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Trade Secrets: Tips and Tricks for Closing Your Classroom

By Genia Connell on June 2, 2015
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

In my first post of this school year, "Classroom Setup: Three Hours and Done," I shared how I prepared my classroom for the new year in one afternoon — a far cry from the days and days I used to spend decorating and organizing for the new year. The real secret to my quick setup is the way I close my room down at the end of the year. This week I'd like to share with you some of the tips and tricks I use to have my room cleaned and organized by the last day of school so I can set my classroom up quickly come August. 



Five Weeks Before the End of the Year

Buy Next Year's Supplies Now

Each year I save a part of my classroom budget so I can order next year’s start-up supplies several weeks before the school year ends. By doing this, the materials I need for the first few months are already delivered and organized so when I return to school in August, my time can be focused on classroom setup. I also make my teacher store purchases now when there aren’t any back-to-school crowds or shortages of items in stock.

Four Weeks Before the End of the Year

Clean What Can’t be Seen

I never want my students to feel like their classroom is being put away around them, so I begin preparing for the end of the year by cleaning and organizing hidden spaces like cupboards and drawers. While I really wish I was one of those teachers who returns everything I use to its proper spot, I'm not. In fact, I've perfected the "shove and hide" cleaning method, frequently performed right before I’m expecting visitors to my classroom. There is a hefty price to pay for using this method, however, so during the last month of school I dedicate a couple hours once a week to stay after and go through every cabinet, drawer, shelf, and storage space in order to clean and reorganize. As I go through everything I give myself three choices:

  • Organize it: Save time looking for things you want by storing like items together, be it professional resource books or sticky notes. 

  • Toss it: If you find materials that are outdated, or ones you can easily access again, such as anything you have saved electronically, toss them. Don’t hesitate and think about it, or it will wind up back in your cupboard — just let it go!

  • Give it away: Your trash may be somebody's treasure. If you have items that are perfectly good but you don't use them anymore, chances are somebody else in your school will. Just last week I took about 40 professional resources to the lounge with a note that said, “Help Yourself.” After a few days only four books were left. For my students I set out old CDs, math cards, and yellowed or torn books from our class library. All were gone before attendance was taken!



messy desk before

Messy desk drawer — four years of untidiness

Much better!

Teacher editions and frequently-used resources

All ready for September, organized in order of use

Teacher resources organized by . . . never mind

Teacher resources organized by subject area


Three Weeks Before the End of the Year

Take Pictures  

I’m an out of sight, out of mind kind of person, so to help get the school year off to a smooth start, I take photos of everything! Come August, these photos remind me of:

  • Classroom furniture arrangement

  • Large and small group areas

  • Class library setup

  • Teacher desk organization

  • Bulletin board size and space

  • Supplies I already own (this keeps me from overbuying supplies at tempting back-to-school sales).

large group space


Create a Setup Box

Think of every tool you use to set up your classroom and put it all in one spot. Creating my setup box has saved me from wasting time looking for the mystery spot where I tucked away my favorite stapler. Keep this box someplace where you can access it easily come fall. A few things my box includes:

  • Tape

  • Stapler/staples

  • X-acto knife

  • Scissors

  • Glue

  • Sticky tack/sticky clips

  • Wipes for cleaning

  • Glue gun/glue sticks

  • Staple remover

Classroom set up box for the beginning of the yearClassroom set up box for the beginning of the year


Two Weeks Before the End of the Year

Classroom Library

I take every book basket off the shelves and assign one or two baskets to each student. A book basket master’s job includes:

  • Make all books face forward

  • Put genre labels on books that are missing them

  • Take books that don’t belong in their basket to the correct basket.

  • Bring me damaged books

I just can’t bear to throw a book away, so at the end of the year, I remove books from my baskets that are yellowed, badly torn or haven’t been read by anyone all year, and I put them out for students to take one. My students give the books a good home and I don’t have to throw them away. Win-win!

File Cleaning

My file cabinet has changed drastically over the years. The traditional metal one with two drawers only holds class sets of upcoming work. My true file cabinet lives on my district server and in the cloud. For all you need to know about cleaning, storing and organizing your files for the start of next year, read Alycia Zimmerman’s amazing post on "Virtual Spring Cleaning."


