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April 25, 2017

Choose a Class Theme That Works for Your Class

By Rhonda Stewart
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Flashback to the mid-1980s when thematic-based teaching (using a theme to teach a majority of subject areas) was one of the buzzword phrases in education. During my early years of teaching in Brooklyn, New York, I took to the thematic approach like a duck takes to water. I worked to make sure that the majority of my instruction was connected to whatever classroom theme I had decided to embrace.

    One year, my classroom was set up to mirror New York City. The city skyline was landscaped on the walls around the room and tables in the classroom were labeled as the five boroughs of the city. Even the bulletin boards were connected to city themes. In other years, my classroom instruction was delivered through the lens of studying the oceans in the world, the solar system, and even insects. My students became mini-experts on the topic of the theme. My one regret is that I did not take pictures to help me reminisce and reflect upon my earlier years.

    Fast forward to present day, and although I have seen many things in education (policies, initiatives, standards) change, I feel as though I have come full circle as I head towards the twilight of my career. Although my instruction is not centered in thematic-based teaching, recently my approach to setting up my classroom is. I am constantly thinking of ways to use a theme as the backdrop for how the curriculum is represented in the room. The one constant has always been creating a room to teach in that signals this is a place where students want to be actively engaged in learning.

    Selecting a Theme

    There isn't a procedure, a format, or even a set formula for me when coming up with a theme for the classroom. This might sound a little quirky, but I let the previous school year determine what would be the theme for my following year’s classroom. Last year, my classroom was centered on the idea of Dr. Seuss. It just seemed a natural progression because I had written a blog post during 2014 on close reading using The Grinch that Stole Christmas. It didn't hurt that I had found a great sale on The Cat in The Hat decor.  The universe confirmed my decision.

    For this school year, social media became my focus. This idea came from the way people currently communicate with each other. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, social media has become the norm for connecting. We as teachers try to connect with and incorporate what's popular in culture as a way to hook our students and grab their attention to teach the curriculum.

    I had also written a post using social media themes as a way to enhance student response to literature. In addition to that idea, my colleagues and I were talking about ways to strengthen our bond as a team of teachers and, again, the idea of social media came up. One teacher decided she would try Mathchat (a play on Snapchat), another would Instagram her welcome for September, and I decided that I would have a Twitter-based theme. Other teachers on my team also decided to participate by using some of those themes in their classrooms. Some decided that the door display was enough for them and others were more comfortable with the theme living on their bulletin boards.

     

      

      

     

    Lessons I Have Learned When Developing a Classroom Theme

    • Keep it simple: It is so easy to go overboard. You want your room to reflect the theme and not become a distraction for your students.
    • Use what you have available: This can become expensive. See what materials you have available in your school to help your theme come to life. If this is not the case, shop yard sales and look for sales at the end of the season. Also, check out the teacher store at Scholastic.com. There have been times when I have gotten some great bargains.
    • Don't try to put it up all in one day: For the first day of school, I do try to get as much done as possible, so I enlist the students in my classes. I have found that students love to help — who doesn’t love an extra set of hands?! Added benefit: it makes them feel like they are a part of the classroom and they are more apt to take some responsibility for the care of the room.

    — It's getting close to the end of the year. For your sanity, keep the routines, keep the expectation for learning. Deep down, students still want the security of structure.

    Bottom line: A lot of time is spent in our classrooms. Why not make it inviting for all who enter? Make your classroom theme one that nurtures your love of teaching and inspires your students to learn all that they can!

    Flashback to the mid-1980s when thematic-based teaching (using a theme to teach a majority of subject areas) was one of the buzzword phrases in education. During my early years of teaching in Brooklyn, New York, I took to the thematic approach like a duck takes to water. I worked to make sure that the majority of my instruction was connected to whatever classroom theme I had decided to embrace.

    One year, my classroom was set up to mirror New York City. The city skyline was landscaped on the walls around the room and tables in the classroom were labeled as the five boroughs of the city. Even the bulletin boards were connected to city themes. In other years, my classroom instruction was delivered through the lens of studying the oceans in the world, the solar system, and even insects. My students became mini-experts on the topic of the theme. My one regret is that I did not take pictures to help me reminisce and reflect upon my earlier years.

    Fast forward to present day, and although I have seen many things in education (policies, initiatives, standards) change, I feel as though I have come full circle as I head towards the twilight of my career. Although my instruction is not centered in thematic-based teaching, recently my approach to setting up my classroom is. I am constantly thinking of ways to use a theme as the backdrop for how the curriculum is represented in the room. The one constant has always been creating a room to teach in that signals this is a place where students want to be actively engaged in learning.

    Selecting a Theme

    There isn't a procedure, a format, or even a set formula for me when coming up with a theme for the classroom. This might sound a little quirky, but I let the previous school year determine what would be the theme for my following year’s classroom. Last year, my classroom was centered on the idea of Dr. Seuss. It just seemed a natural progression because I had written a blog post during 2014 on close reading using The Grinch that Stole Christmas. It didn't hurt that I had found a great sale on The Cat in The Hat decor.  The universe confirmed my decision.

    For this school year, social media became my focus. This idea came from the way people currently communicate with each other. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, social media has become the norm for connecting. We as teachers try to connect with and incorporate what's popular in culture as a way to hook our students and grab their attention to teach the curriculum.

    I had also written a post using social media themes as a way to enhance student response to literature. In addition to that idea, my colleagues and I were talking about ways to strengthen our bond as a team of teachers and, again, the idea of social media came up. One teacher decided she would try Mathchat (a play on Snapchat), another would Instagram her welcome for September, and I decided that I would have a Twitter-based theme. Other teachers on my team also decided to participate by using some of those themes in their classrooms. Some decided that the door display was enough for them and others were more comfortable with the theme living on their bulletin boards.

     

      

      

     

    Lessons I Have Learned When Developing a Classroom Theme

    • Keep it simple: It is so easy to go overboard. You want your room to reflect the theme and not become a distraction for your students.
    • Use what you have available: This can become expensive. See what materials you have available in your school to help your theme come to life. If this is not the case, shop yard sales and look for sales at the end of the season. Also, check out the teacher store at Scholastic.com. There have been times when I have gotten some great bargains.
    • Don't try to put it up all in one day: For the first day of school, I do try to get as much done as possible, so I enlist the students in my classes. I have found that students love to help — who doesn’t love an extra set of hands?! Added benefit: it makes them feel like they are a part of the classroom and they are more apt to take some responsibility for the care of the room.

    — It's getting close to the end of the year. For your sanity, keep the routines, keep the expectation for learning. Deep down, students still want the security of structure.

    Bottom line: A lot of time is spent in our classrooms. Why not make it inviting for all who enter? Make your classroom theme one that nurtures your love of teaching and inspires your students to learn all that they can!

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Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
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