How to Use Icons to Develop Classroom Routines


To teach kindergarten to be independent in classroom routines takes a lot of effort.

Here is how I used icons to help teach, reinforce, and get kindergartners to be independent with morning and afternoon routines. If you like this concept – you can get icons free to use in your classroom too.

How to Use Icons to Develop Classroom Routines

Let me start by sharing – teaching multi-step routines doesn’t happen overnight.

But it can happen within a short enough time period that it makes the rest of the year run smoothly – that you’ll almost forget how much work it took on the front end.


I’m a big fan of working smart so I don’t mind doing the work during the first 20 days of kindergarten.

Build independence

Getting students to be independent in the morning normally kicks in much quicker for my students than our getting our folders ready to go home procedures.

I’m often wondering if its because they are s.p.e.n.t by the time the afternoon rolls around, or if the multi-step process really just does take that much more focus.

I’m sure its the latter, but with lots of patience, it pays off over the entire year when they are getting folders packed, coloring their choices, and collecting their belongings without much assistance from me at all.

Anyway, I am trying to incorporate more simplistic visuals than I have in the past to cue students as to what comes next in the multi-step times such as these.

On our daily folder bulletin board, I have posted icons to represent the main steps to starting the day and getting ready to go home.

If you like these routines you can download a copy of them for free below.

Here is what I have come up with to help with classroom routines.

Morning routine in kindergarten

We have three icons up for our morning routine at the beginning of the school year.

Below the icons, I put a clip to hold any morning work since we do an alphabet sheet each morning for the first few weeks of school.

I add a fourth picture {sharpening pencils} the third week of school.

Let’s go over the pictures together

1. They check to see if their parents included any mail in their folders, and put it in my mailbox.

2. Then they put their folders away while carrying their backpacks and then take them to the closet.

3. They make their lunch choice (which also signs them in) on our everything board.

4. They sharpen pencils from their personal pencil boxes if needed and they start working.

How I taught this routine

I gathered my entire class in front of me on the floor as soon as we walked in the room to go over these procedures every day until we didn’t need it anymore.

A productive morning sets the tone for the entire day. I think they liked the transfer of responsibility.

For those who have difficulty staying on task after the first two weeks – I made a small index card version of these icons in order.

It had their name on the top. I’d hand the card to the child before they entered the room and we’d go over each step (if needed). I expected that the cards get turned in when they were done and ready to get started on their daily work.

They earned a high five or sometimes a smelly spot as a reward.

Going home routine

And we have four steps in getting ready to go home.

My process is quite long and I do expect a huge amount of independence, but for me, it worked.

1. Students get their folders and get all the papers that go home.

2. They put their papers in the correct section of their folder to match the bulletin board.

How to Use Icons to Develop Classroom Routines - prepping folders

3. They color their color choices (since we used the color card system) in their student behavior calendars.

4. They got their folder checked. (At first by me early in the school year and then by students with that classroom job after they learn how to do it)

Training folder checkers helps make the process go much quicker for all of us!

5. This happens without an icon – but then put their folder away in their backpacks.

Tips for a smooth end of day routine

Most years I had them take their backpacks and lunch totes to their table spot and then put their folders in.

I’m not a fan of folders going into the closet since they sometimes get turned upside down.

Major mess in a tiny dark space.

Not awesome.

How I taught this routine

At the beginning of the year, we get our things ready before our last activity of the day.

That way we can end on the more calm notes of the sweet music we call the school day. {As opposed to the hectic, “Whose lunch box is this?” that would normally be the last thing a student hears before leaving our classroom door each day.}

By posting the icons, it gave me a teaching tool to start – but what I loved more is that it saved me from saying the same thing a million times.

Or, rather from feeling the need to bark directions at my students.

Because, really, no one needs that.

If a student was stuck or needed re-direction I could lead them to the icons and we could walk through what came next. They would learn to use the list to help themselves.

Or in the case of someone being a turkey, they quickly learned they wouldn’t get to participate in the last activity of the day (which was usually playtime at the beginning of the school year) until they had made it through each step.

Want to use them in your classroom?

Do you think these icons (or something like this) could work in your classroom too? You can download both my morning and afternoon icons to use in yours. [terms of use]

But you can also make your own!

Make circles in Google Slides and then put a large number (if the order matters) and or a clipart image on top or make a copy of these starter icons. Then print and post them in your classroom. You can easily make smaller versions for your one or two kiddos who need independent copies.

Feel free to display these in any way that works for you.

You could even type up words to go by each item or place them in a “social story” book that illustrates how you expect students to get come to school and get ready to go home.

I hope picture clues are helpful to your kinders as they are to mine!

In conclusion

So, these are my classroom routine icons that stay up all year. They helped me teach, reinforce, and get kindergartners to be independent with morning and afternoon routines. Think they could work for you too?

Ready to see how I collect papers from these routines every day without ever checking a folder?

How to Collect Papers Easily in Kindergarten - this is super simple

If you like what I do here on KindergartenWorks, then be sure to subscribe today. I look forward to sharing ideas with you weekly.

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  1. The proximity teaching is ruined by Covid… I am having a hard time trying to help kindergarteners who are sitting apart in straight lines all day… any suggestions?

    1. Teaching in closeness is truly the most age-appropriate way to teach and model with kindergarten students. I’m sorry that it’s being impeded upon by your school’s rules. I definitely would break down your instruction into smaller, bite-sized pieces; have students repeat directions aloud before they begin as a whole; and integrate both icons (like a picture of scissors and then a glue bottle on the board for multi-step projects) and hand motions while you’re teaching to reinforce what is is you want students to do. Getting to everyone while they are independently working can be challenging, even when they’re not spread across the entire room!
      – Leslie

  2. Hi Shirley
    Just want to say a huge Thank You. All your tips and ideas are really helpful and makes my transition from teaching 16 year olds to kindergarden so easy.

    God bless your kind heart.

    Take Care
    Mrs S. Rahim

  3. Thank you for your advise. Your sharing has already boosted my confidence as a first year kindergarten teacher!

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