Classroom Design & Set Up

I know it's been a little more than a week since my last post, but for a good reason; I flew for about 20 hours and crossed though 10 time zones to arrive back in Dhaka, Bangladesh for the new school year! Even though I'm still working through the jet lag, I am excited to be back and ready to get busy (re)creating a thoughtful classroom-literally!

What kinds of spaces are your "must-haves" in your classroom? Do you have student desks or tables? How do you organize your materials and supplies? These are the kinds of things all teachers, new and experienced, all ask themselves and others whenever they have to change or set up a new classroom. While moving is a huge pain not always the most fun way to spend your time, setting up a new classroom space can actually be one of the best things that you can do to refocus yourself and your teaching because it requires you to take a step back and consider what kind of physical environment facilitates effective teaching practices that lead to student learning and success.

The first thing on my plate is setting up my room. Since our school is going through some major construction to modernize the campus, I'll be in a completely new "temporary" space until my "real" new room is complete. This temporary building actually had to be built from the ground up during the summer.
Here's what it looked like in June right before I left: 

(yeah, I was a little worried that it wouldn't get done in 7 weeks!!?)
Here's what it looks like now: 

(amazing, right?... except that all my stuff is piled in the middle of the room, ha!)
As I prepare to set up my new space, I've thought of some steps to share with you:
  • Before worrying about how your classroom will look, think about how it will work. You'll need to consider two main factors: your students first, and then you.
  • Think about your students and their needs. Specifics change from year to year, but you can always bank on the fact that the classroom should be for your students! The term "learner-centered" can be casually tossed around without thought, so take the time to really reflect on what it means to create a learner-centered environment.
  1. How will you account for different learning styles and students' needs for movement, and group or independent work?
  2. Are the furniture, fixtures and bulletin boards at students' eye level?
  3. Will you need a "time-out" or private study area in your room?
  4. Will you need to accommodate any students' special physical and/or learning needs?

  • Consider how and what you teach, and what kinds of areas you would need in order to accomplish this. Think about the level of independence you'll want your students to have and ask yourself how the classroom space can facilitate this. Common classroom areas may include:

  1. Whole group area/rug
  2. Small group area/kidney table
  3. Independent areas/student desks or tables
  4. Classroom library(ies)
  5. Centers (early childhood- dramatic play, art, blocks)
  6. Technology/Computers/Listening Center
  7. Manipulatives storage/Classroom supplies and "other" storage
  8. Cubbies/coat closet (this may be a fixed structure, however, you still need to account for how students will access this area.)
  9. Teacher desk/area (I feel that this is a personal preference so you may choose not to include this.) If you do like to have a teacher space, but have a small room, consider the next thought….
  •  You'll want to maximize your space, so that will probably include creating areas that serve a dual purpose. Your small group/kidney table could function both for teaching and as a teacher space when the kids are gone. Another example- last year I posted daily math and calendar materials in one of my classroom library areas so I could have students gather there for instruction. After calendar instruction, that same space functioned as a great "read-to-self" spot!
  • Prioritize. While I prefer sitting in a chair to sitting on the rug (as most of us primary teachers do all day long,) I decided to ditch my kidney table because it was just so big! As you plot out your functional spaces, you need to keep furniture demands in the back of your mind- do you really need all that stuff? Sometimes well-intended furniture or shelves just becomes big-time clutter, and chances are (unless you have a huge classroom), you just can't afford having so much stuff taking up valuable real estate in your room! Which brings me to tip #2….
  • Now take all of the functional areas you just brainstormed and draw a map (or two, or three) of possible floor plans. I know there must be apps for this, but I usually just sketch it out on paper. I don't worry about drawing to scale too much; once I move my large area rugs into place I can generally estimate if those big pieces of furniture will fit. This is when you may have to mentally say goodbye to that chair, shelf, or in my case,  a kidney table!
  • Remember those multi-purpose areas and label your map with whatever you plan to put up on your walls.  (Jump down to step 4 if you want to read more about what your walls will say about your classroom!)
  • As you look at your best/most feasible map, think logistically to account for traffic patterns; where and how will your students line up to leave the room? Is there enough space between areas to allow students to walk comfortably from place to place? Are any areas "too open" that they invite running or fooling around? Once you feel like you have planned out clearly defined spaces for the various functions of your classroom, it's time for step 3!

