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7 Classroom Setup Ideas Veteran Elementary Teachers Swear By

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Photo of Bronwyn
Updated | 7 min read

So how do you totally nail your classroom setup in elementary school? 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 with excitement for learning. 

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

Download a FREE “Today is a Great Day to Learn” Poster to set a positive tone in your classroom!

Why Is Classroom Setup Important?

When we talk about classroom setup, we aren’t just talking about your classroom decorating decisions — although they’re important too. We’re talking about everything from how you decide to situate your students’ seats (flexible seating? u-shapes?) to whether you opt for a teacher desk or a podium. Being thoughtful about your classroom set-up will help you get ahead of the game on classroom management and prepare both you and your students for success.

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.

One last note, before we dive into the classroom setup ideas from the expert teachers on the Teach Starter team: One study from researchers in the UK at the University of Salford found that a well-designed classroom can boost student performance by as much as 16 percent. Not bad, huh?

How to Set Up an Elementary Classroom

We’ve got three words that will help you nail an elementary school classroom setup: Beg, borrow, and steal. 

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:

We’re 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

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.  Make things easy by picking just one classroom theme for a coordinated look, or pick and choose for an eclectic fun vibe.

Some more tips for a warm and welcoming classroom environment:

  1. Set up a welcome sign with your students’ names like this cute and bright fish themed sign that you can download and customize or a space-themed welcome sign with name tags.
  2. Never miss one of your students’ birthdays. Use a bright birthday chart to display all the students’ birthdays.
  3. Hang up positivity posters to create that positive environment.

Create a Strategic Classroom Layout

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, bulletin 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 a ton of decor. It will become very full, very quickly. At a minimum, you’ll need a pen holder, a paper tray, stationery storage, and space for a laptop and planner.

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: If you can, set up your desk 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.

It’s OK if Your Classroom is a Little Bare

Do you feel like you’re cutting out 3,700 bulletin board letters and trying to get them ALL up, moving desks and chairs up from storage, trying to paint bookshelves … and it just isn’t all happening? Here’s the best advice a member of our Teach Starter team got when she was in the classroom. It came from a veteran teacher who saw she was struggling:

“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.”

So take off all that pressure you’re putting on yourself to have a perfect, Pinterest-worthy classroom! And forget that feeling that you need to create every single thing from scratch. What your students need most is you and your passion for teaching … not something you spent hours outside the classroom creating. It’s not cheating to simplify or buy a Teach Starter subscription which allows you to download all of your resources in one place whenever you need them instead of spending hours making them. It’s a matter of saving important time for your students. 


Classroom Seating Arrangements

We’d be remiss to cover 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, and 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, as well as more than half a dozen classroom seating arrangement ideas for different groups.


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 leave behind, consider buying it yourself.

Get back-to-school ready with our favorite teacher-created back-to-school resources.

Banner image via shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

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