The Top 20 Transition Activities for Elementary Students

What are Transition Activities?

Transition time is the (typically) unstructured period between tasks or activities when your students move around freely without direction – for example, going to (or coming back from) recess, lining up for lunch, or preparing for home. As many teachers will know, unstructured time can often lead to excess fidgeting, general unrest, and sometimes even flat-out chaos (yes, we’ve been there). That’s where transition activities and games come in – to fill the time and maintain order.

Why are Transition Activities important?

Having transition activities and games for elementary students in your arsenal is a pretty important facet of classroom management. We’re sure you can agree that you’ve often wasted valuable learning time trying to crowd-control your class during transition periods to get them centered and focused for the next activity. It happens to every teacher at some point, so it’s not a reflection of something you’re doing wrong. Instead, having transition activities for elementary students ready and waiting up your sleeve is just another one of the (many!) things you’re doing right!

Transitions? Our top tips! 

Before we run down our (totally terrific) list of the top 20 Transition Activities for Elementary Students, we’ve got a couple of tips and tricks we’ve gained over the years, working in the classroom ourselves. Hitting the spot with transition activities can be a delicate balancing act – so we’re here to give you some sage advice.

  1. Keep it consistent – At first, you might be excited to test out many of these activities and throw them at your learners. That’s fine – after all, you’re not going to know what works without testing it out. But our advice is to start slow, build a core group of activities that works for you, and stick to it. Elementary-level kids can easily get bored and restless trying new things too often, which can sometimes be counterproductive. This is especially true if your kids don’t quite understand the activity yet – meaning that you can waste more time explaining things. As with most things in an elementary-level classroom, routine is key.
  1. Don’t let it get stale – This tip might contradict the prior one, but they’re both true – such is the experience of teaching elementary-age kids – you just never know exactly what you’ll get! Don’t worry too much; we’re not suddenly reversing what we said in the last tip – having a core group of activities is the way forward. But every once in a while, it’s good to throw something new into the mix to keep kids engaged. Perhaps you could rotate one of the more fun games we have in store every Friday?
  1. Not all time needs to be structured – The natural reaction might be to have transition activities for every single period in the day. But that’s something we advise against. Effective classroom management knows when to step back and let children learn the error of their ways. If every transition period is structured down to the second, kids will struggle to make their own choices (and learn from their mistakes) at every other opportunity without your guidance. So perhaps pick the busiest (and most disruptive) transition periods in your day to implement one of these activities or games. We typically find that recess and getting ready for home are the busiest for us!
  1. Teach consequences – Even the best transition activities sometimes don’t work. Children are unpredictable by nature, and some days, nothing feels like it’s working. But, again, this is no reflection of you – but how things go. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a handle on it. Teaching your kids that their actions have consequences is vital to their development. So, if your class doesn’t follow your transition activity, sanction their time, such as taking a couple of minutes away from their recess. Children quickly learn the value of time when missing out on something they enjoy!
  1. Prepare – You may have children in your class with additional needs, so you must factor these children into your transition activities. They may find it more difficult to process the need to move quickly between tasks, but with a little planning, you can make this easier. If you’re lucky enough to have a classroom assistant, place them near the children who may need the additional support, ready to help. If you don’t, give the children who may need extra support a warning and give them a helping hand if necessary.

Top 20 Transition Activities for Elementary Students!

  1. Sing Songs!

One of the best transition activities for elementary students (and probably one you remember doing as a student yourself) is to sing songs together. Nursery rhymes, counting songs, pop music – you name it. The attention your children will place on singing along to your chosen song usually distracts them from anything else and centers their focus right back on you.

  1. 10, 9, 8…

One trusty method we recommend for transition time is to give your kids fair warning. Once you begin to count back from ten, they know they have ten seconds to get to where they need to be – be that lining up for recess, or sitting ready to learn. By the time you hit zero, quiet is expected.

  1. Movement Madness

A super fun transition game for elementary students is to set a movement challenge. For instance – you might ask everyone to hop to the line when collecting the children from recess or maybe ask them to spin around several times in the bar. This is great for draining excess energy in your students while focusing them on a shared goal.

  1. Sense Siren

One of the best transition activities for elementary students – particularly older ones – is to use their senses to know it’s time to move on to their next task. Some teachers use smells, such as essential oils. Others use a simple sound, such as the single bell chime. As your students get older, transitions can become simpler and calmer.

  1. The Quietest Crowd

Many classrooms divide their students into groups to make things easier – you might have groups named after colors or animals, for example. Having these groups can make transition time easier – not only can you move your students around in smaller, controlled groups, but you can make a challenge of it. For example, the quietest group of children to line up will receive a special treat or prize – the element of healthy competition will make transitions a breeze!

  1. Place and Order

Distraction is a key element of transition activities for elementary students – giving your students something to focus on to avoid them getting restless. One such technique is to challenge your students – for example, order yourselves in height from shortest to tallest as quickly as possible. Or, line up in order of birthday months. This activity will boost teamwork skills while focusing your class on a shared goal, leaving them too busy to be disruptive.

