will engage in games such as Headbanz, Guess Who, and Trouble – all games in which critical thinking and problem solving are required for winning.
Overall, Morning Choice has drastically transformed the culture and classroom atmosphere early in the morning to start the day! Students rush to unpack their things so they can get to their choice for the morning. They appreciate beginning their day completing a task they enjoy without the stress of having to ensure they complete a worksheet or something that will count as a grade. From a teacher’s perspective, it is a much more enjoyable start to the day to have students come in and working together. It provides for much opportunity to build relationships with the students, communicate with them, and help them work on skills that are essential in the 21st century.  This positive classroom environment early in the morning sets the stage for a successful rest of the day! 

Thank you to Ms. Siragusa and her 5th grade class for sharing her Morning Choice!

For more ideas for your classroom, check out my book Inside the Trenches! You can also follow Adam on Twitter and Instagram @adamdovico.

New pictures from Ms. Siragusa’s classroom during Morning Choice! (It was mustache day, so don’t be alarmed, they’re still regular 5th graders!)

 
 

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79 Comments

  1. I love this idea. I love the good old fashion board games because it teaches children to communicate with each other, take turns and work together. The students sometimes play board games in my room and I see impulsive students learning how to wait for their turn and learn skills on how to problem solve and get along better with each other. I would love to see play doh at a station with other art stuff. The students really enjoy this and I have noticed that they work out anxiety, stress, and frustrations through playing with the play doh. I know we have students who get off the bus frustrated and upset first thing in the morning.

  2. For middle school classrooms, I think it would depend on the structure of the schedule. Since many middle schools operate on periods, there may not be that "morning" time that elementary schools typically have. However, with all that being said, there may be opportunity within the middle school reading/ELA classroom to explore centers that connect the standards or content you're working on to communicative and collaborative type activities as done in the Morning Choice.

  3. I'm in the middle school. If you check out and search learning stations on "teachers pay teachers", there are thousands of ideas.
    Read it, write it, draw it, explore it, research it, watch it, build it, and assess it are my stations set up now.
    At the bell, set an 8 minute timer.
    My warm up review slides have been moved to "exit ticket" and "Friday quiz" status now.

  4. I love this idea, but middle school is so constricted by time restraints. I did something similar to this when I was in public school, but I have found out the hard way that teaching time in a private school is not protected. It is so hard to get in the important things when you are given 20 minutes because the headmaster would not stop talking in chapel. I don't understand why they don't consider curriculum to be more important than PR.

  5. I really do like this article. We only have about 20 minutes from when students are allowed in the room until class time starts so my concern would be clean up time from any centers we do.

  6. Let them work for 15 minutes and have a 5 minute clean up time. Reward the first group to clean up correctly. Also, put things in the stations that are easily cleaned up.

  7. When I taught in elementary school we called it "Settling In Time" The kids came in, put up their stuff, pulled their name card and put it in the pocket chart (instant attendance) and then got to work: we had a morning message written on chart paper. They would read the message (or ask friend to help read the message.) The message always instructed them to do 2 things – the first might be to take a survey by asking 10 people in class about their favorite color, and then 'make a chart or picture to show their answers'. The second thing might be to say, "good morning! How are you?" to 6 people in class. The Friday work was always just 1 – finish the work in their unfinished work folder. The kids were up moving around the whole time, but working and collaborating. Productive noise. This gave me a chance to observe or talk 1 on 1 with kids who needed it. After settling in time was over, we gathered for circle time and read the message together, and talked about the work we'd just done. I'd never heard of morning work that is all silent!

  8. Love this! Can't wait to implement in my own classroom! Sounds so much better than the usual struggle to get activities/tasks completed.

  9. "Read it, write it, draw it, explore it, research it, watch it, build it, and assess it" Love this! And I'd add on – whatever you choose it should be done with a partner or two or four – Collaborate

  10. No assessment. Just an opportunity to explore creativity, build collaborative skills, etc. While it is unfortunate if a hold is tardy and misses Morning Choice, as the teacher you don't have to worry about making it up later. There's a chance that it might even encourage tardy students to get to school earlier?

  11. Could you elaborate on how the students choose? Do they choose a station each day? What if the station they want isn't available? Or do you assign them? (But then I guess it wouldn't really be choice.)

  12. I've had some teachers try this out in different ways: kids sign up each week for the station they'd like to do (and once it's filled it filled and you can't do the same one two weeks in a row), or first come first serve with a max number at each station w/ the rule you can't do the same station two days in a row.

