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July 19, 2015

Setting Up Your Classroom

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X Setting Up Your Classroom for Success

Setting Up Your Classroom for Success

It is that time of year when visions of classroom set-up begin dancing in the heads of teachers throughout the country. Deciding where to put centers, group lesson areas, classroom libraries and more fill many waking hours. And why do teachers worry about planning their classroom? It is because they care about their students’ success and know that a well-organized and functional space provides the most conducive atmosphere for learning. For some basic tips and tricks, try the ideas below to get you started.

Setting Up Your Classroom

Plan, Plan and Plan Some More

Before you begin carting in boxes and bags and furniture, plan out where everything will be going in the classroom. Use a classroom mapping guide to figure out where different aspects of learning will take place in the room. Before you can start arranging rectangles and squares on your graph paper, however, you have to decide what you want to include in your classroom. Whether you teach preschool, elementary or intermediate grades, all classrooms will need a few basic things. Plan for a classroom library, an area for students to sit and work (whether that consists of tables or individual desks depends on your classroom furniture and your school’s policy), and storage space. By thinking about the needs of the classroom ahead of time, you will be able to transform the classroom from boring to fabulous before the start of the new school year.

 

Basic Classroom Library

Your classroom library should be a well-organized, comfortable spot for children to sit, read and work. Books can be leveled and placed in appropriately labeled baskets. First Grade Teacher, Caroline G., commented that she color codes the classroom library books with stickers that correspond to the color of the basket that the book belongs in. This helps keep the books organized and allows students to quickly and accurately put materials away. Debbie Diller, educational consultant and author, suggests in her book, Spaces and Places, that teachers refrain from creating an area that begs for students to take a running start into the pile of classroom library pillows. Arrange the library so that it is welcoming, but also not a place with distractions.

 

Work Space

As tempting as it may be to organize desks first, start by deciding where the rest of the furniture in the room will be placed. If your students use tables instead of desks, work in the same manner and arrange the library space and other desired areas first. Think about the types of work spaces you would like to include in the room, as well. If you teach younger students, floor group time is especially important, so be sure that you leave enough room wherever you want to have your group lessons. When working in small groups, make certain that you have adequate table top space and that you will be able to see the entire classroom at a glance from where you are sitting. Do you have students who need less distractions? Arrange areas that the student can work at, away from his desk, that give him the focus he needs. Above all, make the space as open and clutter-free as possible.

 

Storage

As daunting as it may be to tame your teaching supplies in a small classroom, have hope, because it can be done. Make use of wall space, chair space and under the table storage in ways that you may not have before. Pocket charts below the white board are great for holding group lesson materials, pointing sticks and other things that you need while at the board. The side of a metal filing cabinet can be transformed into a homework collection station by using a magnetic pocket chart. The backs of student chairs can hold books and papers when chair pockets are put on. And when that out of the way center table has a colorful length of inexpensive fabric hanging down as a table skirt, no one will even know that beneath it lies your mid-year readers, science equipment or unused math manipulatives. Before deciding where to put all of your teaching supplies, first start by evaluating what you have and getting rid of what you do not need. A clutter-free space is much more comfortable to be in and it makes it much easier for children to learn.

 

Classroom libraries, student work spaces and storage are just a few of the many things you will need to consider when designing your classroom layout. Take the time to start planning now, so that when you are allowed back in your classroom, you will have a plan for what needs to be done.

 

 

 

What are some of your favorite classroom set-up resources?

What is one tip that you would share with other teachers about creating a clutter-free, learning-centered classroom?

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  • Carol
    September 4, 2011

    I teach high school and my students need certain supplies every day. I didn’t like the time and chaos of them walking to the wall and taking their calculators and ActivExpressions out of the pockets, so I cut the pockets apart and hot-glued one to the edge of each desk. It doesn’t hurt the desk, it keeps the materials at their desk and available, but doesn’t take up valuable desk space!

