Amanda Koonlaba | May 2019

Two Transition Strategies that also Build Listening Skills

I talk about classroom management a lot. I am super passionate about it because I know it can make or break the overall teaching and learning experience.

Another reason I talk about the topic so often is that I really had to learn the hard way and over an extended period of time that even the simplest classroom management hacks can make a huge difference in the classroom environment. I don’t want any other teacher to experience classroom management as an overall hardship. Or as a barrier to using the arts in their instruction.

Transitions Can Be Tricky

A school of thought and body of research exists to support an ecological perspective on classroom management. This perspective relates classroom management to the creation of activities that focus attention on the class as a group.

As teachers, we know the individual student is important. But we also know there are times when we need the entire group to participate in an experience. Transitions are those times when we need groups of students to do something seamlessly and without a fuss.

Tried and True Transition Strategies

As an art teacher, I was responsible for helping students transition from my classroom to their regular classroom at the end of each art class period. I always aimed to hand over a class that was ready to learn to their regular teacher after art class. Of course, I expected my classes to exhibit exceptional behavior when they were in my classroom, but the few minutes of transition from my classroom to another classroom also required my strategic planning.

Here are my two favorite strategies for transitions. Now, for the purposes of this article, transitions will refer to transitioning from one class to another or traveling as a group around the school. My examples will be specific to those experiences. However, these ideas can also work for other transitional times such as moving between centers.

So, the good news is I’ve tried these, used them repeatedly, and can attest that they work.

Working Out with Listening

This strategy actually accomplishes two goals. Obviously, the first goal is it helps with smooth transitions. The second goal is that it helps students develop stronger listening skills.

This is a book published by Super Duper Inc. that has short lessons for students to complete where they have to listen and respond. My favorite sets of activities in the book require the students to listen to a series of numbers or words and repeat them back in their exact order.

I know that may seem way too easy, but trust me. As soon as you hit the two digit number activities, you will see just how hard it is for a lot of students to listen and remember. I particularly noticed students would hear, remember, and be able to repeat the beginning of the sets but not the endings. Think about the implications of this on following multi-step directions.

So how did I use these activities as a classroom management strategy for transitions? I would keep the book beside my exit door. If for some reason a classroom teacher was running late and the class had already lined up to exit, I could access it easily and focus their attention on those activities. Every age and grade level I’ve ever tried this with has enjoyed it. (Even my fifth graders who always seemed to go through a “too cool for school” phase around March of each school year!)

I recommend putting energy and excitement into your reading of the activities too. That makes it fun for the teacher as well. If I noticed the students were doing well with the harder activities, I would mix it up a bit by changing pitch for each word and having them match it. I also added motions that corresponded with each word. That’s just a differentiation trick I used when students really started to master the listening skills.

Finally, the activities in this book, especially the ones where they listen and repeat sequences, are appropriate for walking from room to room. You can whisper the teacher part and have the students match your whisper as you walk. So, again, this is a great book to keep beside your door so you can grab it if you need it at the end of class and even carry it with you if you need to travel with the group.

Mbira and Humming

Along the same lines of having students match pitches and intensity as they listen and repeat sequences of words, you can use a small instrument called a Mbira (also known as a Kalimba) to produce sounds as you are waiting with students or having them travel.

A Mbira is a small, light-weight, inexpensive instrument made of wood. It consists of a series of metal tines that can be plucked to produce tones.

This is something else that I left by my door for easy access. I would pluck a series of tones and have the students hum them back to me. Just like Working Out with Listening, it works well when you are having to wait as a class, but it is also appropriate to carry as you travel.

I think this strategy has almost the same impact as having students listen and repeat the clapping of rhythms, but it is much quieter. That is important especially when you are traveling around your school and passing by the doors of other classrooms.

Things to Remember

There are a few things to remember should you decide to try either of these strategies.

  • If you need your students to clean up during a transition or otherwise focus on a task, these two strategies won’t be appropriate. It would be difficult for them to be straightening up their tables while also listening and repeating.
  • If you are traveling as a group with your students, make sure to set the expectation that they will whisper so that other students and classrooms aren’t disturbed.
  • These two activities are great for maximizing instructional time. Literally, zero seconds are wasted if you use transitional time for activities like these. So, if someone asks you what in the world you are doing (and they just might), tell them you are helping your students remain focused through a transition and building their listening skills at the same time.
  • Both of these resources, the book, and the instrument can be purchased for less than $30. Ask your principal if that tiny amount is available anywhere in the school budget. Be sure to explain to them why you need it. Use this article as a reference.

I’m excited for you to try these two strategies. Let me know how it goes. Do you have other strategies that are great for transitions and teaching listening skills? Share with us so we can grow our strategy toolboxes!


5 Classroom Management Hacks for the New Year

Effective Classroom Management in the Real World

Classroom Management: what does research tell us?  (Page 395)

Working Out with Listening

About the Author

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed. S. is an educator and educational consultant with over 12 years of experience teaching both visual art and regular education. Her career has been driven by the power of the arts to reach all learners. She is a published author and frequent speaker/presenter at education conferences. Amanda was named the Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi in 2016 and received the Arts Integration Service Award from the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative (Mississippi Arts Commission) in 2015. She holds an Elementary and Middle Childhood Art certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, Amanda is on a mission to ensure every student in America has access to a high-quality arts-based education. She blogs at