Lining Up is Hard to Do

Often when teachers pick their students up I say these words, “lining up is the hardest thing we do.”

And it’s true. I dislike lining up at the door because it blocks the entry for others, so we line up several feet back. It’s vague and tricky. Add in the fact that students line up for three weeks in a row and then don’t have to do it again for another 6 weeks and it’s a challenge. Generally speaking, lining up and walking in line are skills most frequently used in school. As adults we need to know the skill, but we don’t often practice it. And I think we might admit that we’re horrible at it.

In my school our students mostly line up in number order. The students know who they stand behind and in front of. Or they should. But they don’t know how much space to leave for a missing person. You’ve seen it before, the line inches closer and closer to the front. They’re like fish straining for the pinch of food you just dropped in the top of the tank.

Throw in grievances like, “I’m the line leader!”

“No, I’M the line leader!!!”

“He’s touching me!”

“Mrs. Green said I’m the line leader today! You were the line leader yesterday!”


I decided to just go ahead and mark up the floor where I want students to line up. I made 32 circles to tape to the floor. Numbers 1-30 (our class sizes run large) and two that say “Line Leader or Caboose.”

This way it doesn’t matter who gets to the line first, they will know where they stand. Everyone will have some semblance of personal space.

(Please, let it be so.)

A friend said, “I like that idea, but my students don’t all have numbers and the ones who do might lead out number 17 first so everyone is a line leader during the year.”

If your students have numbers, then the numbers will work. If the teacher wants to take out #17-25 first and then #1-16, then those kids can just step to the side and head out the door.

If you don’t use numbers as religiously as we do, then this idea can still work. What about putting colored shapes on the floor? 5 green turtles, 5 yellow stars, 5 blue whales, etc. You could match the colors or shapes to a seating chart you might have. Or, just ask students to go stand on a shape. They’ll be spaced out enough and have a sense of where to stand. You might even be able to do this with popular book covers (if you have a decent color printer!). Just print out 5 Dr. Seuss covers, 5 Scaredy Squirrel, 5 Elephant & Piggie, etc. Or color code by printing 5 Yertle the Turtle (green), 5 Green Eggs and Ham (orange), 5 One Fish Two Fish (yellow).

I’m now kind of wishing I had done that and added numbers to the pictures! Maybe next year.

One more strategy before I ask you what your favorite strategies are for lining up! In my previous school it was easier to have students line up out of the way, but near a door. We always did a seated line. There were no numbers, but we often had a line leader. The first student sat down by a post and opened his book to read and then the rest of the line followed as they finished checking out their books. This worked really well. I really dislike not being ready when the classroom teacher arrives to pick up students, but it’s hard if you have to wait for teachers who are running behind schedule. I try to have students lined up at least a minute early.  A seated line makes waiting really easy because they can read and whisper about their book with their neighbors.


What are your strategies for getting students ready to go at the end of class?

August 14, 2013
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  • Reply Annette Mills

    You have hit on a sore spot with me. I hate the fact that grade school teachers make kids line up. Because at the high school, we are supposed to teach “bell to bell.” And also told “do NOT let students line up at your door!” So what has been drilled into them for 9 years (or more) we try to undo. It’s really hard. A great example of classical conditioning ;) I guess, not having to deal with grade school kids, I don’t understand the benefits of lining up. Or, at least stop it in middle school — those kids don’t need to line up, do they?

    August 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm
    • Reply Carolyn


      While I realize that lining up is one of those things that doesn’t translate that far into the future, I didn’t really think about the fact that it would be a detriment to teachers in the future. I do feel that lining up is something we need to do. I think it’s because their teachers are meeting them for those transitions and walking them into the hallway. If I waited until their teacher arrived to have them line up, then my next class has already arrived and is ready to start. Having them lined up a minute early as they finish book checkout allows me to start my next class on time. It’s really a no win situation… you start on time and end a bit early? Or start late and end when the teacher arrives (often late). It’s a challenge when our classes are scheduled with zero transition time. My classes might be 9:15-10:00 and then 10:00-10:45, 10:45-11:30, etc. The students get their transition time because they just walk back to their class. But the teachers do not get any transition time and often have classes overlapping.

      The closest we come to all being in the halls at the same time is when students choose sessions to attend during Career Day and don’t go with their teachers. Maybe we need to do more of these!

      August 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm
  • Reply LovelyMissS

    Hi Carolyn,

    I love the idea of having the spots marked on the floor…if I can figure out where to put these in my room, I will definitely be doing the same thing. I’m like you, I have the class ready to go a few minutes early so that I can set up for the next group. But lining up is such a frustrating task, because I never know who the line leader is, and then number order is always a challenge for some groups, but marking the numbers ahead of time, eliminates that struggle. Then, we might actually get to teach a little longer, because when we say line up, everyone knows where to go.

    Great idea!

    August 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm
  • Reply Amy Penwell

    I have recently just color and shape coded my story area and table seating, and even the computer lab stations, too (I teach kindergarten computers in addition to being the librarian). It makes perfect sense to set up a color coded line-up, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it :) Even if we just use it for a little while to get the school year started, it will be a HUGE help.

    August 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm
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