Setting up your classroom is one of the first things that takes place at the beginning of each new school year. Some teachers love it and some teachers dread it. No matter how you feel about setting up your classroom, it’s important to take this time to create a well organized space for you and your students.
This room will ultimately become a safe and welcoming space for our STUDENTS for the next 180 days. I emphasize the word students because isn’t that what should be at the forefront when we begin to plan setting up our classroom? Of course we want our room to be aesthetically pleasing, but while we walk through tips for setting up and organizing areas, we are going to plan with our students in mind. Let’s get into some ways on how to make it a breeze for you!
Bring It ALL In
Whether you’ve been storing things at home over the summer, you’re moving into a brand new room, or all of your things were hidden away in cubbies and cabinets, get it ALL out and bring it in the classroom. This might seem overwhelming but it’s a big first step!
While these pictures are pretty silly and there’s obviously a ridiculous amount of stuff, this system of having it all right there can help when getting ready to plan the classroom layout, as well as how things will get organized.
Visualize the Classroom Layout
After you’ve brought in all the stuff you may be thinking…. Where in the heck do I start? Visualize and start making a plan is what I suggest. I find that sitting down and creating a map is a great way to help me see the space as a whole so I can place things where they make the most sense. Having a layout that you can erase and redo can help to determine where everything will go and how best to arrange seats, centers, and things of that nature.
Some considerations for your layout:
- Take time to think through high traffic areas and spaces that need a large amount of real estate, like where you will host whole group time, your small groups, centers, classroom library, etc. It’s important to think through where these spaces will be so that they are not too close to desks or student work areas where students can get distracted. For example, I have our buddy centers near my whole group space so that it is not too close to where students may work independently.
- Visualize where your small group space is going to be. This is a place we spend a lot of time throughout the day so I try to ensure that it’s not too close to a doorway where students can get distracted. I also make sure that I’m the one facing the door so I can see who is entering the classroom.
- A really big consideration that will impact your layout is whether or not you will have traditional or flexible seating. Check out this post HERE to dive deeper into all things flexible seating!
- These are just a few of the considerations we work through with the Back to School Teacher Survival Guide. In this guide, I will walk you through every step of the way to successfully plan out your classroom setup and all other things back to school!
When you’ve got a plan you’re satisfied with, start moving around big things like furniture. Arrange the desks and/or tables how you want them and walk around. This will give you a better feel about if what you’ve plotted out will work for you and your students. With a student centered classroom, students will have access to ALMOST everything. What they won’t have access to will be your teacher space that you create to keep your personal belongings and teacher materials. Think about where you want this area and how it will be organized. Take a look at some teacher spaces below.
In the past I’ve had my teacher area behind my small group table in lieu of a teacher desk. I spend much of the day here with small groups so it made sense to keep most of my materials in this area. Learn more about setting up centers HERE!
Sort Your Piles
After setting up the layout and planning for big spaces, your classroom should begin to look like a tornado ripped through. Guess what? That’s OK! It’s part of the process. Your one massive pile will soon become lots of little piles in the area they should go and you’ll start to feel accomplished. I promise. Begin to categorize and sort your piles based on the space they will occupy. For example, everything that you’ll need to set up your classroom library should be in that space. Do that for each space and you’ll start to see how that giant pile in the middle becomes smaller and smaller. Things become more manageable!
Once everything is sorted, you can then decide what area you’d like to begin organizing and setting up first. I’ve found that completing an area before moving on to the next is helpful and makes me feel productive. Maybe you’ll want to accomplish a few things in each area until you’re done with everything. Organize using your strengths. Sometimes you’ll notice yourself walking from one part of the room to another not sure where to start or what to do. If you find that this happens, stop, take a break, and recompose your plan. It can be helpful to write your plan on a whiteboard so you can see it no matter where you are in the room. It’ll help you stay on track and if you add checkmarks to this plan you’ll have a great visual on your progress. I know this step of the process can be really overwhelming, but this is where the classroom will really start to come together.
