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Creative School Year Themes

By Beth Newingham on September 9, 2009
  • Grades: 3–5

One of the most important goals for me as a teacher is to build community in my classroom.  Making my diverse students feel like a united group of individuals who care for each other and work together is what I strive for as each new school year begins.  I also work hard to make my classroom a place where learning is fun and where students feel excited to be each day.  Implementing a class theme each year is the perfect way for me to combine these two important goals.  

My year-long themes create a sense of unity as soon as students enter the door.  Depending on the theme, students are immediately part of a team (sports theme or racing theme), a crew (space theme or nautical theme), or even a band (rock 'n' roll theme).  Whatever the theme may be, all students are an important part of the classroom community, and the theme itself determines our class identity for the school year.

P1030860 The theme also determines how I decorate my classroom and hallway, and the names I designate for certain activities in the classroom, as well as the title of my weekly newsletter, the money in our classroom economy, and group names for word study centers.  

The theme does not determine what I teach academically.  I still follow the same units of study in each subject every year regardless of the theme.  My themes are simply a creative way to make my classroom come alive and make my students feel excited to be part of a shared experience during the school year.


Sports Theme Team Cover

During this theme, my class was called “Team Newingham.” Students were sports stars who graced the covers of Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine and displayed their student numbers on jerseys they made for an open house. Students also created sports trading cards to reveal information about themselves, and many books were read aloud that promoted teamwork. Our class newsletter was called the "Team Newingham Tribune."

View more pictures & info about the sports theme.


Space Theme

BrendanDuring this theme, our class was transformed into Planet 13.  The students were part of a crew who posed as astronauts for NASA posters that were created at the beginning of the year for a display in the hallway.  Our class newsletter was titled the “Planet 13 Press,” and our class money was called “Cosmic Cash.”  Student groups who rotated through word study centers were given planet names, and our daily math review before math workshop was known as "Martian Math."  The student who led the lesson each day was known as the “Martian Mathematician.”

View more pictures and information about the space theme.


Racing Theme

During this theme, my class was also referred to as “Team Newingham,” but this time we were a racing team.  Students were all part of the pit crew when it came to classroom jobs, and the “Star of the Week” became known as the “Driver of the Week.”  Students wore race car driver outfits for their first day picture so that race car driver posters could be made for a display in our hallway.  I even turned the front of my desk into the front of a race car.  Our end of the year video celebration was known as the “Team Newingham Grand Prix.” 

View more pictures and information about the racing theme.


Rock 'n' Roll Theme

DanielleDuring this theme, our classroom was known as “Rockin’ Room 13."  The students were rock stars who were featured as “Newingham Idols” on posters that were displayed outside our classroom.  Class jobs were referred to as “Rockin’ Responsibilities,” and our video celebration at the end of the year was called “Our Greatest Hits.”

View more pictures and information about the rock 'n' roll theme.

Comments (25)

Hi Beth!
I love all of your ideas! Last year I used your files to create Rock Star photos like you have on your site. I went to it last week but can't seem to get there today. It keeps saying invalid path anytime I click on your "troy" links?

Do you have any idea why?

Hillary Beemer

I tried to download the template for the baseball card. I have winzip on the computer, but the file still seems to have a problem when trying to open it. Do you have a mac computer and it doesn't work on regular pc's?

I have found your ideas to be amazing. I am a little frustrated as I would love to be able to print out theme ideas but i have a mac computer and cannot find printshop 3.0 for my mac!...any suggestions



Perhaps a "how-to" post about creating signs in Print Shop is something I will do next year! Thanks for the suggestion!


Would you ever consider (in the coming school year) posting a how-to blog about how you make all the wonderful signs and posters that are in your room using Printshop?


Unfortunately I do not have a special way of printing out cards or posters without using a lot of ink. While we do have a color ink budget at our school, I also end up going through too many color ink cartidges on my home computer each year!

Have fun at the Oceans movie this week. Our school is going too!


Do you have any special way in which you print out the posters and cards? Seems like that would use a lot of ink/toner on a computer color printer. I'm looking at making some of the cards as souvenirs for our trip to see the Disney movie Oceans this week.


I have about 5 solid year-long themes now, so it is about time for me to start recycling them in years to come! I am so excited that you are enjoying the teamwork theme. I absolutely love your idea about using the concept of "clubhouse" and "major league" as a reading incentive. I will certainly have to remember that when I use the theme again!

