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Planning For An Efficient Morning Routine In the Classroom

Originally posted on: August 21, 2016 | Updated on: June 25, 2021

One of the greatest challenges we face as teachers is finding enough time for all the instruction we need to fit in. Oftentimes, we feel there is a need to hurry on to the next topic once we see a student has reached their learning goal. Unfortunately, this seemingly relentless need to move on robs many learners of their infinitely more important need to go back and review concepts. We learn quickly that in order to make room for the spiral review students need, we need to hit the ground running each morning when they arrive in the classroom.

Empty classroom with number of the day slide projected for easy transition into morning routine.

MY OLD APPROACH TO MORNING WORK

During my first four years as a third grade teacher, I consistently made room for math spiral review during morning work. At that time, I used the spiral review materials included in our district math curriculum. 

Although the concept was great in theory, there were days when I felt frustrated and flustered five minutes into the school day. Why? Because students were unable to work independently to complete their spiral review activities while I greeted, collected homework, and took attendance.

Sometimes the instructions were confusing, sometimes there were skills on the spiral review page that were new content rather than review, and sometimes the inconsistent page format was too overwhelming for students with special needs. Regardless, I knew this routine was not meeting the needs of our classroom. Sound familiar?

MY NEW APPROACH TO MORNING WORK

Although there is not a perfect solution for the battle between necessary spiral review and tight instructional time, I created something that may help you put an end to the reality described above. Here’s a peek at my favorite morning routine: Number of the Day Binder. This routine gives students the opportunity to independently review math concepts consistently without sacrificing rigor or relying on worksheets that don’t meet their needs.

Core Inspiration's Number of the Day Binder supplies on student desk

THE NUMBER OF THE DAY BINDER ROUTINE

After my students hang their backpacks, turn in their homework, and head to their seats, they know to take a look at our whiteboard where they will see “Today’s Number” written next to our schedule. Each day, the number is different, but it is always found in the same spot. This establishes the first layer of consistency, which benefits all students, especially those with special needs.

Today's number (3,924) written on classroom whiteboard next to the daily schedule.

Students grab their Number of the Day supplies (their binder, a thin black whiteboard marker, and a whiteboard eraser), and get started with the daily spiral review math activities inside their binder. In our classroom, we store these supplies right inside our desks because they are used every day.

To get started with using a number of the day binder in your classroom, gather sheet protectors, white board markers, washcloths or erasers, and a binder for each student.

At the beginning of the year, students only work on the first couple pages of the binder. As they become more efficient with this routine and begin to master more advanced math concepts, new pages are introduced (more on that below). I find that completing a maximum of four pages a day is the number that works best for the 15-20 minute time block we have for our morning routine. This allows students to work through their spiral review at an efficient pace while still leaving an average of five minutes for them to book shop, read, or spend time on their work in progress. 

While students work independently through each activity, I walk around the room to collect homework, greet students, and take attendance. When students have completed their pages for the day, they tap their head with one hand as a signal that they’d like to have their work checked.

Little boy who wears glasses tapping his hand on his head to signal to the teacher that he's ready to have his work checked.

When I see a head being tapped, I am able to quickly head over to that student’s desk and check their work for the day as they flip through the four pages they have completed. After checking the work of the first couple students, the answers I am looking for on each page are easier to recall, and checking work is a breeze as I informally gather formative assessment data. 

If all pages are completed accurately, then I give students a thumbs up signal so they know they can put their binder away. If there is an error, then I simply say, “Try this page again,” rather than pointing directly to the error made. This builds students’ ability to double-check their work for accuracy. 

Once they’ve made a second attempt, they tap their head silently once again to have their work checked. In most cases, the second attempt results in accuracy. If it doesn’t, I don’t take time during our morning routine to teach that student how to correct the error. I simply have them add their name to my check-in sheet (described below) for follow-up during Math Workshop. Although it is absolutely possible to correct the pages as a class, I elect not to in the interest of time.

Core Inspiration's Number of the Day Binder page showing how to solve addition using the standard algorithm.

Because each page is stored in a plastic sheet protector, students use a whiteboard marker to complete the work, erase all their pages after they’ve been checked, and reuse the pages each day.

SUPPORTING STRUGGLING STUDENTS

If students find they are struggling to complete an activity within their binder, then they add their name to the Number of the Day Check-in Sheet near our small group table. This helps me track who needs extra support or needs a quick review of one of the activities. I use this list to pull a small group during our Math Workshop time as needed.

Math Workshop Quick Notes page showing a grid of all student names in the class with notes about what they need practice with during math workshop.

