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August 18, 2010

Creating a Classroom Theme

By Brent Vasicek
Grades 3–5

    Many children love to go to birthday parties, especially when there is a theme. Whether it is pirates, princesses, or ponies, a themed party provides direction for the host and continuity and fun for the participants. Why not start your year off in a fun way by adding a theme to your classroom?

    Picking the right theme can be difficult. The theme has to be positive and lend itself to inexpensive decor that is easy to find. I have three themes that work for my teaching style  The Olympics, Voyagers, and Entertainment. The best place you can go to get ideas for readily available themes is a party store.  With the invention of scene setters (50' long plastic sheets with preprinted scenes), you can get some pretty impressive, durable decor for under $100. Say adios to the days of creating all your own art work and large sheets of butcher block!

    Tips for Using Themes:

    • Buy (or create) invitations to the first day of school. Students love getting invitations, and it builds positive anticipation for the first day.

    • Coordinate your class website and/or newsletter with your theme by adding clip art, MIDI sound files, and colors.  

    • Find music that fits your theme to use as anchors for certain activities. 

    • Have the theme up and ready to go on the first day of school. My goal is to have the room look as little like a classroom on the first day as possible. For me, this means minimal educational posters and no books on the desks. Preparations might also include plastic tablecloths for the desks, cheap centerpieces, props (not worksheets!) for an opening day activity, and a colorful message or picture for the whiteboard.

    • If you have computers in your classroom, make a quick one-slide PowerPoint presentation to display a welcoming message on each computer. 

    • Keep the room secret. I label my room with a "Top Secret" sign outside the main door until the first day of school or the Open House. The impact is much greater when everyone sees the room at the same time. After all, don't you enjoy a movie more when you experience it yourself, without others leaking the cool parts to you ahead of time?

    • Base your reward system or classroom society on the theme. For example, privileges in my class during an Olympic year differ based on medal status. A gold medal status (all your work turned in and top-notch behavior) would get you the most privileges.

    • No longer call yourself "Room 24." Go with Pier 24, Studio 24, Set 24, Road 24, or Olympic Village. Director Mr V 2008 Crop

    • Dress up! If you really want to go above and beyond, get into character to match your theme. I have dressed as a captain and a director, but have yet to wear a toga for the Olympic theme.

    • Plan a year-end celebration that incorporates the theme. For the Voyagers we had a "Sunken Treasure" celebration. For Entertainment we have our own version of the Academy Awards. For the Olympics we have "Olympic Closing Ceremonies" in which we extinguish the educational torch that has been lit all year and pass out real medals for unique moments in the year.

    • Find a book to read the first week that fits your theme. If you need ideas for books, try the Book Wizard.

    • Most importantly, be committed to it!

    Themes some of my colleagues have used in the past include Road Trip, Sports Team, Luau, Western, Jungle, Patriotism, Animals, and Polka Dots.  What themes have you incorporated into your classroom?

    That's a wrap!
    Director Vasicek

    Many children love to go to birthday parties, especially when there is a theme. Whether it is pirates, princesses, or ponies, a themed party provides direction for the host and continuity and fun for the participants. Why not start your year off in a fun way by adding a theme to your classroom?

    Picking the right theme can be difficult. The theme has to be positive and lend itself to inexpensive decor that is easy to find. I have three themes that work for my teaching style  The Olympics, Voyagers, and Entertainment. The best place you can go to get ideas for readily available themes is a party store.  With the invention of scene setters (50' long plastic sheets with preprinted scenes), you can get some pretty impressive, durable decor for under $100. Say adios to the days of creating all your own art work and large sheets of butcher block!

    Tips for Using Themes:

    • Buy (or create) invitations to the first day of school. Students love getting invitations, and it builds positive anticipation for the first day.

    • Coordinate your class website and/or newsletter with your theme by adding clip art, MIDI sound files, and colors.  

    • Find music that fits your theme to use as anchors for certain activities. 

    • Have the theme up and ready to go on the first day of school. My goal is to have the room look as little like a classroom on the first day as possible. For me, this means minimal educational posters and no books on the desks. Preparations might also include plastic tablecloths for the desks, cheap centerpieces, props (not worksheets!) for an opening day activity, and a colorful message or picture for the whiteboard.

    • If you have computers in your classroom, make a quick one-slide PowerPoint presentation to display a welcoming message on each computer. 

    • Keep the room secret. I label my room with a "Top Secret" sign outside the main door until the first day of school or the Open House. The impact is much greater when everyone sees the room at the same time. After all, don't you enjoy a movie more when you experience it yourself, without others leaking the cool parts to you ahead of time?

    • Base your reward system or classroom society on the theme. For example, privileges in my class during an Olympic year differ based on medal status. A gold medal status (all your work turned in and top-notch behavior) would get you the most privileges.

    • No longer call yourself "Room 24." Go with Pier 24, Studio 24, Set 24, Road 24, or Olympic Village. Director Mr V 2008 Crop

    • Dress up! If you really want to go above and beyond, get into character to match your theme. I have dressed as a captain and a director, but have yet to wear a toga for the Olympic theme.

    • Plan a year-end celebration that incorporates the theme. For the Voyagers we had a "Sunken Treasure" celebration. For Entertainment we have our own version of the Academy Awards. For the Olympics we have "Olympic Closing Ceremonies" in which we extinguish the educational torch that has been lit all year and pass out real medals for unique moments in the year.

    • Find a book to read the first week that fits your theme. If you need ideas for books, try the Book Wizard.

    • Most importantly, be committed to it!

    Themes some of my colleagues have used in the past include Road Trip, Sports Team, Luau, Western, Jungle, Patriotism, Animals, and Polka Dots.  What themes have you incorporated into your classroom?

    That's a wrap!
    Director Vasicek

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