Needing to make your classroom space more organized, manageable, and learning-friendly? Don't wait until a new school year, you can make the change NOW!
Reading the book Explicit Instruction by Anita Archer and Charles A. Hughes helped make my classroom a much more open and child-focused learning zone. I cut out the clutter, made "zones" in my room, partnered up students (being sure to change them every 3-6 weeks), and made my very own "teaching arena".
Scroll down to find the top 12 tips for an organized classroom! Each of these tips is taken from the book mentioned above. I've included photos of my current classroom setup to help inspire you in your own classroom.
1. Have a designated space for specific activities.
Pictured here you see our classroom rug where we gather for reading stories and classroom discussions. In front of this area are the desks where students sit for whole-group instruction. There is also a small group work table in front of the cabinets to the left and some areas where students can sit during independent work.
2. Ensure that students are close to you in instructional areas.
This is part of my view from my "teaching arena". Anita Archer and Charles A. Hughes in Explicit Instruction teach us that when giving whole-group instruction, the teacher needs to have a teaching arena at the front of the group where the students can focus on the teacher. Of course, you can move around, but it is important that students know where to find you and can focus on you instantly.
For my classroom, my teaching arena includes a whiteboard and my interactive TV, along with plenty of space for me to move in front of the whole group area. All students can see me whenever I'm in that area.
I use 3 rows of desks (trapezoid tables) seating 8 students across.
3. Create seating charts and assign seats for whole-group instruction
When making seating charts, I ensure that students are mixed up based on their ability level and behavior. Every 22 days (approximately 4 weeks) I switch seats to keep things fresh.
4. Ensure that students are facing you in instructional areas.
During our whole-group instruction time, all students are facing my teacher arena. This ensures that all students have their focus on me during my explicit teaching time and they are actively engaged in the learning.
5. Ensure that students can easily share answers with a partner or team during instruction.
As I've shared earlier, each student has a table partner that they share their ideas with. Whenever I say the words "turn and talk" they know immediately who they will be conversing with. This cuts down on pairing up partners and eliminates the dreaded "Do I have to work with _____?" To help decide who shares first, I have a "window" partner and a "door partner". They know which is which, which makes the conversation start quicker.
6. Arrange your instructional materials for easy retrieval.
Be sure that anything you need is close by in your teacher arena. I have a teacher cart where I keep things like whiteboard markers, timers, fidgets, and my class notebooks. I also have my interactive TV and large dry-erase board that we use during every lesson in my teacher arena. Close by is my small teacher desk that houses my computer (which connects to my TV) and my document camera.
7. Place student materials needed during instruction or independent work where they are easily retrievable.
Since I do not use desks in my classroom (we have tables), there really isn't a lot of storage at the student's tables. I use the ledge by my classroom windows to store bigger items such as our reading books and notebooks, and use a chair pocket to keep smaller, more used items, like their dry-erase boards, phonics boards, and dictation notebooks. Students also have individual baskets (seen in other pictures) where they keep their supply boxes, headphones, and personal reading books.
8. Teach your students organizational skills to help keep the classroom tidy.
If you teach elementary school, you know the struggle of this! Regardless of how tough it is, my students are responsible for keeping their space (aka our room) tidy. If they got it out, they put it away. If there's trash on the floor, pick it up. If something is out of place, return it. We work together as a group. It takes a lot of reminders and a lot of patience, but it is worth it.
9. Ensure that you can move quickly and easily around the room without interference or boundaries.
I've set up my space to be as minimal as possible. Meaning excess furniture, bookshelves, or materials are either stored or removed from the classroom. Be sure to enlist the help of your janitors to help you move stuff around and don't forget to give them treats for their hard work!
10. Ensure you can see all parts of the room as well as all students.
From any point in my room, I can see any student at any time. This helps me to ensure that students are attending to the learning and allows me to quickly see if anyone needs help.
11. Display materials on the walls that support instruction.
We make several anchor charts in my room which I leave in our reading area to reference as we go through different lessons. In our curriculum, we spiral the comprehension strategies we work on, so pulling these out helps students connect their previous learning to what they are learning now. I also display our high-frequency word cards that have been coded using our phonics and heart parts, our vocabulary cards from previous units, as well as our sound-spelling cards to help with encoding and decoding!
12. Display student work.
I am fortunate to have some wonderful spaces to display student work! Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to show you. I try to rotate the pieces of work that are displayed every 2-3 weeks to keep things fresh in the classroom! Students can also request to have their work displayed if they are particularly proud of it.
It's never too late to get your classroom organized so your students can attend to their learning! Make a plan and hop to it! Here's a final video of my classroom for this year. Best of luck!