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An Easy Guide to Setting Up Your Grade K-5 Classroom

How to arrange your new room's physical layout, create a warm environment with personality, and address safety concerns

By Linda Shalaway
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

At last, a classroom of your own! Time to roll up your shirtsleeves and begin transforming that empty space into a warm and inviting place for your first class. Here's how.

Well-run classrooms begin with the room's physical layout — the arrangement of desks and workspaces, the attractiveness and appeal of bulletin boards, and the storage of materials and supplies. Keep these teacher-tested tips in mind as you design your first classroom.

Physical Arrangements

  • Evaluate the classroom space and your style. The physical layout should reflect your teaching style. If you want students to collaborate in small groups, for example, organize them around tables or clusters of desks. For frequent whole-group discussions, try a circle or U-shaped desk configuration. If you plan on an individualized self-paced curriculum, you might set up learning stations.
     
  • Add personal touches. The physical layout should also reflect you. Don't hesitate to give the room your personal touch with plants, art, rugs, posters, and maybe some cozy pillows for the reading corner.
     
  • Create distinct areas. Many teachers prefer to create different areas within the classroom. For example, a classroom might feature a quiet reading area, a music area where students can play soft music while completing work, a discussion/conversation center, a large table for cooperative projects, multimedia spaces, learning centers or stations, and individual work areas.
     
  • Keep supplies within easy reach. Easily accessible materials and supplies can eliminate delays, disruptions, and confusion as students prepare for activities. In poorly arranged classrooms, students spend a lot of time waiting — waiting in line, waiting for help, waiting to begin. To eliminate some waiting, store frequently used items such as scissors and paste in several different areas.
     
  • Arrange desks purposefully. In many classrooms, the largest amount of space is devoted to the arrangement of individual student desks. Teachers' preferences for desk arrangements vary greatly, but most teachers agree that the days of 30 desks lined up in neat rows facing the teacher's desk up front are long gone. Instead, some teachers like to arrange desks in cooperative groups of four, while many others prefer a U-shaped configuration, where everyone has a front-row seat.  Try out different desk arrangements using Scholastic's Classroom Setup Tool.

No matter how you arrange the desks, don't be afraid to make changes. Rearranging the furniture to support positive student interactions is essential from the first day of school to the last day.

The Classroom Environment

  • Create both well-lit and dimly lit areas in the classroom by using bookcases, screens, plants, and other furniture. Some children learn best in bright light, but others do significantly better in low light. Bright light actually makes some students restless and hyperactive.
     
  • Provide opportunities for children to move around while visiting learning centers and other special classroom areas. Most of us have the mistaken impression that children learn best when sitting still, but research now proves that many children need extensive mobility while learning. These children learn significantly more if they move from one area to another as they acquire new information.
     
  • Establish informal furniture arrangements where students can sit on soft chairs or pillows, or lounge on the carpet.  Research supports the common sense notion that many students pay better attention and achieve higher goals in more comfortable positions.
     
  • Set up listening stations with headsets for children who need sound, and quiet study areas for those who work best in silence. Many children disprove the commonly held conception that silence helps students concentrate better.
     

Safety Concerns

As you design your space, keep the following basic safety checklist in mind:

  • High traffic areas (by the pencil sharpener, for example) are free of congestion.
     
  • Students' desks are always visible.
     
  • Art and science supplies — especially anything sharp or toxic — are stored safely.
     
  • Breakable items are displayed or stored in safe places.
     
  • Students can easily see instructional displays and presentations from their desks.
     
  • Students have space to store their belongings.
     
  • Electrical outlets are available, but frayed cords and other dangers are not.
     
  • Window and door exits are unobstructed.
     
  • Rugs are fastened down so no one trips.
     
  • Fire drill procedures and exit routes are posted by the door.
     
  • Your name, class, and room number are posted on the classroom door, where parents and students can easily see them.

 

Dramatic Design Flairs

The sky's the limit when it comes to designing classroom space. Here are two suggestions to spark creative ideas:

  • Ask for material or time donations from friends and family who have skills that may improve the design and function of your room. One teacher from Nevada asked her husband, a carpenter, to make a special desk with a recessed top. She used the desk to keep math manipulatives accessible and in one place.
     
  • Make unique spaces in your room that serve special purposes. Teachers have placed comfy rocking chairs, giant rubber tires, and even old bathtubs in a quiet corner to serve as a special reading space. A fourth-grade teacher from New York built an eight-foot high loft (it can hold six children) in his classroom that functions as a puppet theater, quiet reading/writing space, teaching platform, private conference space, test make-up area, and place to stage skits, science experiments, and more.

 

 

 

This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway, © 2005, published by Scholastic, Inc..

This book is available in the Scholastic Teacher Store.

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    Classroom Management, Back-to-School Experiences, Back to School, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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