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April 2, 2013

Using Themes and Decor to Promote Classroom Community

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X Building Classroom Community Through Themes and Decors

Building Classroom Community Through Themes and Decors

Some teachers like to create one, unified theme for their classroom. Others will focus more on displaying students’ work, while yet others take the “minimalist” approach. No one style is better than another, but they are all intended to create a community within the classroom, an inviting place that encourages students to learn. This month we focus on ways to create a classroom community with these varied décor ideas.  Read on to find out more!

Building Classroom Community

How to Promote a Home-School Community 

Idea by Caren, Kindergarten Teacher, Grayson, KY

To promote a community feel in my classroom as well as with families at home, I send home the Really Good Stuff® “Ready-to-Decorate™ Super Student About Me” posters along with instructions for children to complete them as a weekend family project.  Each week, I choose two students whose posters we will highlight for the week. Each Monday, we spend time learning more about these two Super Students by sharing the posters they worked on with their families. The kids and I love learning fun facts about each other. The two Super Students also take over the jobs of the traditional “leader” and are very proud of their positions. This has been an easy and fun community builder in our classroom this year. (Tip: Consider creating your own “About Me” teacher poster with your own family. Then share your poster with your students.)


Snap Your Way to a Caring Classroom Spirit 

Idea by Denise, Teacher Head Start, Lake Charles, LA

To promote a sense of unity in my classroom, I snap photos of students interacting together.  For example, I take pictures of children reading together, building with blocks, painting together on a large piece of paper cooking in the pretend kitchen, etc. I then enlarge the photos and post them around the classroom. On each photo I write captions based on what students said they were doing at the time. I then use brightly colored card stock and bulletin board borders to create customized photo frames that match my classroom colors and décor. The students love to see pictures of themselves with their friends. The photos promote much oral language and a positive classroom spirit of cooperation and friendship. (Tip: Use additional smaller-size copies of such photos to create student books and class scrapbooks.)

Widen Your Community Awareness to Include the World 

Idea by Telicia, 3rd Grade Teacher, Limington, ME

A theme that I’ve found to be effective for both decorating and promoting community in your classroom is “Communities Around the World.”  I display maps of each continent and then surround each map with postcards from different countries located within that continent. (I had collected some of these postcards on my own; I purchased others through I include postcards of people, homes, landscapes, and animals. For the first few weeks of school during read aloud time, I read folktales from the continent that we are currently focusing on. We discuss plot, characters, and morals of the various stories.

We then use the moral of each story to better our classroom community. I make available nonfiction books about countries within the continent for students to read during silent reading time or free time.

We also participate in a classroom postcard exchange with other schools in the United States. We send out 100 postcards (two schools in each state participated), and we receive postcards from these schools about their state and community.

My children have been enjoying this theme and I’ve benefited from this approach as well. I feel it helps bring a level of authenticity to our studies about communities.


Community Centers Right in Your Classroom

Idea by Dana, 2nd Grade Teacher, McDonough, GA

I like to promote classroom unity in several ways.  As my students enter our room they pass through door décor that is updated each month. Once in the classroom, my students routinely engage in activities designed to highlight their positive character traits. For example, they may write about their favorite things to do, tell about a fun book, draw pictures, etc. I also make sure I set up different centers that are happy places to visit, for example:

• The “Bucket Station” is where students can uplift and encourage each other by writing nice notes of appreciation and kindness. We empty the buckets every Friday and share the contents aloud. (We all love to be recognized.)

• The “Calming Corner” is a safe place for students to visit go if their frustration levels are up. When they need a break from someone in their group or from a challenging skill that is seemingly too tough at the moment, students are allowed to excuse themselves (primarily during center rotations) and retreat to the Calming Corner. Once there, students find several activities that allow them time to refocus and return with a positive attitude.

• The “Wall of Character” is where I list monthly character traits (i.e., honesty, kindness, compassion, etc.) and we meet each week to discuss what they mean and provide examples of what they look like in action in our classroom.

Finally, when students leave, they have a choice as to whether they want to “shake, slap, or squeeze.” In other words, they can shake my hand, give me a high five or hug me as they leave for the day.  As for me, I tell each of them to have a good night because I love them.


You’ll Love This Theme to Pieces 

Idea by Sarah, 3rd Grade Teacher, Wise, VA

Of all the classroom theme ideas I have tried, my favorite so far has been a puzzle theme.   I use my room to display a number of different puzzle-related themes and slogans, such as:

“We All Fit Together”

“It Takes Every Piece to Make a Whole”

“We Are All Different, But Without One, Our Puzzle Is Not Complete, ” And

“We Make a Great Team When We Work Together.”

I carry the theme into different areas of the curriculum. For example, I point out that it takes all of the pieces of a story or an equation working together for it to make sense. I also display puzzle pieces around my clock to show the minutes 5, 10, 15, 20, etc.

(Editor’s Tip: Our Really Good Stuff’s “Interlocking Kids Puzzle Kit” and our “We All Fit In Puzzle Kit” support a puzzle theme beautifully.)


Shoot for the Stars!

Idea by Diana, 2nd Grade Teacher, La Junta, CO

Each year, my classroom theme is “The Stars.” I use it to promote both individual and team success. Our bulletin board, titled “The Walk of Fame,” displays students’ autographed names on individual stars. Each student’s work is also displayed next to his or her star. Our classroom newsletter, “The Stars of Room 218,” always features our “Student Star of The Week.” Families are encouraged to communicate with us via our official Facebook page: The Stars of Room 218. I share with students how we are all stars in our own way and how important it is for all of us to shine.


