Let’s face it. We have a tough job. We must create a positive learning environment, design and implement engaging lessons, attend professional development courses, grade papers, and transform young minds just to list a few of our responsibilities. One aspect of teaching that can often be overlooked is classroom design. I reflect back on my first few years of teaching and gasp at the thought of my room. First impressions can go a long way and I was sending the wrong message to my students. I knew I needed a better set-up, so I made it a priority to design a colorful, engaging, and positive classroom. I am constantly updating small details and trying new ideas. It has taken 11 years to fine tune my room and by no means is it the perfect design, but my students love it (and I love that THEY love it)! Below you will see a snapshot of ideas and images of the way I design and operate my room.
“While You Were Out” Folders – This is a simple fix for students that have been absent. These folders are located directly inside of the door to my classroom. I place all work for students who were absent in these folders by the day of the week. I greet the students at the door as they enter the room. If a student has been absent they go directly to the “While You Were Out” folders and find their assignments by the day of the week (I write the names on the assignments). Of course I have students that forget to pick up their work, so I do occasionally have to remind them to go to the folders. It’s all about repetition and consistency. The students will learn your procedure if you stick to it. I even have students remind other classmates to pick up their missing work! These folders have saved me tons of time and I rarely get asked, “Did I miss anything?” Try it out!
“Look What We Did” Section – Students love to see their hard work displayed. Parents and administrators love it as well. I block off a section of the wall in my classroom that is reserved for displaying student work. Generally 3-4 times per grading period I will change the work that is displayed. It is impossible to display every student’s work at once, so I print class rosters and check off students as their work is displayed. By the end of the year every student has had something shown. My students love seeing their work displayed and often they ask to take a picture of it to show their parents. This strategy also helps to encourage my students to do their best because they want their work shown to everyone! Below is a picture of a few anchor charts created by students.
Table/Desk Arrangement – In my science class we are constantly working cooperatively in partners or small groups of 3-4. For this reason, I like to group my tables together in groups of 4 (as shown in the picture below). I’m a firm believer in “organized chaos” in my classroom. When I am finished teaching a concept or giving directions, the students SHOULD be talking and working together. Nothing freaks me out more than walking into a completely silent science class during a lab investigation. I model this with my students at the beginning of the year and they catch on very quickly. If for some reason I need the attention of the class, I just raise my hand or say, “I need your attention in 3, 2, 1…” and the class gets silent. Practice, repetition, and consistency is the key once again.
Science Demo Table – I always move one of the lab tables in my class to the front of the room. I use this lab table as a demo/supply table. Most of my advanced classes do not need to see a lab demo or lab setup, but it is very beneficial for my lower classes. This demo/supply table allows me the freedom to move around the room and assist or monitor more actively. I don’t have to walk from table to table showing proper set-up anymore. As the year goes on, I “pull back” on my demo table a bit and challenge the students to be more independent. You can see my demo table to the left in the picture below.
Assignment Turn In Trays – Sounds like common sense, right? Well, my first few years of teaching I would try to collect all of the papers myself. Sometimes the bell would ring and it would turn into chaos, especially when students did not write their name on the paper. I decided to buy plastic trays from an office supply store that I could use for completed assignments. I assigned one person at every table to be in charge of completed papers. At the end of class, the “paper managers” take all of the assignments from their table and turn them in to the correct class tray. Before the next class enters the room, I paperclip all of the completed assignments and place them into my grading binder. Any papers that show up in the tray after I have taken them are considered late. Our school has a strict policy we have to follow on late work. Paper managers are changed every 4-6 weeks.
“Why Are You Here?” Bulletin Board – I’ve cycled through many bulletin boards, but this one is my favorite. In 3 simple questions and answers it sums up how to be successful in my class. If my students are ever off task or unfocused I refer to the bulletin board. I don’t have to raise my voice or be mean. All I have to say is, “This is what I expect from all of us in this class.” The bulletin board is shown in the picture below. It says, “Why are we here?” – “To Learn!”, “What will you give?” – “100%!”, “What works?” – “Effort!”
