Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seven Tips for Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

In our school, 4th grade is the first year that our students exchange classes.  Many students are nervous about this new experience.  To help students transition, my colleagues and I work very closely together to establish routines, and make this new experience of exchanging classes a positive experience for our students.

Here are 7 tips for departmentalizing in upper elementary that we have found helpful.

1.  Establish routines with exchanging classes.  Work closely with your co-teachers and establish consistent expectations of  hall behavior, exchanging classes, lining up, etc.  If students know that all teachers have the same expectations, exchanging class will go very smoothly.
2.  Line up to exchange classes.  Although middle school and high school have bells to exchange classes and students simply leave at the bell, our students are taught to line up on our signals.  They line up and stand in the hall to wait to enter the next classroom.  We (teachers) have become very good at watching the clock to exchange class on time, limiting the wait time for students.  By having students line up together, we can teach students a routine, teach them how to exchange quietly and quickly.
3.  Limit materials that students must take from classroom to classroom.  Have as many materials in the classroom as possible so students do not have to remember too many items.  We keep a set of textbooks in our classroom for all students to use so that they do not have to bring textbooks to class.  Materials such as composition notebooks and workbooks stay in the classroom and are passed out as needed.  In our situation, students only need to bring three things: a folder (for homework and loose paper), pencil pouch (containing crayons, scissors, and pencils), and a book to read.  Make it simple for students to remember.
4.  When it is time to exchange, name everything that your students need.  Say something like, "Gather your pencil pouch, folder, and book to read."  Just reminding students can be a huge help. 
5.  Allow one or two weeks for students to get used to the new routine.  It may not be perfect on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd day of school, but in one or two weeks, exchanging will become routine for you and your students.
6.  Work closely with your co-teachers to help students know their homework assignments.  Part of our daily afternoon routine is to write homework in our homework journals.  My colleagues and I email one another to let each other know homework assignments and tests days so that we can write it on our homework board and help all students write assignments in their homework journals.  By working so closely together, we enable our students to understand our expectations and the importance of studying and preparing for tests, completing homework assignments, etc. 
7.  Be positive.  Let students know from day one, the positives of being departmentalized. Build an excitement for exchanging by telling your students what your students in the past have loved about being departmentalized.   Some things that my students love about being departmentalized include that the day goes by very quickly and  they love having a different teacher for each subject.
While departmentalization in upper elementary may not be the perfect situation for every school, I absolutely can't imagine teaching any other way.  Definitely, the key to our success has been my wonderful co-workers!  They are truly fabulous! 
Have a blessed day!


  1. I completely agree! My school levels for reading & math and my grade level compartmentalizes for social studies, science and health. I love it but those transitions can kill you if even one person doesn't follow through!
    Simple Insights

    1. Yes, consistency is the key in transitions! Thanks for visiting!