Creating a Classroom Theme

By Brent Vasicek on August 18, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

Many children love to go to birthday parties, especially when there is a theme. Whether it is pirates, princesses, or ponies, a themed party provides direction for the host and continuity and fun for the participants. Why not start your year off in a fun way by adding a theme to your classroom?

Picking the right theme can be difficult. The theme has to be positive and lend itself to inexpensive decor that is easy to find. I have three themes that work for my teaching style  The Olympics, Voyagers, and Entertainment. The best place you can go to get ideas for readily available themes is a party store.  With the invention of scene setters (50' long plastic sheets with preprinted scenes), you can get some pretty impressive, durable decor for under $100. Say adios to the days of creating all your own art work and large sheets of butcher block!

Tips for Using Themes:

  • Buy (or create) invitations to the first day of school. Students love getting invitations, and it builds positive anticipation for the first day.

  • Coordinate your class website and/or newsletter with your theme by adding clip art, MIDI sound files, and colors.  

  • Find music that fits your theme to use as anchors for certain activities. 

  • Have the theme up and ready to go on the first day of school. My goal is to have the room look as little like a classroom on the first day as possible. For me, this means minimal educational posters and no books on the desks. Preparations might also include plastic tablecloths for the desks, cheap centerpieces, props (not worksheets!) for an opening day activity, and a colorful message or picture for the whiteboard.

  • If you have computers in your classroom, make a quick one-slide PowerPoint presentation to display a welcoming message on each computer. 

  • Keep the room secret. I label my room with a "Top Secret" sign outside the main door until the first day of school or the Open House. The impact is much greater when everyone sees the room at the same time. After all, don't you enjoy a movie more when you experience it yourself, without others leaking the cool parts to you ahead of time?

  • Base your reward system or classroom society on the theme. For example, privileges in my class during an Olympic year differ based on medal status. A gold medal status (all your work turned in and top-notch behavior) would get you the most privileges.

  • No longer call yourself "Room 24." Go with Pier 24, Studio 24, Set 24, Road 24, or Olympic Village. Director Mr V 2008 Crop

  • Dress up! If you really want to go above and beyond, get into character to match your theme. I have dressed as a captain and a director, but have yet to wear a toga for the Olympic theme.

  • Plan a year-end celebration that incorporates the theme. For the Voyagers we had a "Sunken Treasure" celebration. For Entertainment we have our own version of the Academy Awards. For the Olympics we have "Olympic Closing Ceremonies" in which we extinguish the educational torch that has been lit all year and pass out real medals for unique moments in the year.

  • Find a book to read the first week that fits your theme. If you need ideas for books, try the Book Wizard.

  • Most importantly, be committed to it!

Themes some of my colleagues have used in the past include Road Trip, Sports Team, Luau, Western, Jungle, Patriotism, Animals, and Polka Dots.  What themes have you incorporated into your classroom?

That's a wrap!
Director Vasicek

Comments

Brent,

I love your blog!! I am studying elementary education and am starting my last year in college this fall. I will be student teaching in the spring and will certainly use many of your tips during that semester and my first few years! Thanks for giving so many great tips and for your wonderful inspiration!

Erica, That's the best way to do it. Try them out. Some will work for you and others might not. Hopefully this blog will give you plenty to add to your teacher bag o' tricks. Director Vasicek

I created a Monopoly theme. Although I couldn't go out and buy ready made decor, it was so much fun to put together and the kids love it. I bought a ton of used Monopoly games and used the parts for various things.

I glued Property Cards onto bulletin border strips. My behavior system featured laminated Monopoloy money to shop at our "store". The wall display outside is a Monopoly board with a place for each student's work labeled - Meghan Boulevard, Sally Avenue, etc - and push pins with Monopoly houses hot glued on. Best part - student nameplates on their desk made to look like property cards with the same labels from the hall display. The kids love it!

Erika, I love it, too! The economic lessons alone make this a worthwhile venture. I really do enjoy the game Monopoly. In fact, my entire basement has been converted to a game room. The perimeter of the room is all 4 foot high Monopoly properties. Complete with Monopoly clock, drinking glasses, and coasters. I think you may have sparked my theme for next year! Thank you! Collecting $200 and Passing Go, Brent

Brent, Welcome to the Scholastic family!! I just LOVE this theme and may need to "borrow" your ideas for my theme next year!! Your posts are great, and I look forward to using many of your ideas throughout the school year!

-Beth Newingham

Beth~ What an honor to have you read and comment on this blog. Thank you for the compliments. You set the bar high with your posts and ideas, and I will try to meet your 212 standards (you will find out what that means in about a week). Thanks, Brent

Brent,

Your theme is wonderful! I am using a "traveling" theme this year, and am looking forward to finally piecing it all together with my classroom website. I was looking at yours for some inspiration and am wondering how you included the Parent Survey on the Parent Page? I would love to include something like that. Any advice?

Thanks!

Leah, I would suggest trying Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com). It allows for multiple choice as well as free response answers to surveys. It compiles and stores your data. The free version gets me by, but there is an upgrade that allows you to generate advanced reports if you would like. Check it out! Director Vasicek

Leah

Brent, Your energy and spirit are inspiring. I'm moving forward with my western theme and I linked my next post to you.

Happy Teaching, Nancy Jang

Thanks, Nancy! Themes definitely make the year more enjoyable for the kids and the teachers. ~Brent

I love themes. I design units around themes. You are so creative. Your tips are fabulous. Most of all, I want to go back to 5th grade and be in your classroom.

Mary, Thank you. You are so kind! Brent

Wow - I bet the kids hope every year they are going to be in your room. I can't wait to see more. Allie

Allie, As the years go by more and more teachers are doing themes and going all out with the decor at Miami Elementary. It has been fun this week to walk down the halls and see what great classroom makeovers some of the staff have dreamed up. The most unique is the art room with zebra prints and hot pink accents. Our art teacher has a wonderful eye for putting a room together.

Thanks for reading,

Brent

Hi Brent,

I am currently seeking my master degree in elementary education to teach in Massachusetts. I love the idea of starting the year off with a theme; however I have a question regarding one of your tips.

My question is regarding the reward system. When you give out rewards for example at the end of the school year… Do you reward every student (even the ones who do not deserve it) or only the ones that did well throughout the school year?

Alesia, Fantastic Question. Rewards / privileges are earned throughout the year. I am a big "you work for me, then I work for you" type of guy. Typically, if you don't meet the minimal standard then you don't get the privilege.

At the end of the year I do hold an award ceremony. Yes, every student walks away with at least two awards as follows: (1) Me Award -- I find a funny/meaningful moment from the year and customize an award for the student. For example, a student who was into the money unit might get the Donald Trump Award (2) Life Skill Award -- I have the students choose a life skill for each of their peers that they feel is that peers strength.

There are other awards (honor roll, service squad, citizenship, Science Olympiad, attendance, etc) that only specific students will receive as they have earned them.

In my blog next week I will discuss end of the year tokens-of-rememberance. There is a great poem about starfish which I will share later. I read the poem to the students, connect it to the class, and then give each student a starfish to keep. The same goes for the gems.

Thank you for the great question. Director Vasicek www.mrvasicek.com

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