A welcoming environment can set the stage for learning, but before you go out and spend a fortune on commercial products, take the time to think about the basics. Remember that decorating the classroom is the frosting on the cake.

The physical layout of your classroom will determine the flow of traffic and ease of movement for you and your students. Even if your classroom is small, you have a lot of choices when it comes to arranging students' desks. The room arrangement should match your purpose for the lesson. If you are planning direct instruction, then rows of desks facing the teacher and white board or screen is your best bet. When all desks are facing the front of the room, student attention is more likely to be focused on the presenter — you. For small group work, students can be shown how to transform their rows into clusters of four or five by moving desks into small groups.

Carefully consider where you will place the following items and how you will decorate walls.

  1. Overhead Projector and Screen: All of your students must be able to see the screen without having to crane their necks. Try sitting in different students' seats to find out if they can see the board.

  2. Pencil Sharpener and Trash Can: Place them so they are not directly next to students' desks to avoid constant disruptions during class.

  3. Supplies and Materials: If you frequently use supplementary textbooks or other materials that students must obtain during class, keep them in an accessible area. Items that are only used occasionally can be stored in a cabinet.

  4. Teacher's Desk: If it is tucked away from the main traffic flow of your room, it will be less tempting for students to touch or remove items that are off limits.

  5. Students' Desks: Unless your chairs and desks are bolted to the floor, you will have flexibility in how you arrange the seating in your classroom. Match the seating arrangement with the format and activities of your lesson plan. Consider the following options:
    • Students in rows face front of classroom. Traditional rows in columns are ideal for establishing classroom management and direct instruction.
    • Students face center of classroom, with student desks positioned in balanced rows on both sides of classroom. This setup facilitates classroom discussions and creates a friendlier atmosphere than traditional rows. The outer area is ideal for skits, role playing, and student demonstrations.
    • Students at tables face front of room. Ideal for cooperative learning activities. When it is time for small group activities, students can move chairs to face each other.
    • Students' desks grouped in clusters so students face each other. This format is wonderful because it allows students to work in small groups, but can be quickly rearranged into traditional rows for more formal lessons.
  6. To learn more about furniture setup, test out different arrangements with Scholastic's Classroom Setup Tool.

  7. Bulletin Boards: There should be variety to your bulletin boards, with information and decorations changing through the year to reflect curriculum content and seasonal themes. For the beginning of the school year, consider some of the following inexpensive ways to decorate your walls:
    • Do a colorful and visually attractive project with your students during the first week of school, then display the work on your walls. If you cannot tie the first class project in with your curriculum, consider an autobiographical project wherein students use pictures and symbols to represent themselves. A project such as this allows students to get acquainted and to feel as though they are contributing members of the learning community.
    • Put up quotations by famous mathematicians or athletes. Use their words to inspire students to higher levels of achievement. You can put them on a banner using your computer or stencils.
    • Display postcards or other memorabilia from places where you have traveled. You may even number the postcards and see if students can guess where they are from.
    • Use comic strips and/or political cartoons related to your curriculum. You can enlarge them on a photocopier and laminate the copies.
    • Display newspaper editorials pertaining to your curriculum. This will encourage students to think critically about controversial issues related to the content of your course.
  8. School Information Board: It's also helpful to designate one bulletin board in a centrally located area of your classroom for important school information. That way, when students do not hear the daily announcements and ask you questions about upcoming activities, you can direct them to the information board. In addition to special announcements, the informational bulletin board could also include:
    • Tardiness and absence policies
    • Activities calendar
    • Fire drill map
    • Assembly bell schedule
    • School dress code
    • Classroom rules
    • Make-up work policy
    • School mission
  9. Daily Agenda: If you do not post your daily agenda, you will soon find students asking you, "What are we going to do today?" It won't be just one student, it will be lots of them, and they will ask you that question every period, every day, for the entire school year. Students want to know what to expect, so if you want them to be ready for the activities and procedures in your lesson, then list them on the board in the same spot every day.


This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Middle School by Paula Naegle (© 2002, Scholastic, Inc.).