Focus on Five: Creating a Classroom {Master} Schedule

Categories: Schedules

Back-to-school means back to schedules!  Creating schedules probably one of the most frustrating, but most necessary parts of being a cluster program teacher. It is so important to be able to create a master schedule to have a guide for the many other schedules you create (individual staff schedules, individual student schedules, mini schedules for centers).  Since TAH has written about schedules since the beginning, I will be including links so you are able to access these oldies, but goodies (as my grandma would say). Here are five steps to setting up a classroom master schedule for a cluster/low-incidence classroom…

1. Set It Up

First, set up your master schedule in Excel or Google Spreadsheets. I create a table with the students’ names or initials across the top and the time along the side. Even though all the schedules are individualized, arrange the students’ names along the top by ability level and/or groupings. For example, I would put 2-3 students in the same group next to each other in order to make scheduling easier.  If you don’t want to make your own from scratch, check out the post, The Autism Helper Classroom: Class Schedules-you can download the Excel documents for the master/student schedule and the staff schedule!


2. Plug in the School Schedule

Put in the times your students have breakfast, lunch, recess, specialty classes and pack-up because these are usually dictated by administrators. The times these events occur are more or less set in stone, so you will have to work around them when planning instructional time and staff lunches. This is also a good time to plug in bathroom breaks and transitions. This past school year, I had multiple students with mobility issues, either due to blindness or physical disabilities. It was essential that I planned bathroom breaks at times we were already out of the classroom, so I wouldn’t be adding an extra, unnecessary transition. I also planned extra transition time when going to lunch and to the bus, in order to meet the needs of my students.

3. Plan Staff Lunches 

Planning staff lunchtimes will help you to be able to make decisions about which subjects to teach when. For example, if you want to do stations, but one of your paraprofessionals is on their lunch, it might be better do have students complete independent tasks when your classroom is short staffed. Plus, it will allow you to plan on only having one paraprofessional out during lunch and break times. I had one set of rotations in the morning when all my staff was in the room and one more set rotations in the afternoon when all staff were present. For more information about planning adult schedules, read Sasha’s post Schedules {The Adult Schedules}.

4. Put in Academic Instruction

Finally! Time for the the meat and potatoes of the day…you are ready to put in you centers and academic instruction for the day. I set up my room in stations for small group instruction, so deciding how long students are at each station and how many stations there will be in set of rotations is key. Last year, I did 20 minutes at each station and that seemed to work well with my 3rd-5th grade students. Each class is different, so use your best judgement. In the past with other classes, I have had time at each station be 15 minutes or even 30 minutes. Last year, I did language arts/reading rotations in the morning, for 20 minutes each for one hour total. In the afternoon, I did math/science rotations for 20 minutes at each station, also for one hour total. After lunch when I had two staff members at lunch, I had students do independent task boxes and pulled students individually to work on their instructional programs.

5. Next Steps

Noe it’s time to check over your master schedule! Have a colleague or even a trusted paraprofessional check over the schedule for potential issues or roadblocks so you can make adjustments. From there, create individual staff and student schedules from your master schedule or any mini schedules-the schedule pictured below is a general morning schedule I would bring down to breakfast since students did not stop in the classroom first thing in the morning (they went straight from breakfast to specials). For tips on visual schedules for students, see Sasha’s post Schedules {Visual Schedules}. For more schedule posts from TAH click here.

Keep In Mind…

  • The schedule is not set in stone. Don’t be afraid to change or make tweaks to the groups after you test it out in your classroom during the first couple weeks of school (within reason-make as few thoughtful changes as possible).
  • Don’t worry about finalizing the schedule until the first few weeks of school have passed, especially the staff schedules. I know that we want everyone to get on a routine as soon as possible (teachers included!), but we are adults and if the schedule needs to be adjusted in the first few weeks, everything is going to be okay. Just ask that staff members are patient with you and the process so they know what to expect and are more likely to be on board.
  • Don’t laminate student or staff schedules until they are finalized. This just saves time and resources-put their schedules in a clear sheet or print a new one on paper weekly until their schedules are finalized.
  • If you revise a schedule, put the revision date on the top. This avoids confusion.

I hope this post has been a helpful guide to making a whole class master schedule. To read more about creating schedules, click here for Sasha’s blog Schedules {Making the Schedule} and Creating a Classroom Excel Schedule. You can also  As always, share any tips or tricks you use for scheduling in you classroom!


Holly Bueb
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  1. Love this! Thank you.

    • Hope it’s helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂


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