HELPING STUDENTS PACE THEMSELVES

During the first weeks of school, when I am monitoring student progress closely, we keep track of the average amount of time it should take to carefully and accurately complete four pages in the binder. Students are aware of this average so they can pace themselves while working independently. A timer is set to help them with this pacing.

Set a timer to help student pace themselves when working on their number of the day morning routine.
EARLY FINISHERS

If a student happens to finish their Number of the Day Binder activities early, then they know to move on to the next step on our morning routine checklist, which is displayed at the front of the room. I consistently remind students of the importance of making their transition from Number of the Day to their other work silent and seamless. This reminder is written on the morning routine checklist, and I consistently use language like: 

  • “You may notice some of your neighbors are finishing up. I’m sure they are so grateful you are helping them to focus by being calm and focused yourself.” 
  • “There is no need to feel rushed. We will all keep focusing on our own work so everyone can reach their goals.”


Classroom whiteboard with "Our Quiet Morning Routine" steps for students to follow projected on the board.

When our timer rings, students tuck their work away and briefly pause their focus on math so we can have our morning meeting. After morning meeting, Math Workshop begins. During our workshop time, I have noticed a dramatic improvement in student understanding of new concepts that build on the skills practiced in their Number of the Day Binder.

INTRODUCING THE MORNING ROUTINE TO ENSURE STUDENT INDEPENDENCE

If you are thinking this Number of the Day Binder deal sounds like it may work for you, here are a few tips for establishing a strong foundation that truly supports student independence.

PREP YOUR STUDENT BINDERS

During your back-to-school prep, plan to assemble one Number of the Day Binder for each student. Print the binder pages double-sided and slide them into plastic page protectors before adding them to ½-inch binders. Add a cover page to each binder so each student can add their name and decorate. This makes it easier to return misplaced binders to their owners throughout the year. 

Although any whiteboard marker or Vis-a-Vis pen will do the trick, I highly recommend thin black dry erase markers because they don’t smudge like other colors do and make it easier for you to quickly check student work.

Three binders with spines that read "Daily Math Practice Binder". Succulent plant and whiteboard markers in the background.


Here are the exact supplies I use to prep my binders:
Using thin tip expo whiteboard markers makes it easy for students to record and erase the answers in their reusable binder.
DECIDE HOW YOU WILL DISPLAY YOUR NUMBER EACH DAY

Will you write your number on the whiteboard? Display it using your projector? Have a flip book filled with numbers? There is no wrong way to display your Number of the Day. Consistency is key. Whatever you decide, stick to it so your students know what to expect each day.

Also consider what will be easiest for you. Do you plan to set aside a moment before school or at recess when you can display the number before students walk into the classroom? If so, perhaps the projector approach is your best option. Worried you may be walking through the door for the first time with your students each morning? In that case, it’s probably best to have a display your student helper can change during tidy-up time the day before, like a flip deck.

TEACHING STUDENTS HOW TO COMPLETE EACH ACTIVITY

Once you’ve decided which activities you want to add to your Number of the Day Binder, create a schedule for when you want to introduce each binder page.

Introducing each page through a mini-lesson works well. First, have students watch and listen as you work through the page with a sample number. Then, display a new number and work through the page together, with yours on display and theirs on their lap or desk. The following day, you can decide if another guided practice session is needed or if you will walk the room as students work through their page independently. Follow this with a mini-lesson for the next new page in the binder.

Using modeling to teach each number of the day binder page to your class.

This is also the ideal time to introduce students to the list where they can add their name if they are struggling to understand a page. This will allow you to organize small group instruction as needed and keep a nice flow to your schedule for introducing the binder pages.

READY TO IMPLEMENT THIS ROUTINE IN YOUR CLASSROOM?

I am relieved to be heading into this back-to-school season with the confidence that my students will start each morning with a consistent, rigorous spiral review routine we can all rely on. Gone are the days of wondering if this will be the morning when a student will be totally turned off to learning because his review page is too confusing or if it will take 30 minutes to collect homework because of all the questions students have about how to answer question number 8 on their worksheet.

If you are interested in bringing a consistent, rigorous spiral review routine to your classroom, then I recommend these resources for a smooth transition into the Number of the Day routine I’ve described here.

THE NUMBER OF THE DAY BINDER PROGRAM

Unlike the Number of the Day printables you may have used in the past, these cohesive binders are filled with activities that require more advanced problem solving and reasoning skills. You will also save time and paper all year long with the reusable format. You can purchase each binder individually or maximize your differentiation by bundling all the binders that meet your needs. 

