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Morning Work for Elementary Students: A More Meaningful Alternative for 2022

If you are a teacher looking for meaningful and purposeful morning work for elementary students, then you’ve found the right place!

Like many aspects of my quest for mastering classroom management, “morning work” was a process of trial and error. When I think back, I feel embarrassed that it took me so long to find such a simple, yet highly effective solution. Spoiler alert: the simple solution is independent reading. I’ll share below why it’s such a powerful way to start your school day and tips for how to implement it in your elementary classroom.

Are you looking for alternatives to elementary morning work, bellwork, or bellringers? Try out these fun, hands on, no prep, paperless, meaningful, and engaging classroom management procedures, strategies, tip and routines from the Clutter Free Classroom.  

Why Traditional Morning Work Doesn’t Work

If I was asked to name the time of day when the students are the least settled. It’s a no-brainer! The most chatty and the least focused it would be a close tie between “first thing in the morning” and “right after lunch/recess.”

Post-specialists would be a runner-up. 

The irony of this is that it is during the “first thing in the morning” time frame that you have the most things to do in a short amount of time and can’t devote your undivided attention to the wee ones before you. You need to check homework, take attendance and lunch count, check for notes, and much more. On a side note, check out this lunch order display if you need support in streamlining your lunch count in the morning.

In the morning, your students are excited. It’s been about 18 hours since they have seen you and their classmates and a lot happens during that time. They have breaking news to share. Maybe they saw a bunny on the way to school. Perhaps a tooth fell out or a cat did some funny trick. Maybe they ate chicken for dinner and can’t wait to share that earth-shattering fact with others.

Journal Writing Morning Work

Early in my career, I thought the best thing to do would be to channel those thoughts into journal writing.

Epic fail.

Are you looking for alternatives to elementary morning work, bellwork, or bellringers? Try out these fun, hands on, no prep, paperless, meaningful, and engaging classroom management procedures, strategies, tip and routines from the Clutter Free Classroom.

Doing journal writing as morning work in my classroom was not successful. My students worked at different paces. Some moved quick. Others appeared to lack a pulse. Many felt stressed. Several had chronic cases of, “I don’t have anything to write about.” In a nutshell, it was too open-ended. Moving journal and prompt-response writing to a different time of day magically made it a productive and purposeful activity. If you are interested in learning how I transformed my students into confident, capable writers, head on over to this post about how to motivate and engage reluctant writers.

Bell Work Morning Work

After I reflected on the journal writing morning work failure, I moved on to what is traditionally known as “bell work.”

You know… unfinished work, morning jumpstarts, mad minutes, insert any other type of busy work known to man here.

Again, it was a flop.

This is because they lacked the independence to follow the directions or legitimately needed assistance. But, I couldn’t provide them with assistance because I was taking attendance and checking their daily communication folders, which is why they were doing said task to begin with. Plus it felt meaningless. If you are interested, check out this taking attendance resource and daily communication folder resource!

Handwriting Morning Work

So then I tried handwriting. Once upon a pre-Common Core time, cursive was taught in third grade and it seemed like a good task to start the day with.

But some were masters of upswings and downcurves while simultaneously chatting the ear off the peers at their table.

Independent Reading Morning Work

Alas, I started using the Daily 5 in my classroom. Well, the Daily 5 with my own twists, but the same concept. And I needed to fit in a block of time for “independent reading.”

And just like that it all clicked. I was left scratching my head and thinking, “Why did it take me so long to do something so easy?”

We always start the day with a morning song. It is used to get them settled. When it ends they are expected to be at their seats and reading silently.

It’s that simple!

Are you looking for alternatives to elementary morning work, bellwork, or bellringers? Try out these fun, hands on, no prep, paperless, meaningful, and engaging classroom management procedures, strategies, tip and routines from the Clutter Free Classroom.

Why Should Elementary Students Start the Day with Reading?

I’ve found this to be the best way to start the day because:

  • Everyone can do it. Even wee little non-readers can “read the pictures.”
  • The expectation is silence so it’s easy to keep everyone on track. Plus you can’t read and talk so it’s a no-brainer.
  • If someone comes in late, they can hop right in.
  • It provides a quiet environment that allows the teacher to focus their attention on taking attendance
  • It calms the room and gets them ready to focus on learning.

Because this is counted as their 20 minutes of independent reading, I let it go on for that long. This allows me time to do a couple of running records or 1:1 reading conferences each day as well. Win-win! This also provides a nice buffer for tardy students. If you are interested, check out this managing tardy students resource.

Many students opted to record their thinking in their interactive bookmarks, but it was not required at this time of day.

As the 20 minutes was ending, I would distribute their math spiral review activities for a super-quick correcting session/mini-lesson lesson and we would then transition into our guided math workshop instruction.

5 Tips for Using Independent Reading as Morning Work

Here are tips for using independent reading as morning work:

  • To execute your morning routine, I highly recommend teaching and modeling the expectations as part of your classroom procedures and routines and reviewing them often.
  • Specifically model what students should and shouldn’t look like during independent reading.
  • Reteach the expectations as needed throughout the year.
  • Consider starting the day with a morning song. It’s a great way to help them settle into the day. Set the expectation that when it ends they need to be at their seats and reading silently.
  • Decide ahead of time where you would like students to read. Determine if they need to be at their desks or tables or if they can choose a spot in the room.

Do you need more helpful tips and ideas on how to effectively manage your classroom? Be sure to check out my Classroom Management Bundle. That bundle includes an eBook with tons of tips and ideas for all aspects of classroom management, an editable teacher workbook to guide you to planning out how you will effectively manage your classroom and 30 printable resources including the ones mentioned below.

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