Surviving the First Six Weeks of School, Part 1: Classroom Setup

By Sharon Taylor on August 5, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K

Those restful days of summer have come and gone. It's almost time to enter a new school year. As you walk back inside your school, you can immediately feel your temperature rising. You are about to come face to face with the unknown. No, it is not some bloodcurdling creature out of a horror film. It's your classroom!

Those restful days of summer have come and gone. It's almost time to enter a new school year. As you walk back inside your school, you can immediately feel your temperature rising. You are about to come face to face with the unknown. No, it is not some bloodcurdling creature out of a horror film. It's your classroom! Finding your once-organized classroom replaced by bare walls and empty shelves can be a bit frightening. Before you begin moving things from place to place, scratching up those freshly buffed floors, read on for strategies to help you with classroom setup.

 

Why Is Classroom Setup So Important?

Successful teachers realize that the school year begins days before that first official report-back-to-work day. They spend countless hours of summer vacation preparing their classrooms for the students' return. These teachers have recognized that classroom setup can have a dramatic impact on student learning. Students need an environment that is well organized and functional, and that encourages independence. How you choose to set up your room says a lot to students, parents, and visitors about what you want to accomplish and even what you believe about student interaction and learning.

Let's Begin!

 

Analyze and Reflect

The key to classroom setup is to plan, plan, and plan some more! Having a well-thought-out plan before you begin setting up your classroom will save you tons of time and backaches. To start, just sit someplace comfortable and get the feel of the room. Take a few moments to decide what you want to include in your classroom this year. Reflect on things that have worked or that didn't work so well in the past. Sometimes I tour my colleagues' classrooms for inspiration and ideas. Then it's time to sketch a map of where you would like to see specific areas. Scholastic's classroom setup tool is great for trying out different arrangements.

Arrange Tables or Desks 

The first thing I suggest is to arrange your tables or desks. Once these large objects are set up, it is easy to arrange everything else. How you position them will largely depend on the goals and objectives you have for your class. My school places a strong emphasis on community and collaboration. For this reason, all classes in the lower grades are equipped with tables that seat four. If you have desks and would like to encourage a more collaborative environment, you'll probably want to arrange them in clusters by turning the fronts of the desks together. When arranging your tables and desks, make sure there is adequate space for students to maneuver around them.

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Define Specific Areas

All areas of your room should serve some functional purpose. I use area rugs and bookshelves to separate and define different pockets of space, mostly as learning centers. When setting up your classroom for centers, always remember to separate areas with high activity from those where students need quiet. You will also need to select an area where you can meet with small groups. Use a large rug to mark off space for whole group activities. Care should be taken not to create areas where students cannot be monitored.

 

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Make It Theirs With Classroom Decor

Making the transition from home to school can be a difficult process for many students. To make your classroom feel more like home, try adding a few personal touches such as lamps, plants, and pillows. These personal touches will make your classroom setup feel inviting and warm. Set aside a bulletin board or any wall space as your designated area to post children's drawings, written work, and other projects. I also place various photos of my students around the classroom. This helps to provide the students with a sense of belonging and ownership. Sprinkle a couple personal photos from home around your work area. This gives students and parents a quick glimpse of your interests and personality.

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Classroom setup can be daunting for any teacher, whether they're tenured or just starting out. Carefully planning and preparing your classroom in advance will help you save time, energy, and stress. Giving up a few days of your summer to set up your classroom is your first step to surviving the first six weeks of school. Join me next week for part two of your survival guide, Classroom Organization.

Let the transformation begin!

Comments

I love these small tables! Of course, our school has no money to replace desks so I'll just rearrange the room into pods of 4 desks. Thanks for so many helpful ideas.

Thanks Jill! The students love coming into the classroom and seeing photos of themselves all around. This simple gesture really helps to build their sense of ownership in the classroom.

Your classroom looks wonderful! I love the way you have the children's pictures in frames at their hooks. What a great idea!

I love the personal touch. I plan to incorporate that into the environment this year. I am looping with my students in the same classroom this year. Any suggestions on classroom setup?

Hi Mary, it's great to hear from you! Yes, adding a few personal touches to the classroom really makes them feel at home.

Thanks Tomeka! I am happy you will be able to implement my ideas into your own classroom. That's what this is all about-sharing!

Great post Sharon! I can't wait to use some of your ideas.

Hi Jessica, thanks for reading my post! I would advice a middle school teacher to try some of the techniques I mentioned in this post as well. Students in Middle school need areas for whole group and small group activites. They would probably prefer to use their desk instead of the large carpet for whole group meetings. Join me next week when I discuss classroom organization!

Is room setup any different when it applies to a Middle School Classroom?

I love how you make it so personal. It reduces the anxiety for the little ones.

Thanks Lorraine! Yes, I am fortunate to have a classroom of this size. We have community supplies that are placed in the center of each table. The students also use chair bags to store materials. I will talk more about the community supplies in part 2.

This room looks so big! I love that it looks so homey. I see that you have tables instead of desks. Where do students keep their supplies? I look forward to part 2!

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