WANT TO GIVE NUMBER OF THE DAY BINDERS A TEST DRIVE FIRST?

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not Number of the Day Binders are a good fit for your classroom, my free sample is for you. Complete the form below and I will send you two sample pages from each grade level (2nd, 3rd, and 4th) to test drive with your students.

I hope you enjoy using this routine to make the most of every instructional minute so you have the time and energy it takes to progress through new content while incorporating spiral review into your classroom schedule. If you have any questions or thoughts about this routine, please comment below.

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45 Responses

  1. I love so much about your classroom and your organisation. Could you tell me where you got your binders from for the daily math worksheets? Thank you

    1. Hi Craig, thank you for reaching out. I use 1 inch binders (1/2 inch also works). I purchased mine from a warehouse store called Costco this year, but they are the same as these found on Amazon. The pages that fill the binder are available in my TPT store here.

  2. Are your students redoing the same pages each morning, with the exception of the new pages you add every now and then after an introductory or refresher mini lesson?

  3. I teach both 3rd and 4th graders. I would love to use something like this for my 4th graders, any ideas?

    1. Hi Denise,
      I have had several requests for a fourth grade binder and have added it to my project list for this summer. Are there any particular skills that would be especially helpful to include?
      Laura

      1. There are so many…Multiply/divide larger digits, especially using models like partial products/quotients or area models. Add/subtract fractions, multiply fractions by a whole number, comparing fractions with different denominators, changing improper fractions into mixed numbers. Changing fractions into a decimal. Thanks so much for listening. I really look forward to using your TpT product in the fall

  4. These look awesome! I have been looking for something to start of my math block and stumbled upon your site. Question: Do you look over the binders later in the day or just when you are walking around to observe? Then when do they erase their work to be prepared for the next number?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Wendy, thank you for commenting. I only check binder work as I walk around the room in the morning. Each day, we start with a new number, but that number is used for every page in the binder that day. Therefore, as soon as students have completed a page, they can erase and move on to the next. I hope that helps to clarify. 🙂

  5. I’m considering using this for a warm up for my fourth graders, but how many pages are students expected to complete in the warm-up time of 10-15 minutes? Do you give them all pages at once and let them pace themselves? Or would you start off with 2 pages front and back? Could this also be used as a math center? I prefer to check their work for accuracy to make sure that this is meaningful and not something they rush through to finish.

    1. Hi Erica! During the warm up time, student have all the page available and work through as many as they can. Throughout the year, we change the order of the pages to bring more variety to slower workers. This could certainly be used as a math center. In that case, you would need to create a key for the number you are using each day so students are able to check their work.

  6. Laura,
    I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog and organizational insights. I’ve used many morning spiral materials, but really like your Number of the Day. Are you aware of anything similar for 4th, 5th grade? Thank you

  7. I am so excited to implement all your math workshop pieces into my program this year! One question though, are you following your district math format for the number of the day? Or do you personally choose the numbers? I use Saxon and they have numbers for each day. Just wondering….

  8. These look wonderful! I have been looking for something to start of my math block. First thing in my day is not Math, but I think is a great activity to do at the beginning of the day.
    Thank You! You have a great organization.

  9. Hi
    I noticed the picture of the binder up top has a ‘math superpower’ listed on it. Could you please elaborate/explain this?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Aggie, thanks for reaching out. 🙂 Their “math superpower” is something they feel most confident with/proud of when it comes to their math work. It’s an opportunity for the students to share their strengths.
      Warmly,
      Laura

  10. Hi Laura,
    I love your Number of the Day binders! I will be using them next fall for sure! Can I ask you where (and maybe when) you got the sky-blue binder in your photos and video demo?
    Be well,
    Pam

  11. I bought your bundle and am excited to use it. However, I am wondering how do you make sure all kids are accountable? I have a few kids that do not like to do hard things. I would have a few pretending to work, but not actually doing anything. Any suggestions.