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  • Janet
    August 21, 2011

    I’m really having a hard time setting up this year because I got a Promethean Board (finally!) and that really takes up a lot of space. One thing I have found that I MUST do is always set up my classroom library first. I know that I want my library to have lots of prominence within the room. I feel like when I set it up so the library is in the forefront, the rest of the room kind of shapes itself around that – which I like.

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  • Sarah C
    March 20, 2011

    No matter what grade you teach, I think you need to find a space to have a carpet in which the kids can sit on. I’ve found, even at the fifth grade level, the kids don’t like to sit at their desk all day. I was reading Charlotte’s Web with a fifth grade class and their favorite thing to do was sit on the carper as we read. Even though they take up a lot of space, they are an important thing to have in your classroom!

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  • Melissa
    August 1, 2010

    I usually map out my classroom on paper first. I usually make two designs in case the first one doesn’t work or I’m just not happy with it. This is my third year teaching and I have changed my set up every year so far. I kept some things the same but I enjoy playing around with it until I find something I like.

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  • Linda
    July 29, 2010

    Julie,
    When we built our new building, I measured the room and drew it to scale (1 sq.=1ft) on graph paper as I measured..marking windows and doors. The construction foreman let me look at the building plan so I would know where the bulletin boards, magnetic board and the Promethean Board/Active Board would go…which affects where the teacher desk/computer would go. Check to see if you will have computers since most new buildings wire them to go in a specific location with built-in tables. (You can hang curtains underneath and hide boxes of resources and seldom used items.) Our rooms have a sink cabinet and two storage closets (3ft.wide,each) It will show on the contractor’s plan. Draw immovable objects on your room drawing.

    Then check with your principal and find out if you will have student cubbies, a small group table, optional tables the size of student desks…ours are 18×24…filing cabinet…etc. Get the approximate size of what he/she says will be in your room.

    Then use the another sheet of the graphing paper to draw the objects you can move around…label…cut out… and play away. I do this everytime I move (about 9 times in 28 years) and it saves a lot of back pain and trying to plan the layout as you start school. If you will put your room plan in a file folder and all your loose furniture pieces in a baggie, you can play with it off and on all year until you get it just like you like it. Also, everything gets pushed to side for either shampooing or waxing during the summer, so you’ll have your plan ready to place things back where you want them…some custodians will do that for you if you leave your plan.

    Remember to plan walking room around your desks. My favorite seating plan is a ‘U.’ If you have lots of students you just make a wide ‘U’ and add some seats in the middle. You might want to have a writing center, listening center…check with the media specialist to see if he/she has cassette players and books with cassettes.

    Once you start getting that paycheck, you’ll probably add your own bookshelves if the school does not provide them for you…but ask for them before you buy.

    I hope this helps. Enjoy your first year. I was given some really good advice my first year…so… “Don’t talk trash about a co-worker…it will come back..and if it’s a smaller community school, your’re probably talking about someone’s cousin.” My advice is be friendly no matter what. Ask for help or advice from your peers…teachers love to help..that’s our job. Most veteran teachers are pleased when asked for advice…makes us feel valued. We don’t always appreciate new teacher’know-it-alls’…even if you do know it all. lol So, gently ease in your suggestions while at the same time asking what the veteran thinks about your idea…They will be a lot more willing to help out. You’re fresh and ready with lots of ideas…try them out…use the ones that work, and learn more every year. Teaching is a tough job and there will be days you want to quit. But I can’t think of anything more rewarding that realizing at the end of the year how far your students have come…mostly because of YOU. I “quit” in October my first year…for a few minutes…My principal told me to take a sick day and stay home the next day and get a grip. I did, and I’ve NEVER regretted sticking with it.

    Our teachers start tomorrow, but I’m so excited…even after 28 years, that I’m going out to my room as soon as I submit this.

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  • Julie G
    July 25, 2010

    This will be my first year teaching so this article is especially helpful for me. I am an organizer by nature but even the thought of trying to put together a classroom seems daunting for me. I have tons of stuff done but I feel like I’m overlooking the details. At this point, my classroom isn’t even finished being built and I have no clue what is going to be in there as far as furniture is concerned. I hate the “wait and see” approach to planning. Does anyone have any ideas of what I could be doing in the meantime so I don’t have to move mountains when the room is done?

