5 Simple Ways to Save Time in the Classroom All Year Long

As a long-time first-grade teacher, I remember the days of always feeling behind. As teachers, we have a long to-do list and minimal time to complete it. Over the years, one of the best ways I found to save time was by setting myself up for success at the beginning of the year. With just a few simple shifts, you’ll be able to better manage your time, and make things run more smoothly in the classroom. If you’d like to save time (and your sanity) check out these 5 simple ways to save time in the classroom all year long!

Take a Time Audit

This might seem like an extra and unnecessary step, but I assure you it’s not! Before you do anything, it’s so important to think about where most of your time goes. This is helpful because it can give you a better picture of your pain points.

When you’re in the thick of it, it might seem like everything is taking up all your time. But usually, if you sit down and think about it, you’ll be able to identify a few things that are the major time-suckers! Here are some common ones:

  • looking for lessons, materials, or supplies
  • lesson planning
  • “trying to find homework activities that align with your lessons
  • finding homework that aligns with your lessons
  • prepping center materials
  • trying to find the “perfect” classroom schedule

One other area to look for during your time audit is the amount of time you spend talking or collaborating with other teachers. This can become one of the biggest time suckers outside of class time. After all, it’s much more fun to chat about the day than to prep for tomorrow. But, if you are serious about taking back your time, it is definitely an area to look into.

Do you identify with any of these? If so, you’re not alone! These were common issues for me when I was in the classroom. Luckily, I’ve got solutions for you! If any of these are consuming your time, and driving you mad in the process, keep reading to hear what you can do about it.

1. Save Time with a Strategic Classroom Setup

If you’re frustrated by how long it takes you to find what you’re looking for on a daily basis, a strategic classroom setup will be the answer to your problem. There’s nothing more frustrating than digging through a bin of printed worksheets, rifling through your cabinets for center manipulatives, or having students ask you where a specific thing is all.day.long.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution to all of this. Strategic classroom setup and organization for the win! Taking the time to consider how your classroom should flow, how materials should be stored, and how to stay organized will save you SO much time in the long run! If you’re not sure where to start with this, begin by thinking about your daily schedule. Your schedule will often lend a huge helping hand when mapping out an effective classroom setup. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do your kiddos jump straight into work when they get to your room? If so, where do they store their work?
  • How can you facilitate independence with classroom supplies and materials?
  • Is there a well-labeled system in place for your classroom library to help students manage supplies?
  • Is there a communal place for turning in work?
  • Is there a spot where “fast finishers” can grab additional activities?
  • Do you have a spot where you keep your prepped materials for each day?

These are great things to consider when setting up a classroom that fits the needs of you and your students.

My Favorite Tools to Stay Organized

When it comes to addressing those needs, there are a few tried and true tools that I always had in my classroom.

I was a huge fan of using labeled drawer carts for homework collection, morning work distribution, fast-finisher activities, daily lessons, papers to copy, papers to grade, papers to file, and more.

I had tons of these carts in my room that served specific purposes and saved so much time each day. The key is to label them so everyone knows where to find what they need. Trust me, just label them all!

If you’re looking for more specific information on how I set up my own classroom for optimal function, make sure to take a peek at this blog post too. The post discusses choosing classroom decor that serves multiple purposes – another great way to save time all year long!

2. Batch Your Lesson Planning

Are you sitting down to plan your lessons each and every week? If so, I have a great tip for you to save time all year long. Try batching all of your lessons one month at a time. I know this can sound a bit daunting, but once you decide on your daily routine and your lesson framework, all you’ll need to do is “drag and drop” activities to fill each block.

To get started, create a yearly overview. Sit down with your pacing guide and jot down what you’ll cover month by month. Depending on how long you’ve been teaching, you might already know this information like the back of your hand, but it still helps to see it on paper. Once you’ve got that, take a few minutes to fill in special activities, and enrichment lessons you’d like to add to your plan each month. This includes social studies, science projects, crafts, art, field trips, and more.

Once you’ve got a yearly overview, you can break your lessons down into weekly chunks. At the beginning of each month, grab your list and split up those activities to fill the time blocks in your week. Add in your extra lessons, center activity plans, art projects, and any special events. Then on a weekly basis, all you’ll need to do is make any minor tweaks to the plan if you’re ahead (or behind) schedule! This is such a game-changer as a teacher and will save you SO much time in the long run!

3. Save Time with Simplified Homework & Review

This next tip will help make your monthly planning super simple. Simplify weekly homework and review activities. Choosing consistent homework and review activities that hit on all of the math and ELA standards will help to ensure your students are getting the review they need, while also helping lighten the load! I loved to use monthly no-prep printables for homework that used a spiral review of everything we were working on.

The students loved these activities since they always had a seasonal theme to them, and they follow a predictable format. I loved them because they were a print-and-go, no-brainer homework option. I loved that this was something I didn’t even need to think about. But, I knew would cover exactly what we needed to focus on each month. I’d always print these out in bulk at the beginning of the month and have parent helpers assemble them into packets for each week. Then, they were stored in a drawer until it was time to pass out a new packet each week!

Aside from homework, these no-prep printables are great for review activities for your fast finishers too! Just make a few extra copies, and stock them in your extra activities drawer to pull out anytime you’re in need.

The other alternative, if allowed by your school, is to go with a “no homework” policy. Ask students to read 20-30 minutes each day at home. Aside from that, the only work sent home is work that was not finished in class. This “no homework” policy will save you the headache of finding and grading homework. And. . . it is loved by parents too!

4. Use Consistent, Low-Prep Centers All Year Long

Another great way to save time all year long is by using consistent centers each month. I love low-prep centers that require minimal cutting and can be saved for the next year. Simply print them out, laminate pieces as needed, and store them in zipper-top bags in a file system that’s labeled by month. You might have to print a few recording sheets off each month, but other than that, prep once and you’re good to go!

Another great thing about using consistent centers is that students will learn the rules of each game type. They will become familiar with the format, and how to play which helps save you even more time. Since students will recognize familiar games and center activities like BINGO, and task cards, you won’t have to spend a ton of time explaining games.

This also makes them fantastic for when you have a sub in your classroom. If you know you’ll be out, simply leave a bag of centers in your sub tub and choose a couple of star students to be your “Substitute’s Aide”. The kiddos can help explain the rules of these games which makes for a smooth day in the classroom. Not to mention, since these activities are already prepped, you’ll save a ton of time there too!

5. Save Time by Building Routines into Your Day

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to think about your daily routines. Helping your students understand and master the routines at the beginning of the year makes a huge impact throughout the year. If you’re not using a consistent morning work routine yet, you need one!

Our morning routine was always the first one I taught at the beginning of a new school year. I loved that my students knew exactly what was expected of them each day. They jumped right into the routine the moment they walked through the door. They put their things away, grabbed their morning work, and got to it! Morning work routines can give you some time in the morning to work on getting things organized, which is crucial for a smooth day in the classroom!

Aside from saving time with a morning work routine, it’s also a great opportunity to review when you choose morning work aligned with your math and ELA lessons. In my classroom, we used the digital version of our morning work to review as a class after everyone had finished. It’s such a relief to know that every day, your students will be getting the crucial review they need to be successful before your day even really starts!

Pick One Area At A Time to Save Time

I hope these tips were helpful and inspiring to you, teacher-friend! As a final piece of advice, let me caution you to focus on one thing at a time. I know I gave you lots of actionable tips here, but don’t let that overwhelm you. The best way to save time is to choose one tip, master that in your classroom, and then implement some of the others. No matter what you choose, just get started! Hopefully, you found at least one you’d like to try to save time in the classroom and streamline your routines.

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