7 Classroom Setup Tips Teachers Swear By

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4 children working in a classroom
Bronwyn

Written by Bronwyn

So how do you totally nail your classroom setup in elementary school?

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Creating your ideal space can be one of the most exciting tasks at the beginning of the school year or one of the most confounding — if you’re not feeling like you’re quite up to the task. The best classroom setup will inspire your students to love learning. A functional, well-configured classroom will truly buzz.

Yeah, yeah, no pressure, right? Don’t worry, we’ve got some tips to help you set up a modern classroom that will make your students feel welcomed and inspire them to dive right into the year. 

My First Classroom Setup!

When I was offered my first classroom teaching job I was elated, but it was all a bit of a blur. It was three days before school began, I was given a first-grade class, and my new classroom was an old preschool room. It was a huge, play-based learning space with a kitchen and bathroom, but nothing else. 

The staff had a packed professional development schedule on the three student-free days leading up to the start of school, so I had very limited time in the evenings to allocate to my classroom setup. 

The whole experience was a bit overwhelming, but I got some fantastic classroom setup tips that I hope will make things easier for you! 

How to Set Up an Elementary Classroom

First off, let’s talk about the elements of the best classroom setup. We could go on all day about seating arrangements (rows? circles?) and whether or not you need a teacher desk, but at the end of the day, the goal of an effective classroom set-up is really to create a sense of order for your students and an environment that is conducive to learning. 

You want your students to know where to sit, where to find that bathroom pass, where to drop their homework off in the morning, and so on. You also want them to have everything they need for lessons exactly where they can find it — whether it’s your manipulatives for math lessons or those clipboards for ELA centers. With that will come a classroom that’s easier to manage in the long run, and honestly the decorating can come later. 

In fact, here’s the absolute best classroom setup tip I ever got:

It’s OK if Your Classroom is a Little Bare

Classroom Set-Up - Word Wall

I was making displays and trying to get them ALL up, moving desks and chairs up from storage, trying to paint a bookshelf that looked older than I was… and it just wasn’t all happening. My next-door teacher (who became my unofficial mentor) lived next door to the school. One evening, she popped over to grab something, and discovering me still there, overheated and stressed, she gave me some sage advice:

“You don’t need to have heaps of ‘stuff’ up. The kids and parents don’t expect to see a fully functioning classroom on the first day. You’ll collect lots of student work to display within a couple of weeks. Leave yourself space to go with the flow once your kids are in the room,” she said.

Hearing this I felt extremely relieved of the pressure I was placing upon myself to have a perfect, Pinterest-worthy classroom (although admittedly there was no Pinterest back then!).

Teach Starter unfortunately didn’t exist yet either. The time I used to create everything from scratch could have been better invested in learning about my new class; their needs, quirks, and prior experiences.

Using one of our many Classroom Theme Packs will give your room an instant boost, saving you plenty of time.


Beg, Borrow and Steal Your Way to an Awesome Classroom Setup!

I’ve got three words that will help you nail it an elementary school classroom setup:

Beg:

You may have been allocated funds to purchase equipment (no, really, it happens sometimes). Chat with your administrators to see if they will release some money for you to purchase needed items. In my case, the school had a classroom resource fee for each child and each teacher used this money for classroom purchases.

Borrow:

Visit the library, resource room, other classrooms, the office — anywhere in the school that you may be able to borrow resources from for your classroom setup. Physically going to these places will give you ideas on what you need, and what you can save money on by borrowing. It’s a great opportunity to get to know your new colleagues, too. Mostly, school staff are a caring bunch, and they’ll be all too happy to help where they can.

Steal:

I’m not suggesting you actually steal items from anyone! Make sure you visit some other teachers in your school, particularly those with rooms similar in shape and size to yours, to steal amazing classroom setup ideas. Where has the teacher put the desk? What does the entryway look like? How are resources stored? How are walls utilized for displays?


Let Your Personality Shine Through Your Classroom Setup

The things that made you passionate about teaching kids are often your very best tools in the classroom. Floored by flamingos? Wild about Mo Willems? 

Show your passion in the classroom, and you’ll see those little light switches flip in your students’ brains as they see what it is they love about the topics that have made you so passionate.


Make it Feel Warm

Classroom Set-Up - Word Wall

How often have you heard house-hunters on one of those HGTV shows describe the feeling of finding the right place by saying “It just feels like home”?

We want our students to have that warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging when they walk into their classroom. That feeling doesn’t come from a perfectly curated ‘grammable space’; it comes from a familiar and welcoming purpose-built space made with them in mind. Your amazing classroom setup will set the tone for the year you’ll share there together.

Having the students’ names visible in the room is a great way to make them feel at home. Regardless of their age, they’ll love seeing a little piece of their identity already incorporated into your classroom. To make it happen, try these door displays, birthday charts, and group organization resources. Either download them as part of a classroom theme pack for a coordinated look, or pick and choose for an eclectic fun vibe.


Strategic Classroom Layout

Classroom Set-Up - Teacher Desk

The best classroom setups take flow of the room into consideration. Will the students be walking through this spot to exit for lunch or specials? You’ll want to keep the path clear. Will all the desks be able to see the whiteboard easily with your intended classroom set-up? 

Some things about your new classroom will inevitably be inflexible, like the location of the whiteboard and the phone. Use their locations as clues as to how the last teacher had their room configured.

If you have a neighboring classroom with adjoining doors, take a look to see where the teacher has placed their desk, student desks, noticeboards, display boards, and technology. If it’s working for someone else, why not give it a try yourself? You can always tweak things to suit your needs throughout the year.

Don’t clutter up your desk with lots of gear. It will become very full, very quickly. At a minimum, you’ll need a pen holder, a paper tray, stationery storage, and space for your laptop and planner. I always loved having my desk facing the door, close to a wall with a bookshelf within arm’s reach. You end up with so many folders of resources that you’ll need quick access to, having them close by will save you a lot of time and energy.


Classroom Seating Arrangements

It would be remiss of me to write an article on classroom setup without mentioning seating arrangements. The most important thing about creating seating arrangements is taking into account the students who have 504s and IEPs. Some will have preferred seating close to the teachers, some will have preferred seating close to instruction, others will have seating away from distractions. Arrange their seats first — it’s not only the law, but it will prevent you from having to redo your entire arrangement!

Need more ideas? We have flexible seating resources to support you if you decide to take this route.


Classroom Purchases

As a general rule of thumb, anything you purchase using school funds (the stuff you claim back immediately by submitting a receipt), belongs to your employer. It will have to stay at your school, even if you transfer.

Anything you purchase privately, but for use in your classroom, is yours to keep as you move about into different rooms and even if you change schools. Keep your receipts for these classroom setup purchases, as you may be able to claim them at tax time (check with your accountant).

If you’re eyeing an amazing classroom resource that you couldn’t bear to eventually leave, consider buying it yourself.

What are your favorite classroom set-up tips? Let us know below!

Banner image via shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

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