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  • Nikki
    July 25, 2010

    I use TONS of baskets. I have baskets labeled for books at the library. I use them for guided reading books. They also store papers when the kids are done with work. I have bins at their desks, which I set up like tables, which hold supplies. I find that bins and baskets help kids find a place for things. Also, model and training in the beginning of the year helps keep us all organized!

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  • Kathie K
    July 23, 2010

    Is anyone else running out of room? I keep etting more and more students each year. I use tables rather than desks and yet again this year I have to add another table. I barely have rom for my meeing area!

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  • Nicole R.
    July 22, 2010

    I am glad to see that other teachers have struggled with setting up the classroom like I have. Installation of a new interactive board made me rearrange things in a new way. This year I did start with the stations first and the desks last. I have also purged everything I have not used in the last 2 years, it is a great feeling to have less clutter! Thanks for the ideas!

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  • Nicole
    July 22, 2010

    I LOVED the idea of students bringing their own pillows from home to use in the room. My classroom rug usually has alot of pillows because the floor is too cold and hard for the kids to lay or sit on. Last year I also allowed students to put my pillows on their chairs to ease their antsy-ness. WOW! The antsy kids worked and were focused much better! Anyway, I’m going to put that in my first letter home to parents. Thanks for the idea!

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  • Candace O.
    July 22, 2010

    I just called school yesterday to find out when I can get in my classroom and start setting up. The hardest thing to work with is the fact that I only have one full wall and a two half walls. My school is an “open concept” school, left over from the 70’s. Then I’m the inclusion room so I have to have two teacher work areas, which means I opt for no desk. My dream is to one day have a professional what to set up my classroom for me, because I stress over it every summer. Would love to do something different, but am stuck with areas I have to put things because I only have three outlets in the whole room. So I use Debbie Diller’s book and classroom set up, with pictures, books to help me out.

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  • Debbie Diller
    July 21, 2010

    Loved reading about what everyone is doing! Thanks for your support. Hope you’ll check out my blog at http://www.debbiediller.com for pictures of classroom setups, too.

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  • Nichole D
    July 20, 2010

    I have to try to mentally set up my classroom this year … my school is only giving us 1 day (yes you are reading that correctly … one day!) to set up our classroom. And I am switching rooms. I am hoping that the teacher before me didn’t leave too many “treasures” behind … but I will really have to hustle to get my room set up in 1 day! 🙂 Hopefully, sketching it out on paper beforehand will help!

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  • Jeannette Erickson
    July 20, 2010

    Thanks, all for the great tips. I am moving both classrooms AND grade levels this year (from 1st to 3rd) and I find the suggestions very helpful. All too soon I will need to begin unpacking my boxes and now I have ideas for how to arrange all the stuff. I really like the idea of trying out new arrangements before the end of the school year and getting feedback from the students. Thanks again.

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  • Gay Berry Baker
    July 20, 2010

    After reading Literacy Stations and Spaces and Places by Debbie Diller at the beginning of the summer, I started roaming second hand shops and watching Craigslist for extra pieces for my classroom that would best accommodate literacy stations. After adding a few more items to my classroom and making myself get rid of things that I really don’t need, I started setting up for the fall. It was so hard not to start with student desks but I trusted her philosophy, placed my stations first and student desks and teacher space at the end. It really works! It is coming together nicely. I’m very excited about having the students return next month to test it out!

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  • Paulette Pattengil
    July 20, 2010

    The tips on storage were very helpful. I am moving to a different classroom this year and it’s smaller and has no closet or cabinets like my previous classroom. I definately have some ideas now. I always start the year off by taking pictures of my classroom and video so I can have a pretty good idea of how I want to set it up before I go in.

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  • Christine Hagerman-Holm
    July 19, 2010

    I think up until this year, I had it pretty easy. I started teaching in a program that was very structured and already set up. Ths year, I have a different program, and I get to set up my own classroom. In addition, I have a variety of levels in my special education–in addition to one student in a wheelchair, and two students that have vision impairments, my students have a variety of needs and abilities. It will be interesting to see what I can come up with in regards to setting up my room…but I am excited to do it!

