Literacy Partners

3 Smart Ways To Efficiently Prepare Your Classroom for Students This Fall

Picture this … You’re standing in the center of your classroom before the school year begins. There are boxes all around you, bulletin boards are bare, and there’s a minefield of tables and chairs. You hear your heart pounding in your chest as you ask yourself, “How will this room ever be ready in a few days?”

Deep breath. You’ve got this!

First, let’s simplify things. By the first day of school, our goal is to create welcoming, engaging, and student-centered classroom spaces.

Here are three classroom set-up tips to help you get ready for students (without the stress).

Tip 1: Get in the Right Mindset

When I clean out my closet at home, I try to get honest with myself about the clothes I’ll keep and those I plan to donate. I want my wardrobe to be functional, inviting, and reflect who I am. This same approach can help when it comes to classroom set-up.
Before you move furniture or purchase any items, here are a few key questions to streamline your decision-making process:

Before you move furniture or purchase any items, here are a few key questions to streamline your decision-making process:

  • Who will use this? Whether it’s furniture, an anchor chart, or a bulletin board, you’ll want to be clear on the intended user(s) for all things inside your room. If you realize that a few of your bulletin boards, for example, are actually more decorative than utilitarian, adjust your plan to create more student-centered displays.
  • Who is the owner of this? Classrooms with shared ownership of spaces, such as the library and writing center, are more engaging for kids. Giving students responsibilities within their learning environment is a beautiful way to build investment in the classroom community.
  • How soon will this be introduced? If you have items or displays in your classroom that you won’t discuss for weeks, it’s okay to hold off. Think about what MUST be ready in your room to welcome students to a safe and engaged classroom on day one and then prioritize your to-do list accordingly.
  • Expert Tip: In August, start with a smaller library and build it over the year so that your books are changing and there’s excitement around new books.
  • Is this flashy or functional? Don’t get me wrong; some gorgeous classroom posts online have inspired my classroom design. No matter how nice something might look, if it’s not functional, you’re better off investing your time and effort elsewhere.
  • Is this something kids can help create? In A Teacher’s Guide to Interactive Writing, author Matt Halpern highlights a slew of classroom elements that can be co-created with students through interactive writing. Here are classroom elements he suggests to co-create to help students feel more like the room is their space:
    • The daily schedule
    • Classroom rules and/or agreements
    • Classroom labels
    • Table names
    • Words of encouragement posters

Tip 2: Envision Kids in the Environment

Every space has pros and cons, no matter what classroom you teach in. The classroom space should be accessible, both physically and intellectually, for you and each of your students. As you do this, here are the top two environmental considerations to keep in mind as you plan your room:

  1. Gathering Area:
    Your gathering area is an essential space within your room that helps build community, increase student engagement, and demonstrate clearly in front of students throughout your day, not just in workshop. You’ll want to make sure that the space you designate as your gathering area…
    • Has enough space for all students to gather.
    • Is right in front of your doc cam, so students can see you demonstrate clearly.
    • Allows for your anchor chart to be displayed as you teach. This might be on a chart stand, easel, or whiteboard.
    • Allows you to sit in front of your students. You might have a teacher chair, stool, or wobble seat.

Pro Tip: Plan the pathways you’ll want your students to take to and from the gathering area before the first day of school. Make sure there’s an easy entry in and out of this space so that they can do this successfully when you’re ready to send the whole class off at once.

2. Areas for Each Subject: Designate space for each subject! Here are a few examples:

  • Writing: Decide where to set up your writing area — this can have your writing center, a basket of mentor texts as you introduce them, a writing bulletin board, and maybe you even have space to hang writing charts that kids are still using.
  • Math: Decide where your math manipulatives will go, and, if possible, place your math anchor charts above.
  • Reading: This area should house all things reading: your library, extra bookmarks, sticky notes, and pens for kids to grab when they need them.

3. Peer Interaction: Collaboration is such a powerful learning tool. You’ll want to consider all opportunities students will have to interact with one another in the classroom, even before they meet you. Here are a few suggestions to help foster these interactions:

      • Group your tables in pods of 4 to 6 students.
      • Plan the space around the room for students to read and write with partners.
      • Create opportunities for students to share supplies (e.g., writing materials, manipulatives, sticky notes).

4. Responsive Resources: Kids will be engaging with different learning materials starting on the first day of school. These are the resources you’ll want to ensure these reflect the needs of the students in your room:

    • Paper choices with your writing center should match the sophistication level of your writers.
    • Books within your library should honor readers’ interests, identities, and approximate reading levels.
    • Labels around the room greatly support all learners, including multilingual learners. Also consider adding pictures or clipart to these labels.
    • Word walls should be compiled together with students rather than spending time organizing an entire word display yourself.

Tip 3: Plan for Flexibility

Welp, not everything goes to plan, including our classroom environment. And that’s okay! Here are a few ways to ensure changes to your classroom environment don’t throw you or your students off along the way:

  • Ask for student input: What better way to honor your students’ learning than to include them in designing their learning environment?
  • Sketch before you act: It can be really easy to be reactive when something doesn’t go as planned. Try sketching out a quick plan before you shake things up. Those few extra moments of reflection can save you in the long run.
  • Check in with colleagues: Without a doubt, your colleagues have come across similar, if not the exact roadblocks with their classroom environment that you have. If you’re stuck, have a colleague walk through your room with you and share ideas.

With just a little planning, you’ll set up your classroom for a successful year in no time!

Go Deeper with these Book Recommendations

A Teacher’s Guide to Interactive Writing by Matt Halpern

Interactive Writing How Language & Literacy Come Together, K-2 by Andrea McCarrier, Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell,

Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning

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