  • OK, now use that fabulous floor plan that you just drew up to move your furniture. You may have to move things a couple times, but the floor plan that you created should minimize this. :) Of course, recruit some help for moving that big furniture and be safe!
  • Make sure you have vision of all areas, at all times. While it's nice to create some barriers to define spaces, just make sure that you'll be able to see your students in order to monitor them.

  • Remember step 1? Go back to thinking about your students' needs as well as how and what you teach. Will you need a calendar wall? Do you use the CAFÉ to structure for reading workshop? How many anchor charts do you typically post? Your bulletin boards and wall displays are like a cover to a book- people will judge what kinds of teaching and learning are taking place inside your classroom based on what they see. What do you want them to see? What do you want your students to see and internalize? What's really important?
  • Don’t let décor interfere with your mission. Again, this is often a personal preference, so I'll share mine :) I think a classroom should be visually appealing and neat, but not over-stimulating and cluttered. Many teachers opt to have a decorative theme- some principals and schools even require it- so do what ever floats your boat, however, be critical enough to take a step back and assess whether or not the cuteness of your room outweighs the quality of its content.
  • In addition to whatever critical displays you labeled on your map, brainstorm a list of other things that should be posted in your room. Some ideas include:

  1. Class agreements and expectations
  2. Instructional objectives and/or goals
  3. Daily schedule and procedural charts
  4. Place for student work
  5. Fire drill map

Remember to prioritize! Less is usually more!

This is the last step! You and your students spend many hours a day in this classroom, so make it inviting and comfortable! "Homey" ideas include:

  • having a couple of plants
  • throw rugs
  • decorative art- especially if it's done by your students!
  • motivational posters
  • window dressings.
  • lamps
  • comfy seating and/or pillows
Most importantly, don't stress about this. There is no perfect classroom or teacher (really, there's not), so don't put undo pressure on yourself to make your room look like it belongs in the pages of a interior decorating magazine. You don't have to be Martha Stewart! Just be your fabulous self :)

As I previously mentioned, having a "teacher desk" is a personal choice that depends on a person's work habits and learning style. Personally, I need to have my own space where I can do my work when I'm not teaching, so I like to have a couple family pictures, a small plant and even a little air freshener or candle to make that space more relaxing and comfortable.

Your students should have the same opportunities to personalize the classroom too. One easy way to do this is to let them decorate their own folders, book boxes, notebooks, etc. This alleviates a lot of unnecessary work for you- love that! Posting their photos and or names somewhere in the room also helps them connect with the space (birthday chart, welcome board, wall for student work). Since I teach at an international school, I like to have students color their flag(s), which I then hang around the room. Instead of reminding everyone that they are different, this actually creates a wonderful feeling of unity and fosters acceptance of and appreciation for other countries and cultures. The flags are also labeled with the country's name, so this also helps when students want to write about their country but may need to check its spelling! :)

I hope these ideas have got you thinking. I'll be sharing my own process of designing and setting up my new room, so be sure to follow!

How do you thoughtfully set up your classroom? I'd love to read your comments! 
Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. You have some great suggestions/tips here, Karli. Thank you!

  2. Nice to meet you Karli. A great post packed with punch on many levels. All the best for the school year.
    Mrs Stowe's Kinder Cottage

    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. We have about 4 weeks until a term break (spring holidays - 2 weeks off) Next term is 9 weeks short and then it's SUMMER holidays! 6-7 weeks break. The year goes so quickly.
      Julie :)

  3. Lots of great tips, Karli! Good luck to you setting up your new room. I hope you have a wonderful school year!
    Conversations in Literacy


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