  13. For Kindergarten you could still do #1 art but I would stay away from paint, except maybe watercolor because of clean up factor, but they could still do markers, colored pencils, stencils, crayons etc. For #2 they could start with puzzles then move on to other problem solving such as pattern block puzzles. #3 computers or iPads with whatever program you wish for them to do. #4 Legos or Duplos are always a big hit with students, and there are resources out there where they could make letters or numbers with the legos. #5 leadership would be more difficult, but this could be the fine motor/sensory area such as play dough or pipe cleaners and beads etc. #6 games such as Candyland, High Hi Cherry-O, Guess who and HeadBandz later in they year. I hope this gives you a few ideas to start you off.

  14. This is a great idea, with the exception of silent reading being a consequence. That sends the wrong message, and for some kids, it would be a reward.

  15. It would depend on the duration of your arrival block in the morning. I would think 15-20 minutes is probably sufficient, though some schools have a 30 minute arrival window, so it just depends on the situation.

  16. I was thinking the same thing–and is silent reading something you can choose instead of any of these stations? As both a child student and an adult student I hated and hate small group work of any kind. I would probably have broken a rule on purpose just to get my silent reading time. And frankly, if I could do that now at professional development, I would.

  17. This sounds like just what I am looking for. Amazing!! Can you explain a little about what happens in the explore, watch and assess stations?

  18. In this particular 5th grade class, leadership choice involved working with K students. Obviously, that's well-suited for a 5th grader, but if that doesn't work with your grade/class, I'd just switch it out with something else.

  19. Cool part about this is you can make it whatever you want. Independent reading could easily be made into a choice station. It just wasn't used for this particular class that piloted for me. I have had other teachers who have included in theirs though.

  20. The best part of Morning Choice is you make it into whatever you want it to be. No technology, no problem. Create stations that involve art, music, building/design, etc.

  21. Love the idea! Only question: How do you ensure the kids don't develop a hate relationship with silent reading since its used as a punishment/consequence?

  22. Silent reading for consequence is not necessary. It was just used by this class that piloted it initially. I think a consequence like being "assigned" a station instead of choice is fair as a consequence.

  23. It can work either way. You need to know your class and what would be most successful. I have seen classes where kids sign up the week before all the way to free Choice each morning with limits on how many can be at a station. It's really what works for you!

  24. Something else I used in kindergarten was the "Mystery Box" which was a large box of very random things. Children could explore the stuff in the box, play with things, share ideas, manipulate things etc. It was a great place to put stuff that didn't quite fit into other centers and it was only used for arrival so no one got tired of it quickly.

  25. I like the idea of Morning Choice and would like to try implementing it this new school year. You mentioned a survey; what sort of questions were included in this survey? Can you provide a sample of it? Did you just randomly group your students? Did you add new activities to the six stations? Thank you in advance!

  26. My students have morning station everyday. They choose a station and could stay there until the bell rings, or rotate once. There is not enough time for more rotation.

  27. Love the idea. Do many of your students eat breakfast at school in the classroom? Ours do and I don't want them hungry all morning. Also, approximately how long is your morning activity time?

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  29. I love this idea and want to try and implement this next year but also want to implement morning meetings, after the official bell has rung. Do you think this could be something students could work on between 7:30-7:40 and do the morning meetings or would that be too much? I am looking for different peoples viewpoints on this!

  30. So after you have them try each station for a week each, they get to choose their station every morning after that? If so, how do you prevent them from choosing the same station every morning and only working with their friends?

  31. I use this to replace morning work, at my school, we have 2 bells to start the day. The first bell rings at 9:10. That bell means clean up, for students that are doing "Leadership" it means get to the classroom. By the 9:15 bell, students should be cleaned up and in their seats, they are allowed to move their behavior clip up and get a dojo point if they are in their seat ready to learn at the 9:15 bell.

  32. We choose our next morning choice stations every Friday at dismissal. It is a rule that if you choose a station that you can not go back to that station for 3 weeks. I keep track (but the kids tell on each other….lol) If you attempt to go back to a station you already went to then I choose where you go and they dont always like it

  33. I plan to create morning stations this year for my 4th grade. I am building the plans now so I can teach about each station in the first two weeks of procedures. I am planning to create clips at the door for students to see what options exist for the day and then take one as they enter. This way I can limit the size of the group with minimal monitoring. Do you worry about students changing stations or hopping from group to group?

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