You may feel a lot of pressure to make your classroom look attractive and colorful. If you’re just starting out, or crafts aren’t your forte, this could seem daunting. Effective classroom organization and set-up is functional first with the cute factor second. But we’ve got you covered on both!
Before you can instruct students on procedures, routines, and expectations, you need the layout and physical systems in place. For example, you don’t want to tell students that part of their morning routine is to turn in their homework if there’s no spot in the classroom for them to put their work. Otherwise, you’ll have 25 students shoving papers in your face when they walk in the door.
The goal is to encourage student independence so your classroom runs smoothly even if you aren’t in the room. You’ll want to make sure students are able to access all of the materials they need without your being the gatekeeper of the pencils, books, paper, etc. Having everything in its place allows you to delegate tasks to your students, empowering them and saving you time. Why do something yourself when you can teach the students to do it for you, right?
The goal is to have your classroom organized so that when the kids get there, you can start teaching the procedures right away.
Organizing Near the Door
Cubbies: You know students come to school with all sorts of things from home, including jackets, backpacks, rain/snow boots, lunch boxes, balls for recess, etc. Assigning a spot in your classroom for each student to put their belongings will not only keep your classroom organized, but also make students feel like they have a place of their own in the classroom. Put students’ names on their cubbies so that they will be easy to find on the first day. If you don’t have built-in cubbies in your room, consider getting some Command hooks or cheap plastic crates.
Attendance/lunch choice: Taking attendance and lunch choice yourself is not an effective use of your limited morning time. As we said earlier, if your students can do it, they should. Somewhere near the door (if possible), create an attendance and lunch choice station. One way to do this is to use a simple clip chart. The top of the chart will say “good morning,” and you’ll clip a clothespin for each child there at the start of each day. The rest of the chart will have spots for students to choose their lunch option for the day. Whichever clothespins are left on “good morning” indicate students who are absent. Laminate each section of the clip chart, and connect the sections with a hole punch and binder hooks. As another option, you could create a similar system on a cookie sheet with magnets for each student.
Turn in “take-home” folders: Give each student a folder to use for all of their “take-home” documents. These documents can include homework, permission slips, notes home, newsletters, and anything else that parents may need to see. Parents can also use this as a reliable way to deliver notes back to school, such as changes in transportation or early dismissal. On a small table, have three trays (stackable paper trays work well): homework, parent notes, and permission slips. You can also customize these trays for things you commonly send home or receive from parents. If you’re putting this on your supply list, ask for the specific folder that works well for you (e.g., all blue with prongs, yellow double pocket folder).
Organizing the Front of Your Classroom
Rules poster: Display the classroom rules prominently in the front of the room. You’ll want to refer to them often in the first couple of weeks of school and as needed throughout the year. You can get a rules poster, which is part of our free printables package. The rules poster features characters from our online, social skills game, Zoo U. Seeing the characters around your classroom will remind students to use the skills they’ve been learning.
Daily schedule: Write out the most common components of your daily schedule on sentence strips (e.g., math, science, art, PE) and use a pocket chart to display them. You can easily rearrange and swap out the sentence strips. Students will know exactly what is happening each day – what special they’re going to, what time recess is, etc. – and you will save yourself from answering a million questions about the schedule.
Morning and end-of-day procedures: Post your morning and afternoon procedures so students may refer to them as a daily checklist.
Homework/Other assignments: Write homework and other assignments in the same place daily so that students know where to look for them and can copy them down as part of your routine.
Setting up Desks and Student Seating
- Decide how you would like to arrange students’ desks for the majority of activities. Some schools have preferences for this, so check with your administration. Remember that none of the students should have their backs to the board. If you’re going to arrange the desks in groups, angle them so that the desks are perpendicular to the front of the room. Arranging desks in groups can foster cooperation and communication among students, and the expectations you implement and reinforce will limit/prevent disruptions from chatty students. Assign seats from the first day of school, and make adjustments in the first week as you get to know your students.
- Label your desk groups so that you can easily call on them for things such as lining up. You can use different colors, college names, animals, or something else that works for the theme in your classroom.
- For younger students who will spend a lot of time on the carpet, create a spot for each child to help teach them the concept of personal space. Some classroom rugs are nicely squared off with different colors. If yours isn’t, don’t feel like you have to go buy an expensive new carpet. You can use cheap placemats from the dollar store, or fabric or carpet remnants to create personal squares for each student to sit on.
Additional Classroom Orginization
Cool down corner: Inevitably, an upset student will need a safe place in the classroom to cool down and take a break. Establish a corner of the room with a beanbag chair or pillow and a poster of emotion regulation strategies. Students can practice identifying and managing their emotions in different situations in the interactive online game, Zoo U.
Behavior: We’ll chat more about the different options for encouraging positive behavior later on. If you choose an option that tracks behavior publicly, like a clip chart, you’ll want to have that set up before you introduce the system to your students. Even if you aren’t going to track behavior publicly, you’ll probably want to display posters or anchor charts reminding students of your behavior system (which is different from your rules poster).
Classroom jobs: Create an area to display and assign classroom jobs. An easy way to do this is to take a picture of each student in the first week of school and attach a magnet to the back of the photo. Arrange the classroom jobs on a magnet board, and easily swap the photos around when students change jobs.
Display some personal items: Displaying a few personal photographs, your college banner, or other trinkets on your desk helps to build a relationship with your students. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) tell your students everything about you. But knowing you as a person, rather than just a teacher, will help students feel comfortable sharing their own home life with you.
Tip: On Teachers Pay Teachers, Cara Carroll sells a chalkboard-themed labeling set a chalkboard-themed labeling set to help organize your classroom, from drawers to supplies to the classroom library. “I have had many people comment on how well my students function at an independent level when it comes to gathering what they need, and these labels go a long way to help with that!” says teacher Krystina Race.
Learn More About Classroom Management
This article is part of our Classroom Managment Plan covering classroom organization, rules and procedures, rewards and consequences, and how to apply SEL to improve classroom behavior.