    1. Hi Glenda,
      Thank you for reaching out. 🙂 This year, I added a new layer to the routine to boost accountability for the same reasons you mentioned. Now I only have students complete four pages each morning (depending on our current unit of study and the time of year). After they complete their pages, they silently tap their head to signal their work is complete. I quickly visit each student and have them show me their work. If it’s all correct, they tuck it away…if I see a mistake, they try again. I thought it would be challenging/tedious at first checking four pages per student, but it is amazingly quick and manageable. I am seeing even higher math understanding from my students this year as a result. 🙂
      Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
      Warmly,
      Laura

      1. Hello, and thank you for this wonderful resource! I like the idea of doing four pages, but how do you decide which ones to use? Are some on old material and some on the current unit? How often do you change them out? Or are all the pages in the students’ binders and you tell them what pages to complete? Are they differentiated by student? Best, Zoe

        1. Hi Zoe,
          Thank you for reaching out. 🙂 Yes I do a couple review pages (old material) and a couple pages from our current unit. I introduce new pages every few weeks, but they have all the pages in the their binder from the get-go….as I’m typing this I realize I could save a ton on page protectors if I just had them switching out the actual pages. 🙂 I do like to differentiate by student as needed.
          Warmly,
          Laura

  12. What else do they keep in their Number of the Day binders or is it just these NOTD pages? Also, what kind of page protectors do you recommend using? Since I know some are better with expo markers than others… Thanks 🙂

  13. Hello! I am new to your blog and I am LOVING everything about it! I have been looking for an independent morning work activity to do as the kids arrive at school. and this so perfect for my classroom. I do have a few questions about the binders: How often do you change out the sheets? Do you think this would work as a morning work activity and then stop and continue during math block? It is a few hours between the two. I am looking to change how I teach math, but our curriculum is fast and has little room for adjustments, but the students are struggling. It is hard to figure out what to do! Thanks again for all your amazing resources! Keep up the wonderful and inspiring work!

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      Thank you for reaching out. So happy to hear you are considering using the number of the day binders for morning work. I absolutely love them. 🙂 For the last couple years, I have switched out the sheets half way through the year (we begin the year with binder #1, and switch to binder #2 in January). Some students have different sheets in their binder at different times of the year based on their different needs. For example, some of my beginning of year third graders need a couple second grade binder pages because they need some touch up on second grade skills. I definitely think it would work to split the time you work on the binder. Another thing to consider is having your student complete only a few pages each day. This is what I do with my students. When they enter the room each morning, they are asked to complete four pages, and have me check them before tucking their binder away. Then we have our morning meeting, then we begin math workshop. 🙂 I hope this helps.
      Warmly,
      Laura

  14. Hi Laura!
    I was just wondering what program you use to project the number of the day? Also, do you differentiate the number for struggling students?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Leah,
      These days, I write the number on the board, but I used to use powerpoint to project it. I have differentiated the number for student in the past, but I prefer to have them work with the same number and reduce the number of pages they complete. 🙂
      Warmly,
      Laura

  15. Do you have examples of filled out pages for all the levels somewhere? Is it on TPT if you purchase? I just purchased and I’m new to 4th grade, so I want to make sure I’m capturing the same expectations for filling it out (not expecting too much or too little based on my experience in past grade levels). Thanks!

    1. Hi Helen ,
      Thank you for reaching out. 🙂 I just uploaded the sample pages to the fourth grade resource…for some reason I forgot to included them in my original upload. If you visit your “my purchases” page, you can download your update.
      Cheers!
      Laura

  16. Hi, this might be a silly question, but are you using the grade level that you’re currently teaching for your students, or are you using the previous grade level? I’m moving to third grade this year, so I am planning on using the third-grade folders, right?

    1. Hi Jeff, not a silly question at all. Yes, I use the current grade level. So, if I’m teaching third, I use the third grade binders.

  17. Hi There – I love so many of your products. I wondered if there was someplace I could find your morning routine slide and the number of the day slide? The font and pictures are so cute!

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thank you for reaching out. 🙂 I don’t currently have a resource specifically for the morning messages I use – I typically write them the morning before the school day begins based on the unique needs of my class that year. The slides I use are part of my Transition Management Slides resource. The fonts I use are KG Shake It Off for the headings and KG Miss Kindergarten for the body text. Both fonts are available to download for free on TPT. 🙂
      Warmly,
      Laura Santos

  18. Hello,
    Do you have your Morning Messages to share? I love the layout and fonts you used for your “Quiet Morning Routine.”

    I bought the bundle and love that you included Introductions of how to Introduce the binder and Number of the Day! Thank you!!

    1. Hi MaryKate,
      Thank you for reaching out and for so kindly supporting my TPT shop. 🙂 I don’t currently have a resource specifically for the morning messages I use – I typically write them the morning before the school day begins based on the unique needs of my class that year. The slides I use are part of my Transition Management Slides resource. The fonts I use are KG Shake It Off for the headings and KG Miss Kindergarten for the body text. Both fonts are available to download for free on TPT. 🙂
      Warmly,
      Laura Santos

I’m Laura Santos

I’ve been an elementary teacher for ten years, and love sharing tips and resources that make differentiated learning more manageable for you. Thank you for visiting.

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