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  • Lisa
    July 19, 2010

    I read the book Spaces and Places last year and it really helped me transform my room. I started with my carpet, looked at the areas that the children needed easy access to like word walls, calendar, and went from there. It does get more challenging as the class sizes go up each year. This year it’s going to be more challenging because I can’t get into the building until three days before open house. I need to reread my book and start mapping!

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  • Penny
    July 19, 2010

    The arrangement of the classroom is always a priority and it seems that I change it each year. This year I’m changing from k/1 to straight k and planning out the spaces needed is the first thing I will do before unpacking anything.

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  • Kirsten
    July 19, 2010

    I appreciate the tip to start arranging centers and work areas first, especially the classroom rug for my kinder room. I’m back in the same room this year, but teaching kinder instead of 5th. There’s so much I want / need to change, and zero storage in this room. I love the idea of using pocket charts below white boards to hold materials.

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  • Dawn
    July 19, 2010

    I usually do a different room arrangement and wall set up each year. I’m getting 4 more students this year, due to class sizes going up, and my space is slowly being eaten up by desks. This article has helped me focus my thoughts more on what needs to be done first and then organize the desks last. I do like the parking spot idea to extend my floor rug as my rug does not have enough squares on it for the kids on it anymore! It is always fun to read about new ways to set up my room. I don’t know much of Debbie Diller’s books, but now I want to get it and see what it’s about.

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  • Kris
    July 19, 2010

    I struggle with this every year. I start off with one plan and as the year goes on (aka more students get added into my room) I rearrange. It is kind of fun and I get the students involved (which they enjoy and it gives them a sense of ownership in the room) moving items around. It is almost like starting new everytime we rearrange.

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  • Amber
    July 19, 2010

    I am a new teacher and I have been worried all summer about the aspect of arranging my classroom (when I get one), this is helpful information! I would have never thought to arrange everything else before placing the desks and/or tables, I would have done the complete opposite. I am sure this posting will save me a ton of time 🙂 Thanks!

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  • Kasey
    July 19, 2010

    This year I am able to go start working in my classroom three weeks before I have to go back but my room is quite small. I am starting a new school so I had to leave grade level stuff behind. (chart stands, easel, centers) I plan to go back in a week and just go through the stuff that was left from the previous teacher, box it up (useless stuff) and organize what I will use. I have plenty of time to get things organized. I am also going to take before pictures and then go buy some tubs to use for organizing. I ordered the Debbie Diller book Spaces and places and it should be helpful.

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  • Valery
    July 19, 2010

    Taking pictures is a great way of remembering how it looked. Try several different options. What is going to be the most effective way for the students? Carpet squares can usually be obtained for free for the younger ones for story time. Organization is the key, knowing where you want the students to put all those things on the supply list when they come in is very important as well.

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  • April
    July 19, 2010

    Thanks for the post. I’ve had my copy of Debbie Dillers book for the past month and I’ve looked at it everyday. There are some great ideas in there for organizing your classroom. I would recommend it to any teacher.

    I spent the first week of vacation organizing my classroom. I thought long and hard about how to re-arrange it and decided that there were certain areas I really liked and certain ones that were “problem” areas. I made a list and jotted down what I liked about each and went from there. I also took pictures to help me remember and see what areas were the problem. I’m quite visual so this helped a lot. Because we’ve seen the area over and over each day, we tend to forget about what it really looks like to others.

    Good luck everyone.

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  • Cari
    July 19, 2010

    As the number of students in my room increases it makes it harder for me to arrange. The students desks take up most of the space. Three years ago I had 22 students and now with our economy and budget I will have 30 3rd graders. I have to get creative about seating and more some quite centers out my doorway.

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  • Elizabeth Winters
    July 19, 2010

    I start thinking about set up in May. I will switch things around and try them out with the kids to see if they work. The kids love it! They give me suggestions for the next year’s classroom. Then when I have to pack up I have everything together ready to go in August. It also gives a little pep to the end of the school year when we are all readyfor a change. They love to “check in” in September to see how things are working out and what ideas I used. I teach first grade. I use “spaces and places” for great ideas also. It’s resourceful and validating.