Thanks for sharing!


Thank you, Beth, for sharing your amazing ideas. I am using the Teamwork theme in my 3rd grade classroom this year. The students love the baseball cards which I've tied into a reading incentive program. All students started out in the clubhouse, but they're reading books and completing book reports to make it to the minor league and, ultimately, the major league. Your ideas are so inspiring! Thank you!


The racing theme was definitely a favorite one for my me and students! I used Print Shop to make the decoration for the front of my desk. I just found clipart of the front of a race car and then printed it on multiple sheets of paper.

When you choose print (in the Print Shop program) and the print dialog box comes up, there is a button labeled "Output Size." If you click on that button, you can choose to print 2x2, 3x3, 4x4, etc. You can also choose a percentage if you want to increase or decrease the size of your poster to a specific proportion. Of course after the pages are printed, you must glue them all together to create the final poster.


I love these theme ideas. The proof is in the smiles of the children. How did you make the front of your desk a racecar?? Cardboard? Sounds like fun!!

Naomi White Randolph K Teacher


I agree that the theme topics are engaging. We always do some thematic lessons at the beginning of the year when we are launching a theme. However, our required curriculum is so jam-packed that I do not have tons of time to venture out and do separate units to compliment my themes.

Some of the themes we have picked in the past are already part of our curriculum. The solar system is part of the 3rd grade curriculum in our district, so the Planet 13 theme worked well. The Team theme is always great because made sure to we read lots of books with teamwork as the theme. The Racing and Hollywood themes lend themselves less to academic tie-ins.

Our theme for this year is Pier 13. As cool as it would be do an entire unit on Ocean Life or something of that sort, there is just too little time. However, during my nonfiction unit when I am teaching students about text features and different text structure, I will likely choose texts that highlight marine-life. I will also be sure to use theme-related texts in guided reading when possible, but a whole unit devoted to a theme topic is nearly impossible to fit into our curriculum.

Thanks for the great question! -Beth

Do you do any studying of the themes during year? The topics are so rich as well as well thought out. The depth of the themes throughout the room are a strong engagement for learning. Pat Gill


Unfortunately, I don't have the biopoems saved on my computer. I did that theme quite a few years ago. My students actually typed the poems in our computer lab and saved them in their personal folders at the time. However, they are pretty simple to create. Just insert clipart into a project, and then insert a text box on top of it. The key is to make sure students use a font color that stands out from the colors in the chosen the clipart.

Good luck with the team theme. It is a fun one!

I am using your team theme this year and would love to use the biopoems along with the Sports Illustrated covers. How did you create the templates for the biopoems? Would you be willing to share your templates?


Thanks for visiting our blog. I hope you will enjoy the many new ideas we plan to add to the blog this year!


I removed the link to the Excel file of my classroom library books because it was getting so out of date. I now use an Intelliscanner and Media Collector software to keep track of my books and have used it now for a few years. Here is a link to more information about the Intelliscanner product and software: http://www.intelliscanner.com/products/media/

Thanks for visting my blog!


I really love everything that Beth has to offer. I have had the pleasure to meet her in person and she is so inspirational! I'm sure Angela shares Beth's enthusiasm and vision for creating wonderful learning environments. I will continue to visit the blog to get ideas for this school year.

I was wondering if i could access her excel file for her library? it used to be able to be downloaded but it isn't anymore.. I love her!


Although we do plan to start an FAQ section soon, I know it is sometimes hard to wait! I use Print Shop version 23 to create the posters and/or artwork. If you click on the links underneath each theme in the post, you can download the poster files and then be able to insert your own pictures and/or headlines. Enjoy!

Hi Kim,

We're excited, too. Agreed, we get inspired by Beth all the time. Stay tuned for the Teaching Matters Resource Center -- should see it at the end of this month.

Thanks, Amy

I am so glad to see that Beth has returned. She is truly an inspiration to all teachers!

Hi Eric,

So glad you're inspired by Beth's theme idea. We're hard at work on a Resource Center for Teaching Matters that will include what programs and resources Beth uses in her classroom. Stay tuned! We're hoping to present it by the end of the month.


What a great idea! Thanks for this theme idea! This helps to unify students in a team mentality to work together. What program did you use to make the artwork/backgrounds?


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