Class Caring Hawaiian Style

Idea by Hilary, 1st & 5th Grade Teacher, Hana, HI

We live in Hawaii and taking care is called Malama.

I have incorporated the concept of Malama into every aspect of our classroom learning:

  • Taking care
  • Taking care of ourselves
  • Taking care of each other
  • Taking care of our class
  • Taking care of our community
  • Taking care of our earth

We Malama ourselves, each other, our school and our aina (land).

Thematic Immersion All Day Long

Idea by Linda, Teacher of Transitional Kindergarten, Walnut Grove, CA

When I decide on a classroom theme, I make sure to present that theme in every way possible throughout the day and across the curriculum. For example, here are some typical ways I maintain a Weather theme:

  • We sing a weather song (The Water Cycle Boogie)
  • We maintain a daily weather chart
  • We make weather-related art (cloud paintings, sun weavings, rainbow chalk art, etc.).

In addition, I change my overall language to reflect the theme and to expand vocabulary. For example:

  • I have a theme-related weather Word of the Day
  • When we stand up, we shout “Evaporation!”
  • When we sit, we “percolate” (water seeping into the ground) and we move throughout the day using “rain” (average speed), “snow” (take your time) and “hail” (hurry up).

I also make sure my bulletin boards feature weather-related borders, content, photos, etc.

Let Students Build Their Own Confidence & Community

Idea by Julie, 4th Grade Teacher, Akron, OH

To promote community in my classroom, I encourage students to choose one special piece of work to display each week. Each Monday, students pick their favorite pieces from the previous week’s worth of work. I use spring-closure binder clips to post the pieces on the wall. Each student has his or her own clip. Students can choose their favorite pieces of work based on any criteria they wish. For example, they can choose to display their best work, pieces they found to be the most challenging or those they found to be the most fun to work on.

In addition, pieces can reflect any discipline or curriculum area.

With this student-led approach, students feel they are part of the room while their classmates can see their accomplishments as well. It is always great to see student work posted in the room—especially work they value most.


“Stitching” Together a Sense of Community 

Idea by Shachi, 4th Grade Teacher, Flower Mound, TX

Ever since my student teaching days, I have had each student create/design a paper quilt square reflecting their interests. I then use the squares to promote a sense of classroom community. I display these squares on the wall as a class quilt. The resulting quilt represents each student’s individuality plus our combined talents and interests. It serves to show that without one student, the quilt would be incomplete. (Tip: Over the course of the year, you can invite each student to update his or her quilt square to reflect changing interests and advancing skills. You can save each student’s set of squares and use them to create individual wall hangings that students can then present to their families at the end of the year.)

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Theme

Idea by Jamie, 1st Grade Teacher, Belle Harbor, NY

The classroom theme I have found to be the most effective for both decorating and promoting community in my classroom is stars. In the beginning of the school year, I cover my door with black paper and add a banner that reads, “Shoot into First Grade.” I then festoon this background with sparkly stars printed with students’ names.

In the days and weeks that follow, we discuss what it means to be star students, star helpers, and star friends. We even have a song that sings about “reaching for the stars and shooting up to Mars.” When walking in the hallway, we all pretend to be stars by twinkling our hands in the sky and not touching anyone else or any of the work lining the walls.


When It Comes to Décor—Let Some of It Be

Idea by Jocelyn, Kindergarten Teacher, Conshohocken, PA

When I first started teaching, I was focused on decorating.  But over time, I learned that our precious classroom wall space should be functional and meaningful—and some of it should be left free of my hand so that students can put their own mark on their learning space. I now resist the urge to decorate every nook and cranny for the children. I have learned that, in addition to providing meaningful décor, it is equally important for me to leave some corners empty and some bulletin boards covered only with solid background paper ready for students’ own ideas.

When Less Décor is More 

Idea by Julie, 4th Grade Teacher, Akron, OH

For new teachers planning a new theme/decor, I recommend choosing a theme with staying power—preferably one not connected to the seasons, holidays or a unit you will only center on for a few weeks. While decorating can be fun and creative, totally revamping a generic theme (e.g., sports, outer space, stars, polka-dots, etc.) each year   costs time and money. Consider sticking with one theme and then limiting decor updates to one or two centers or areas. Use fadeless paper to create displays and make them versatile enough that you don’t have to change them monthly. Don’t overdo the decorations; too much “stuff” can create a cluttered feel and can detract from learning. You can use the time you save decorating to plan quality lessons—or just relax!


Whoooo Wants a Calm Classroom?  Decorating for Children with Autism

Idea by Allison, K-1st Grade Special Education Teacher, Chesapeake, VA

I teach children with autism so I want my classroom atmosphere and decorations to be calm, soothing, and non-stimulating.  I have an “Owl” theme in my classroom and decorate using coordinating forest colors of green and brown. I carry this theme throughout the entire room from the bulletin boards to the tables to the ceiling. I added light covers that add a relaxing, soft, green glow to my room. Even other teachers enjoy dropping by my room to relax and regroup.


Let Mother Nature Be Your Decorator

Idea by Heather, 3rd Grade Teacher, Sandy, OR

Since I want our focus to be on whatever we are currently learning, I don’t really adhere to any one classroom “theme” or thematic décor.  But I do use a nature-inspired color theme (browns, aqua, and greens) to tie the environment together and to create a calm, comfortable, and secure place for my kids to spend their days. I feel too much “visual noise” can be distracting to students, so my muted color theme helps to tone down distractions as well. I’ve had several parents (particularly those of students with special needs) comment that my classroom environment is an ideal place for their children to learn.


What are some of your favorite classroom decors?  Share with us below!

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