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  • Barb J
    July 19, 2010

    This is such a great help! The first thing I am inclined to do is set up student desks, but it makes sense to get everything else set first! I will have to remember that!

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  • Robin
    July 19, 2010

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

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  • Kathy
    July 19, 2010

    Really good ideas! I’m going in a week early to get a head start this year. I started behind last year and spent the whole year trying to catch up!

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  • Darcy
    July 19, 2010

    @Sherry – I had the same desk issue and finally came to the conclusion that I could live without one! I got rid of my desk about 3 years ago. It has freed up a lot of space in my classroom and I don’t find that I miss it at all!

    I just got done setting up my classroom in a new school — it is fun to read this article and see that I followed a lot of the suggestions — I’m sure because I read Spaces and Places!!

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  • janine
    July 19, 2010

    Thanks for the great tips. I try a different room arrangement each school year, however, after several years I am not sure which is the most efficient. The Debbie Diller products look great. I am going to look more carefully ath the products.

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  • sherrie weerheim
    July 19, 2010

    I like the parking spots! Instead of purchasing some more expensive pillows, I will just have the kids bring their own. I will tell them to find their parking spot. I called it their book knook last year and they liked it. I have already started organizing my room, but my struggle is where to put my desk.

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  • Liz
    July 19, 2010

    This article was helpful for me, and I am looking forward to getting my copy of spaces and places! I am always trying to be creative with the set up of my room and creating actual “areas” for things to happen in. I like the chair pockets because they can hold a lot, but the chairs in my classroom are shaped a little funny and wont fit them correctly. There are chair shelves that work great that have hooks on them, and they hook right underneath the seat on the legs. My next goal is to see if I can get a company like Homedepot to donate one of their sample rugs to my classroom. 🙂

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  • Casey
    July 19, 2010

    I love the classroom mapping guide! It is a great project. I had a parent buy it for me! It is amazing!

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  • Cheryl s
    July 19, 2010

    I like to draw it first on paper! I start with permanent structures, then I do my beg furniture, then moving shelves, tables, and then I choose where my centers will be! The carpet is always the first thing I place because it is most important in a kindergarten classroom! It is always hard work and takes little moves once I set up from the picture!!

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  • Kathy
    July 19, 2010

    I just purchased Debbie Diller’s book-“Space & Places” this summer. I have LOVED all of her unique ideas! I have already been to my classroom to move some things around to get an idea of what will fit into what spaces. Another idea that I LOVE for my little 1st graders is to take the legs off of a table to use as their “writing table”…makes it low to the ground and little “wigglers” can sit on the carpet or a pillow while writing. I can’t wait to see them write!

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  • Jessica Berggren
    July 19, 2010

    Thanks for this article. It’s amazing how much mental time I spend on setting up my room. This will be my 2nd year in this classroom. I spent a whole year feeling not quite comfortable with the set-up. For me, I need to be actively working in my room before I know if the setup works. I am going to be making some changes this year and hopefully they will work. Hopefully all my mental time on the setup will pay off when I’m ready to do the physical moving of furniture.

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  • charla
    July 19, 2010

    I had to move my kindergarten classroom into a new and much smaller room this year. I have been worrying about fitting all of the important “stuff” into my new small space all summer. I love all of the advice about how to create different spaces in the classroom. I just wish I had the space to do these things! I’m very sad to have to give up my small-group teaching space. We will have to use the whole group teaching area floor space. Don’t forget to leave enough space for the children to move around the room, and I love to label all of the storage areas in my room for easy access of manipulatives and supplies.

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  • Cheryl Ener
    July 19, 2010

    I usually search the web to get ideas on theme and then I set up my room accordingly. A friend of mine years ago gave me the tip to set up your room and then take a picture and then to tape the picture on the space where something goes (i.e. take a picture of the blocks on the shelf and then tape the picture under the blocks so that when they go to put it back they know where to put it).

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