Positive Posters – I like to cover my walls with at least 2-3 positive posters for every content poster. The first thing my students see when they walk in the room is a big poster that says, “Welcome! Glad you are here!” I strive to create a positive learning environment and these posters help add to a positive atmosphere. Check out some of the examples below.
Anchor Charts and Content Posters – I’ve already written an entire blog post about anchor charts that you can read by clicking here. I like to switch out my content posters based on the concepts we are learning in class. I use Velcro strips to attach the posters to the wall so they can be removed and replaced easily. The only content resource that remains on my walls the entire year is my Periodic Table of Elements Picture Deck (affiliate link). It’s an absolutely awesome visual of what the elements look like in the real world. My students love it and refer to it often.
Fun/Creative Teacher Desk – Every year or two my wife and I go to a fabric store and buy 4-5 yards of fabric each. We pick out a theme or pattern we like and we create a table skirt for our desk. I usually go with some sort of sports theme and she goes with anything PURPLE! A desk skirt is a small detail, but it adds warmth to the room. It also lets you hide a bunch of stuff behind your desk so the room doesn’t look cluttered, hah! We use Velcro strips once again to attach the fabric to the desk. The picture below is my wife’s desk from the past year (with decorations from her students for her birthday).
Classroom Lighting – I place a variety of lamps around the room. Some on the floor, on the counter, or on my desk. Sometimes the mood in the room needs to be taken down a notch or two. The lamps help to create a more calming environment that is perfect for a class discussion or activity on the board. My students seriously beg me to turn off the class lights and turn on the lamps. I buy the multi-bulb lamps that Wal-Mart has on sale at the beginning of every year. They generally run about 10-15 bucks each, but they put off quite a bit of light. Currently in my room I have 6 lamps on the counters, 1 on my desk, and a lava lamp.
Music – The best way to show your students that you are still “cool”! I have music playing as my students enter the room. I try to find a song that goes along with the daily lesson. Sometimes it is a bit of a stretch, but the kids enjoy it anyway. Here’s a few examples of songs I use to go along with concepts we are learning:
- Safety – “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats
- Rock Cycle – “We Will Rock You” by Queen
- Adaptations – “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees
- Space – “Intergalactic” by The Beastie Boys
Utilizing Scents – I use plug-ins around the room (or a Scentsy) so that my room always has a welcoming scent. There’s nothing worse than walking into a room that smells like 11-13 year old adolescents directly after physical education class. I use the scents to maintain a fresh odor, but there’s also some research that suggests certain scents can help your memory.
Classroom Animals – Finally, I have several animals that I purchased for my classroom. Over the years I have had a corn snake, tarantula, guinea pigs, rats, bearded dragons, fish, frogs, turtles, hedgehogs, and a short-tailed possum. I introduce all of the animals at the beginning of the year and teach the students how to properly care for and handle each animal. I assign a few class helpers to feed the animals and I switch the responsibilities every 2-4 weeks. The animals are a great reward for a class or a perfect way to fill an extra 4-5 minutes at the end of class. I also allow students to take animals home over holidays (with parent permission). Kids love animals and it’s another way to build a positive relationship with your most challenging students. If you are interested in having animals in your class I would strongly suggest a corn snake or Russian tortoise. They are very easy to care for and are very calm. Mammals such as rats or guinea pigs are much more high maintenance – but still lots of fun! Below is a picture of my baby bearded dragon, Scratchy.
I hope you have enjoyed this “tour” around my room. As I said earlier, I constantly change and adapt my room as I come across interesting ideas. The best advice I can give you is to try new things, observe other teachers’ rooms, and find something that fits your style. I’d love to hear some of your ideas that work well in your class. Please share in the comments section below! Take care and have a wonderful school year.
PS – Pictures will be updated this coming August, 2016.