  1. Tip-Toe Challenge

One of our super fun transition games for elementary students is the Tip-Toe Challenge. In this game, your students will be tasked with tip-toeing to the line to get ready to go home or for a recess (for instance). Most importantly, they must not make a sound the entire way, or it’s time to go back and start again! We don’t want to be late for recess, now do we?!

  1. Mirror my Movements

One of the simplest transition activities for elementary students is to have your class mirror your movements. Wiggle your fingers, wrinkle your nose, shake your hips – there are no set rules! The idea is that your students are focused on their gross motor movement, meaning that they have little time to get distracted or chatter.

  1. Transition Magician

A super fun transition game for elementary students is what we’re calling “Transition Magician.” Kids can put their hands into a box and pick out an object in this game. We recommend 2D shapes or items that are primary colors. Then, you’ll say that the children who picked a circle (for example) can line up for recess or home time. This will enhance shape and color recognition in your youngest students while laser-focusing your transition time.

  1. Active Listening

To enhance active listening skills, the following technique is one of our most useful transition activities for elementary students. This activity works best when you must line up to leave the classroom – such as for recess or a school assembly. You will give a prompt, such as “Line up if you’re wearing a sweater,” and the children It’ll take some super listening skills for your students to identify themselves – as the prompts can be as specific as you wish, such as “line up if you’re wearing a red bow in your hair.”

  1. Name Game

We have this “Name Game” activity for more active listening techniques. Your elementary students will need to sit and wait to transition into this activity. You will have a bowl full of their names – when you draw a word, that student may line up. This allows you to control the transition time and avoid too much distraction with a stampede of students.

  1. Shake it Off

To make transitions between tasks easier, it’s sometimes helpful to allow your students to move. Give them 30 seconds on a timer to “Shake it Off” and get all their excess energy out. In whatever way they choose, that is fine – but once the 30 seconds are up, everyone needs to calm themselves down and prepare for the next task.

  1. Quick Clean!

So the classroom is chaotic, and you’ve got limited time to fix the area before your next task. Don’t default to letting the adults take over and tidy – set your students a challenge for their transition game. Can they clean the classroom up in a minute or less? Direct your students to different areas to ensure the entire room is covered, and let’s get cleaning!

  1. Move Your Body

A fun transition activity for elementary students is to see their gross motor skills in action. If you’re walking to lunch or leaving the classroom for recess (for example), why not mix it up by having everyone move the same way? You could all make lunges to the cafeteria or skip together. But no noise, please! Your students should be so busy focusing on gross motor movement the only thing you might hear is a gaggle of giggles!

  1. Brain Break

Another transition we love is to have a minute or two for a brain break. You can check out awesome sites like GoNoodle with fun activities and dances for your kids based on the curriculum. If you’re killing time while waiting for the recess bell to ring (for example) and you’ve got tons to do, have your classroom assistant put on a video, so you can prepare for what’s next.

  1. Simon Says

A classic transition game for elementary students is to play Simon Says (and if by chance you have a Simon in your class (which is awesome, by the way) – change the name!). It’ll take some keen listening skills from your students to follow your directions – or should that be Simon! And for additional benefits, the boost your kids’ gross motor skills will get is a bonus.

  1. Ticktock Timer!

For a handy visual aid to teach your students the importance of good timekeeping skills, you can put a visual timer on your interactive class whiteboard. This transition activity will give your elementary students a certain amount of time (longer for younger students, shorter for older ones) to have their work spaces tidied away and be ready to transition into the next task, whatever that may be.

  1. I Spy

I Spy is a fun game to play at any point. But you can make it into a fun transition activity. For example, when you say, “I Spy,” your students need to respond with, “What do you spy?”. Then you can describe something and see if they can point it out. And you could always implement this into cleaning your classroom – if you spy something that needs to be put away, be sure to let your learners know – they’ll be racing each other to put it away first!

  1. Role-Model Line Monitors

This transition activity isn’t quite “divide and conquer,” but the premise is effectively the same. Look out for children trying extra hard to do the right thing, and make sure you let everyone know that you’re picking them as the front, middle, and back-of-the-line monitors for transition time. Emphasize that other children must follow their example if they want the next role. Trust us – you’ll be surprised how quickly that has your children ship-shape! A little healthy competition never hurts anyone, right?

  1. The Sleeping Dragon

And finally, we couldn’t round out this list without one of our favorite transition games for elementary students. We’ve often played this super-fun game at home – as we know all too well that it can be a chaotic and noisy experience. But this game turns that into fun and will help your kids transition smoothly. You, as the teacher, play the role of the sleeping dragon with your eyes closed at the front of the classroom. Your classroom assistant will tap each child on the shoulder – one by one; everyone in the class needs to collect their belongings in total silence because if they make a sound, they’ll wake the sleeping dragon. One dragon-sized roar from you, and they’ve lost the game! This creates a fun team activity and will guarantee no fuss in collecting coats and bags.

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