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8 Best Morning Work Ideas and Routines for the Classroom

Mornings in the classroom can be pretty crazy, right? Many kids will be coming in from breakfast, others are amped up about seeing their friends, and then you have some students rolling in late.

While all of this is going on, you're trying to take attendance and lunch count, collect homework, and sort through folders. Talk about hectic!

But don't let morning arrival derail your day even before the train leaves the station. There's a better way!

The Importance of a Morning Work Routine

The best way to make sure you and your students start each day on the right foot is to develop a consistent routine in the morning. That means your students have a specific task to do when they enter the classroom every single day.

Whatever task you choose, it should be something students can complete independently.

There are a few important reasons for this:

  1. It gives students time to transition and get into the right mindset for learning.

  2. It allows you, the teacher, to do all of the classroom management tasks that take place in the morning.

  3. It's a great way to sneak in some extra learning during a time that is often wasted.

What Is An Effective Classroom Morning Routine?

Younger children typically enjoy structure and predictability. A consistent morning work time lets them know what to expect each day. This is particularly good for students who have a hard time transitioning between home and school.

I really love starting the day with a morning message. This is something you can write on the board or project for the class to see.

Here are some ideas of what to include in your daily message:

  • A greeting

  • A note about any special activities that day

  • Special instructions (such as "Don't forget to turn in your permission slips today.")

  • Morning routine checklist

A checklist really helps students learn the daily routine and keeps them from getting sidetracked. It might look something like this:

  • Make your lunch choice

  • Turn in your homework folder

  • Sit down and begin your morning work

Notice that the last item is "Begin your morning work." It doesn't really matter exactly what morning work activities you choose as long as students understand your expectations and what to do.

morning message in the classroom

Teacher Tip: One thing I recommend, no matter what grade level you teach, is choosing morning tasks that have a learning focus and build academic skills. I suggest avoiding activities that involve a lot of movement first thing in the morning. The objective is to help students settle into the day.

Classroom Morning Work Ideas for the Elementary Classroom

With all of that in mind, here are some of my favorite classroom morning work ideas to kickstart your school day!

Question of The Day

Get your students thinking by posing an interesting question of the day. This can be a simple multiple-choice option or something more open-ended. Either way, it can be a great jumping-off point for journal writing. After answering the question, students can spend the rest of the morning work time writing more in their journal.

For example, your question of the day might be, "How many siblings do you have?" Students can follow up their answer with a journal entry about how it feels to be an only child, what it's like living in a big family, or with a funny story about their siblings.

Your question can simply be written on the board or included in your morning message. Another option is a question of the day pocket chart where students can physically place a card next to their answer:

question of the day morning work activity

Picture of the Day

Writing is a great morning work activity but it can be hard coming up with quality writing prompts all the time. If that's you, a better option might be to display a "picture of the day". This is a very open ended activity that will get your students' creative juices flowing. They get to decide what the picture is about and what it means to them and use that as inspiration for their morning journal writing.

You can use any interesting pictures you find online for this. I keep a file on my desktop where I save any pictures I come across that would make great visual prompts. Things like a crazy roller coaster, a huge wave, a melting ice cream cone, or a winding mountain road can all turn into amazing journal entries.

Brain Teasers and Puzzles

I love using brain teasers as morning work. They are highly engaging and build critical thinking skills. To find activities like this, try searching online for secret code or riddle worksheets that require math or reading skills to solve.

Here is one that I have used every year of teaching third or fourth grade:

math brain teaser worksheet for morning work

To solve this puzzle, students must figure out the pattern before they can determine how many beads are concealed by the box. It doesn't require anything more than skip counting and basic addition, but it's still quite challenging.

⏬ To download a copy of the puzzle, click here or on the image above.

Morning Activity Tubs

Morning tubs or bins are a good option if you teach pre-k or kindergarten. Very young children are not yet reading well enough to complete many paper and pencil tasks independently. Good morning work activities for this age group are tasks that will help them develop fine motor skills. Hands-on activities are perfect for this.

Since you want students to work quietly and independently during your morning work time, it's helpful to have a small bin or tub for each child, or at least one per table.

Here are some ideas for morning tub materials that work well:

  • tracing letters or numbers

  • cutting and gluing with scrap paper

  • forming letters with play-doh

  • small puzzles with large pieces

  • lacing beads onto pipe cleaners

  • pattern block activities

  • building sight words with letter tiles

student putting together a number puzzle for morning work in kindergarten

Independent Reading

There's no such thing as too much reading. The more time kids spend with books, the better readers they will become. A perfect way to fit that extra time into your day is to use independent reading as your morning work. This is also probably the absolute easiest option because it requires no planning.

Students can use this time to shop for new books and just enjoy them without working about answering comprehension questions or analyzing the text. I really love this option for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.

Spiral Review Morning Packets

Morning work packets can be used at any grade level and are the go-to for many teachers. Rather than passing out individual worksheets each day, packets allow you to prep an entire week or month at a time.

Since morning work should be something students can do independently, make sure your packets cover skills students have already learned and need to be reviewed regularly. That is the point of a spiral review system. You might choose morning work that focuses on just reading or just math, but a mix of skills keeps things interesting.

Here is an example of spiral review morning work for second grade:

spiral review morning work worksheet

Calendar Math Routine

Another great option for the primary grades is calendar math. It's fun, interactive, and also full of learning. Calendar math often involves skills like patterning, skip counting, place value, and number sense.

In the beginning of the year, this is something you will have to lead. But by mid year, your students will know the routine and you can assign Calendar Leader as one of your classroom jobs. After students unpack and get settled in, they can all gather together for their calendar time in place of individual morning work.

Unfinished Work

classroom pocket chart with unfinished work

One thing that can be tough to figure out as a teacher is how to get students to complete their unfinished work and missed assignments. It's something we just don't have much time for during the day. A effective way to handle this is to let students get caught up during your morning work time.

I use a large pocket chart to hold unfinished assignments. Students can easily check their pockets to see what they need to do. The kids who don't have any missing work, can spend the time reading instead. So easy!

Now that you have some morning work activity ideas to try, spend a little time planning your procedures for completing them. Some questions to consider:

  • How long will your morning work time last before you start your lessons for the day?

  • Where should students put their finished morning work?

  • Is it something you want to grade or review together in class?

  • Will students need time to clean up or put away materials?

The most important thing is to have a plan and keep it consistent from day to day.

Once you have a good routine in place, I think you'll find that mornings are less stressful and your students will benefit from a positive learning environment that starts right when the bell rings!

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