Classroom Management: Movement Code Word

Hey everyone! Do you wish there was a way to get your students to stop and listen before they start moving around? Well, I'm about to blow your mind, there is!


I've been using a movement code word for several years now, and while I've shared this trick before, I thought I would dedicate a whole post to it because whenever I share this on Instagram, I get lots of questions.

What is a movement code word?
In short, a movement code word is a word that you say when you are ready for kids to start moving.

classroom management transitions

It's a way to ensure that students sit still and listen to your directions before they are allowed to follow them. It helps make sure they don't begin transitioning until it is time to.

Picture this, you're trying to give directions, but as you give them, the kids are busy moving around trying to follow them, as you're giving them. We all know that never works and it's very distracting. By using a movement code word, you give your directions, but the students are not allowed to move until you say the word.

It turns the act of listening and getting ready to transition into a game of sorts. Something that resonates with most kids.

So, how does this look in the classroom?
Here's a sample of how I use the movement code word with my students. In this scenario, the movement code word is "taco." I might say something like this:

"When you hear the code word, you need to take out your whiteboard, marker, and eraser. Then, sit with 'hands and eyes.' Remember, we transition at a level zero. Ready, set, TACO!"

At this point, the students take out their materials and then sit with "hands and eyes" (our way of showing that we are ready to get started).

Why does it work?
It works because it turns transitioning into a game. Students are listening for that one word and once they hear it, they know they get to move.  Once they do hear it, they are excited to move. Excited to get started.

What kind of word do I use?
When using a movement code word, use any word you want. I tend to choose silly, random words. I do prefer 2-3 syllable words. Sometimes, I choose two words. Couldn't tell you why, I just do.

classroom management transitions

I like to have fun with my code words so I tend to choose words like:
-taco
-lollipop
-jellyfish
-nectarine
-applesauce
-Hello Kitty
-cactus pants
-pumpkin guts
-candy cane

Some teachers may prefer to use sight words or vocabulary words. That's just not my thing.

Using silly words is one way that I can mix in a bit of fun to our day. The kids love the words and I like to think that these kinds of words help create more student buy in.

Who chooses the words?
I do. But, that's not to say that you couldn't involve your students. Do what works for you. :)

Where do I display the word?
I keep it simple (my life's mantra). No fancy signs, no magnetic cards with words typed in designer fonts. I take an Expo marker and write the word in the corner of my whiteboard as shown below. That's it.

transitions classroom management tip

How often should I change my word?
I change my word once a week. I know myself too well and trying to change the word daily would never, ever work for me. After school on Friday, I change the word so it's ready to go on Monday morning.

How long does it take for kids to learn this procedure?
Like any procedure you teach, there might be some trial and error at first. I say might because each year is different. This was the first year where my students needed a bit more time to get used to a movement code word.

As with any procedure, you need to practice it. More than once. Don't expect to introduce it and have your students follow it without fail from that point forward. Be patient, review the procedure, practice the procedure.

Do the kids get in trouble if they don't wait for the code word?
No. That would be a silly thing to discipline a student over.

If a student (or a few students) forget to wait for the code word (which can be normal when you first introduce this strategy), I simply point out that they are trying to get started without waiting and then initiate a "do over." I stop the students and have them sit with "hands and eyes" (whole brain teaching), repeat the directions, restate the code word, and then we move on from there. Like any procedure, you might need to repeat it several times before kids are able to do it correctly.

Is it too late to start using a code word?
Nope. When it comes to classroom management, you implement strategies as needed.

It may be the middle of the school year, but if your students are still struggling to wait for you to finish talking before they start moving, try this strategy.

Whenever I bring in a new strategy mid year, I just tell my students that it's something I tend to start doing "this time of year." You don't have to tell them that it's a new strategy and that you're curious to see how it goes. Act as if you've always used it and it's now that time of year to get it going in your classroom.

Add a bit of fun.
Once you've established your movement code word routine and the kids have really got it down, have a little fun with it. I like to psych my kids out by calling out fake code words. This keeps the kids on their toes and adds a bit of fun to the procedure.


The fake code words that I call out always sound like the code word of the week. For example. I recently used the code word "stinky socks." I called out "stinky Socrates" and "stinky salami." Doing this makes the kids laugh, and of course they know that I'm trying to "trick" them but it gets them focused on waiting to hear the actual code word.

I don't do this daily, nor do I do it all day long. Most days, I stick with the code word itself. But 1-2 times a week, at one point in the day, I might call out fake words. I'm never opposed to adding some fun and humor to our procedures when I know the kids can handle it.

Final Thoughts
I hope this post has answered any questions you had about using a movement code word. I have found that this strategy has been effective in my classroom over the years. But remember, we all have different teaching styles. This idea may not appeal to you in the least, and that's OK. You may like the idea but see some aspects you'd like to modify to better match your teaching style. Go for it!

If you have any fun code words to share, we'd love to hear them. Be sure to comment below with your ideas.

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1 comment:

I'd love to hear what you have to say!