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Classroom Setup: Three Hours and Done!

By Genia Connell on August 28, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

There is no better time to let your inner-decorator come out than the beginning of a new school year. While planning my classroom space this summer, Pinterest’s classroom décor boards flashed before my eyes. I envisioned my room as a homey, color coordinated, earth-toned space a Pottery Barn stylist would envy. Then I remembered my classroom was a rather small, cinder-block rectangle adorned with white laminate cabinets and teal counters, and my budget was more Target and Dollar Tree than Pottery Barn. Curse you, reality!

What I did realize was that without spending a lot of money or time, I could still create a warm and welcoming environment that would serve my students well. This week, I’ll share with you how I set up my classroom in less than three hours leaving me more time to spend planning lessons and enjoying my family during these last days of summer.  

Watch this video of my actual classroom set-up to learn the zones every classroom needs, how to make sure your floor plan flows, the secrets to fade-resistant bulletin boards, and what you need to put in your teacher tool kit at the end of this year. Mobile users, please go to: http://bcove.me/u5le4fe4



Tips to Speed Up Your Set Up

1. Plan Ahead

  • Do as much prep work as possible at home, including sketching furniture layouts and creating bulletin board components on the computer. Even though I’m still technically working, I love that I’m doing it in close proximity to my family.

table covered withback to school materials

My kitchen table about a week before set-up. We ate out that night!


2. Avoid Distractions

  • Choose a time when there are not many people in the building. Don't be distracted with colleagues you haven’t seen all summer. Setting up your classroom quickly means you’ll have time with them — later.

  • Stay away from the computer. Often, sitting at my computer, one click leads to another. I've realized it’s best to get my computer work done at home and only leave printing for school.

3. Stay Focused          

  • Before you arrive, decide on everything that needs to be done and designate a specific time for each task.

  • Set a timer to help keep yourself on track.  

My Set-Up Breakdown


Time Allotted 

Furniture Arrangement 35 minutes
Bulletin Boards 40 minutes
Hallway Display 30 minutes
Decorating and Desktops 40 minutes
Copies and Planning 30 minutes

I use these fun timers with my class to keep them focused all year long (and for me when I need them!).

classroom timerclassroom timers

4. Don’t “Finish”

Everything does not need to be done for you to declare your classroom set-up finished. Think of your room as a work in progress.

  • I aways leave bulletin boards empty so the students can get excited when their work, not mine, fills them.

  • My classroom library is still under wraps on the first day of school. Introducing and setting out a few book baskets at a time over the first month of school helps build interest among my young readers.  

My "Finished" Bulletin Boards

star of the week board

job board

get started on the right foot


5. Give Yourself Permission to be You

  • Remember when the theme every single September was simply Back to School? In this day of teacher blogs and Pinterest boards, it is easy to feel inferior to the teacher who has used paper clips to recreate the Eiffel Tower for her City of Lights theme.

  • Do what works best for you no matter what that may be. I’ve had to teach myself it’s okay if everything doesn't match our theme, and in the process I've reclaimed hours of my life. I'll just hope my third graders and their parents will appreciate me for teaching my students all they need to know in a warm and caring environment, even if I’m not wearing a beret!


A Few More Things From the Video


My Classroom Spaces

As the video shows, my classroom is quite traditional. It includes spaces for large and small group instruction, and areas where students can easily collaborate or work independently. There is a teacher work center and student utility areas where homework can be turned in and lunch count taken.

whole group area

gathering area

homework area

teacher work space


My Most Ingenius Idea This Year!

During the decorating portion of set-up, I used just over five minutes to create a "curtain" out of a plastic tablecloth, duct tape, and an old tension rod. I was pretty excited about my $2 creation that will hide my messy bookshelf.

step one


Binder Covers You Can Personalize

I created these at home and printed at school during the last portion of my set-up. 

pink and aqua editable binder covereditable blue and purple chevron binder cover

editable black and white monogram binder cover

Click on the pictures above for an editable binder cover you can personalize. The font used on the first two is Fontmoochers from KevinandAmanda.com. You can download for free!

binder cover

Personalized Water Bottle Labels

I love creating water bottle labels as an easy way to provide an extra-special touch. Download my template to create our own labels. They're not just for the start of school — you can make personalized labels for special events all year. 

personalized water bottle labels

Favorites from Scholastic's Teacher Store

For nearly two decades I have purchased my Lesson Plan Book from the Teacher Store. I love its extra large size, and it comes with a CD that allows you to create your plans on the computer. 

I liked these Pop Charts so much I think I bought one of each style. Check them out in The Teacher Store for inspiring classroom decor. 

Strategically setting up my classroom in three hours has already gotten my school year off to a great start. I've been able to enjoy these last few weeks of vacation with my family. Previously I would be heading off to school nearly every day for a few hours to "work in room."

What advice do you have to get classrooms ready in record time? Please leave your best ideas and suggestions in the comment section below. Who knows, maybe next year it will take me two hours!