Plan for Students in Mind
After you have spent the time organizing your spaces, it’s time to tackle student spaces so they have access to materials. This part of the process needs to be really well thought out for students. When planning I like to think about it not only from the student lens, but also by what makes sense in the flow and traffic of the classroom. For example: I’m not going to put a lunch tub all the way across from where students hang their backpacks. That would waste time and allow for unneeded disruptions. Here are some guiding questions to ask yourself as you begin to organize:
- Where will student materials such as pencils, crayons, scissors, etc., be housed?
- Where will they turn in papers?
- What will be the procedure for how they get new pencils if needed? What about the broken pencils?
- Where will broken pencils go?
- Will students have a desk where their personal materials are stored or will you have flexible seating? If it’s flexible, where will their personal items go?
- Where will students store lunch boxes, backpacks, and coats?
Take a look at some example student spaces below. Notice how students have access to ALL the things they may need so that they can meet their own needs.
Let us not underestimate the power of BINS! Bins are a great tool to have on hand in the classroom. Bins for student materials, bins for excess school supplies, bins for books! Chances are if you have something needing to be organized, a bin works great!
There is a secret key that helps not only your students access their own material, but also helps your classroom *almost* run itself. The KEY:
allowing students to have the power and autonomy to do it all.
Sounds scary huh? It absolutely is! But one SUPER simple way to empower students to have more ownership of the classroom, is by labeling absolutely everything. Not only is this a great way to develop more natural ‘sight words’ for their classroom, it creates the autonomy for students to be able to navigate and learn independently. You’ll be amazed to simply watch the shift!! Don’t be afraid to spruce up your labels with visuals AND words! Organizing spaces FOR students is one of the most crucial things you can do to start having your classroom *almost* run itself.
Let me paint a picture. Imagine you have a classroom, beautifully labeled in every way, and your students can use those labels to freely get what they need. This means, no more getting crayons or Band-Aids for them, no more whole group instruction interruptions for a broken pencil, or students wasting time because they can’t find something. Why? Because their classroom is set up for THEM! They can do it! Let them step into their power! With THESE editable labels, you can design and organize your space so that your students own the room.
To Decorate or Not to Decorate?
The last piece of the classroom setup puzzle is decorating the classroom. While it can be so fun to scroll ALL the Pinterest ready classrooms on Instagram with all the fun bulletin boards, it’s also important to keep students in mind and not overwhelm them. A few tips I’ve learned through the years are:
- Use natural light when possible – those fluorescent lights can be a lot for some students. Open the windows for students if you have them and bring in your own lighting. I’ve often dimmed the lights as students work too to soften the space and give students a better work environment.
- Less is more – there is a lot of research out there that having too much stuff on the walls or too many colors can overstimulate students. If you want to use bright colors, use some but don’t cover the entire room with rainbows.
- Leave blank spaces – this is THEIR space too right? So let them help fill up the spaces on the walls. Leave room for anchor charts and student work. Build the walls together. Check out this giant wall below that started blank at the beginning of the year and later was filled with anchor charts and student learning.
While we want our spaces to be completely organized, clean, and cute for meet the teacher, the classroom does NOT have to be finished. This is important to keep in mind because I know all the pressure of feeling like you need a “Pinterest Ready” classroom. As long as you have an inviting space where students feel welcome and safe, that’s all that matters.
If you take the time to plan for your students, I promise you will have a warm, welcoming, successful classroom. Your students will not only love to come to school everyday, but they will THRIVE for the rest of the year. If you haven’t seen the FREE Classroom Set Up Checklist, I would highly recommend starting there. It covers everything you could possibly need when planning out your classroom set up. And of course I have to give you a freebie! Get yourself set and ready to set up your classroom and think through ALL the plans with my back to school teaching timeline. Grab yours below!
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Classroom setup, introducing rules, routines, and procedures, and more including are all covered in depth in my Back to School Teacher Guide. This guide takes you through ALL the things that need to be thought through in order to have a smoothly running classroom and it’s a great resource for new AND veteran teachers. I’ve had multiple principals tell me that my classroom runs like a well oiled machine. The way I facilitate that is by all the things explained in the guide.
I hope that you walk away after reading this with some great ideas to get you started planning out your classroom set up. Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Back to School Teaching Timeline FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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