One Week Before the End of the Year

Draw a Room Diagram

I’ve created a room diagram on the computer that I can print and use every year to try out different room arrangements. Our custodians use these diagrams to get our furniture back where it belongs after our carpets are cleaned.

classroom diagram



Clean, Bag, and Tag

About a week before school ends I take home anything soft like rugs, blankets, stuffed animals, cushions, etc. to wash. When I bring them back the next week, I put them into large garbage bags along with a few fabric softener dryer sheets. I seal the bags, label with my name and store for the summer. When I come back in the fall they are fresh and ready to go for the new year.


The Last Few Days

Last In, First Out Organization

As I take posters off the walls and empty bulletin boards, I organize my materials in their drawers in chronological order from beginning of the year to end. When I come back in August to decorate my room, the items I want are always right on top.

Create Task Cards for Students

Third graders love to clean and organize. During the last few days I’ll often be asked, “Is there anything I can do?” I tell them to take a card out of the job box (file card holder with index cards inside) and they do that job by themselves or with a partner. These jobs include:

  • Test all the markers and throw out any that are dry

  • Sharpen the colored pencils

  • Check the glue sticks to make sure they are good, throw out the dry ones

  • Go through the crayon bin and throw out any broken ones

  • Put calculators (or anything else you have) in number order

  • Organize paint/office supplies/paper

Cover It!

I realize all schools are different, but in our school we don't have to move our furniture or empty shelves. We do, however, need to clear off the top all surfaces and put everything away. To cut down on cleaning time when I get back in August, I cover my open bookshelves with roll paper and tape it down to prevent dust from settling in. Loose items like clipboards are placed in laundry baskets, covered with a plastic tablecloth and stored above my cupboards. Plastic tablecloths also cover my bulletin boards which then serve as the backdrop for my bulletin boards in the fall.


Label, Label, Label

All of our furniture is moved to the hallway when school lets out so carpets can be cleaned. So nothing goes missing, I use labels to put my room number on my teacher chairs, tables and anything that could accidentally wind up in another teacher’s room. I also number my bookshelves with a piece of masking tape, then write the numbers on my room diagram which helps get them back exactly where I want them.

With the clock quickly ticking down to the end of the school year, what set up tips do you have up your sleeve? I'd love to hear Top Teaching readers' best tips and tricks for closing down your classroom in the comment section below. 




Comments (7)

Get the empty Xerox paper boxes from your workroom. Put the lid onto the bottom and place one in each filing cabinet drawer and one in each teacher shelf. Fill with all your books and things, and when you're told to move; pull the boxes, put on the lid, and move to your new room or school. You're already packed and not searching for moving boxes at the end of the year.

I agree about the crayons! Disposal is bad for the environment. They work for art projects, or one year we melted and poured the wax into shapes for fun "new" crayons. Happy cleaning

My only question about this excellent plan is why you would throw away broken crayons! What a waste of material and creative potential.

I am about to end my 6th year of teaching in my 5th classroom--and I'm moving again next year! I have become an expert at packing my classroom and my husband has become an expert at moving it. :) My favorite moving discovery was painter's tape! My first year of teaching, we were moving from a portable to inside the building and we were told to box everything up. I used a lot of masking tape to hold things in crates and label, and then all those items sat in my non-air conditioned Texas classroom all summer (we didn't end up moving until November!). When I came back in August, the masking tape adhesive had melted--I still have items that show the scars. I imagine duct tape would have a similar problem. Painter's tape doesn't melt, it just starts to curl off.

Using painter's tape a great tip, Darcy! I know they turn the air off in our buildings over the summer, and I can't imagine the extra work of coming back to a sticky mess. Have a great summer and I hope you get to stay put this year!

I love these tips. Many of them apply to 1st grade. Does anybody have any tips for those of us that have to move rooms?

Hi Kirsten,

Glad you found these tips useful! Last year Meghan Everette wrote about switching classrooms that you might want to check out. Copy and paste the link below. Wishing you a happy end to your school year!


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