Comments (31)

Another great bulletin board backing is material. A yard or two of material and your good for several years. I don't even take it down at the end of the year,I just place paper over it.

Hi Genia! I came across your post and love your bulletin boards. Where did you find the materials for the Twister board in your hallway? Thanks!

When you hang the plastic table cloth, can you still see the creases from it being folded up in its package?

I do like your ideas and will use several of them. Thank you! It seems to me, though, that your room was pretty set up when you walked in. Mine will have everything put away and everything covered. It would probably take 2 hours to get me to the stage you were in when you walked in the door. Still, it could be a one long day job as opposed to a several day job.

I get excited planning for the new school year about the 1st of August. However I don't like to lose my last few summer weeks working in my classroom all day. To keep myself from 'overstaying' I put one of my favorite movies on with the sound rather low. When the movie's over, I wrap up what I'm doing and head out for the day.

FANTASTIC ideas!! I spend way too much time opening and closing my classroom each year. I have some helpers coming in for whom I will make task cards so that they can move from one task to another with little need for interruptions. Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to share this with us! I love the "Twister" board. How do you use that?

Great ideas! Thank you!!!

Always happy to share the little tips and tricks I've picked up over the years!

I love the idea of the plastic table cloths too! Just wondering, how do you put up the papers and posters to the plastic table cloths? Staples or tape?

Hi Sara Ann, I use staples on the tablecloths. They really hold up, even with the staples. Two of my boards have been covered with the same tablecloth for 4 years now and they still look great. ~Genia

How did you create the chevron stuff

Hi Reagan,

I used PrintShop to create the different colored patterns. :) ~Genia

Genia you are a genius! I love the plastic table cloth idea for boards. Much cheaper than fadeless paper and a bit stronger I would think. I am amazed at all you do! What do you do for your helper board? I need some ideas for Kindergarden! Thanks for all the great knowledge you shared. Hey I have been teaching 15 years and I love getting new ideas! I am not a crafty person and it is a bit harder for me to get the bulletin boards and decorations looking just so. I will be using banners next year instead of individual letters! Awesome!

Hi Elaine,

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Give the tablecloths a try! You can get two to three years out of those plastic table cloths and they never show a single fade mark! My job board are a lot of your basic jobs. I have kids do about 20 weekly jobs that need to be done and they love doing--like sorting and paper clipping turned in papers at the end of the day (executive secretary,) vacuuming up extra crumbs with our stick vac (clean-up crew,) and making sure all technology is turned off (media specialist.) I'm just like you--always looking for new ideas even after 25 years! Take care, Genia P.S. I may just show your comment to my husband as proof that I am indeed a genius--I've been trying to tell him that for years!! :)

I love the water bottles with personalized labels. Just curious what else was in the 3rd grade Survival Kit?

Hi Karen,

Thanks for your comment. The bag contains a lot of little things that each have a deeper meaning like an eraser to show it's okay to make mistakes, etc. The entire contents of the bag can be found in a printable in my post Five Easy Steps for Getting Your School Year Off to a Successful Start. Wishing you a great school year with your class! ~Genia

Genia, you simply amaze me! I love how all of these ideas are grounded in the real-world working under the premise that we teachers are very busy people. And yet you still manage to add unique and special touches. You demonstrate how to practically set up an incredible classroom space. Thanks for the inspiration and the reality check! ~Alycia

Thanks so much, Alycia. These days I feel like I have to keep it simple just to keep my head above water! Take care and have a wonderful start to your school year! ~G

Wow! You planned all of this in 30 minutes. Amazing! Great Ideas!

Great ideas! I especially love the tablecloth and bulletin board set-up box!

I LOVE the tablecloth. Where'd you find it? I, literally, spent the summer in my room as I had to downsize. It does look a lot better but things like attempting to print a copy or email something to the print shop takes forever! Help!

Hello! I'm pretty sure the plastic tablecloth came from Five Below. I took the leftovers from it on Friday and made two more "curtains!" I'm sure you will benefit from all the time and effort you put into your classroom this summer all through the year. Wishing you a wonderful start to your school year! ~Genia

I love the plastic table cloth idea for bulletin boards. I'm going to the dollar store to buy a few tomorrow.

Hi Lisa,

I've been using the plastic tablecloths for years and they really are a time saver! The pink one by my desk is starting its fourth year and it still looks new! Wishing you a great start to your school year! ~Genia

Love the video! You make the room set up seem simple and not complicated. We have already started school but I am going to redo part of my room to mirror yours. I look so forward to your posts. You are a teacher's teacher.

Thanks so much for your comment! I think keeping the room set up simple is the key! I hope you have had a great start to your school year! ~Genia

Fantastic ideas for the classroom, I've already used some of your lesson ideas for inspiration as well. Thank you!

Hi Karen,
Thanks for your comment. So glad some of my tips and ideas have been helpful! I know I go to all of the bloggers on here for inspiration too! Take care and have a great start to your school year! Genia

Great post! I love your tips, pics, and video! Best wishes for a great new year.

Thanks, Lindsey! Hope you have a great start to your school year as well.

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