Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classroom Decor & Setup: Parts 1-3

TRUST ME!  In absolutely NO WAY am I trying to rush summer... I know summer has JUST BEGUN!  However, one of my FAVORITE parts of being a teacher is...well...making my classroom CUTE!  I say cute... but what I really mean is COZY and HOMEY and ORGANIZED.  Let's be honest, we spend more time (AWAKE) in our classroom during the school year than in any other room we are ever in!  Not only that, but our KIDS are in our room more than they are in any other room during the school year.  Who wants to spend the majority of their time in a room that feels cold, institutional, boring, or dull?!  NOT ME!!  Therefore, all the time (and money...) we spend focusing on the perfect classroom decor, is not only fun, retail therapy for teachers... but it should be considered PD HOURS!!  IT IS VITAL!  Now, I've always loved CUTE rooms.  My room would be cute as a button--best room in the school even--well, until the students showed up.  Then, my cute room turned into a disaster; papers would begin to pile up higher and higher month after month; things would be lost or broken or ruined; and my stress level (and I'm sure my students' stress levels) would rise higher and higher each day.  However, after spending two years co-teaching in one room with my teaching SOULMATE--Heather Briggs, the organizational guru--I have finally learned how to set up a room that not only looks cute for TEACHER WORK WEEK... but looks good, feels cozy, and is a place that I (and all my students) LOVE to come each and every day ALL YEAR LONG! I am writing this blog post to share with all my teachers out there want to see classroom decor and setup ideas that can actually last and be managed all year long AND want to see how to make or where to find everything needed to do this in your own room!  

Part 1:  
First Impressions (Outside the Classroom)

You know what they say about FIRST IMPRESSIONS--they are the LASTING impressions (or something like that)!!  Anyhow, when our students come to their classroom for the very first time, they want to feel expected, safe, and welcomed.  My very first principal and mentor -- Mrs. Barb Elson (LOVE & MISS YOU!) -- stressed the importance of making students feel welcomed from the very first day of school, and every single day that they come to school.  There are some classroom choices that can quickly make students feel right at home... starting from before they even walk into our room!

I invested in this "WELCOME TO THE BRANKE BUNCH" banner about three years ago, and it is still as good as new!  It has our team name (Branke Bunch), school PBIS logo, school name & mascot, and our names (their teachers).  It is placed above their lockers, right outside our room.  The kids think it is SO COOL and OFFICIAL... and so do I!!

  • is an AMAZING website to get reasonably priced banners and signs.  This is a vinyl banner.  There is a whole SCHOOL section to pick a template.  I used a template right from the website, even though you can customize your own banner and have it made as well!!
  • I just used little 3M clear hooks at each corner to hang the banner.  Again, the banner has stayed up without any problems or maintenance for 3 years!!!

In addition to having the teacher's name, team name, and school name/logo/mascot outside the classroom, it is even more important to have your STUDENTS' NAMES!  This makes them feel like we were expecting them and eases their first day jitters.  

  • There are ENDLESS amounts of themes you can choose from.  The past couple years I have done "Welcome to the Team" (to try to appeal to the boys as well). I got this on the AMAZING WEBSITE, Really Good Stuff; but I believe they discontinued this set.  
  • However, there are TONS of other themes to chose from that are even cuter!!!  Check them out here:  Really Good Stuff Themes & Cut-Outs for Names. I just wrote each students name on a different cut-out, and used rolled masking tape (good, brand name tape... it's worth it!) to post them above our lockers.  (Our school policy discourages us posting on the outside of their lockers directly for confidentiality, so the cut-out names don't associate with a particular locker.  However, if you have younger kids and your school allows, you may wish to post these right on their locker!)

We were so lucky that our school made these for each classroom.  If you don't have one made for you, you can even just type up your school values and expectations, laminate them, and post them right outside your room.  This is SUPER helpful to have right outside, because this is typically where I pull a student to have a private conversation with them about their behavior when necessary.  After reviewing these expectations in the hallway, the student can determine whether or not they are ready to come back in and learn.  It is important for the students to see the classroom as a place for learning and following expectations.  The second I see a student struggling to do this, I pull them right outside the door to review this.  That way, they see the classroom as a place of learning and respect, safety, and responsibility... that's the Warner Way!

Part 2:  
Making Your Classroom Feel Like HOME <3

Again, we spend WAY too much time at school for our classrooms NOT to feel like home.  I have found a direct correlation between classroom comfort level and academic success over the years.  Just to give you a context to the various elements in my room, here are some full room views:




Doesn't that look like a cozy and loving place to learn?!  Well, let me tell you--I've been there for two years and I still L-O-V-E, LOVE my room!  Ok now that you somewhat have a frame of reference of my classroom, let me go into detail of where you can get some of these things to make your room feel like home!  But first...

QUICK TIP:  Pick a color scheme.  
I picked (can you guess?!) PURPLE!  Purple is a nice WARM, CALMING color--and just so happens to be our SCHOOL COLOR!  Picking a color scheme--especially with warm colors--makes your room feel calmer and less "busy".  

Now back to finding out how to make your classroom comfy cozy!  First, check out the dorm furniture & decor sales at stores like Target, Walmart, etc.  College furniture is cheap (compared to actual furniture & house decor at least!), fun, kid-friendly, and typically passes fire safety codes!  (Be sure to check first though about the fire safety!  Each item is different, and each district has different fire-safety rules and codes!)


This is a QUICK and EASY way to instantly make your classroom feel like home!  It is meant for a dorm... so it is EASY to install and under $15 at Walmart!

  • WALMART IS AWESOME!  Cute stuff, real cheap!  Here is the link for this particular curtain set.  WALMART CURTAINS  It also comes in white, green, blue, and pink!  LOVE THESE!  SO CUTE!!!  I can't tell you how frustrated I used to get with those school blinds that fall down and break in half when you try to open or close them.  This was the best $14.96 I've ever spent on my classroom decor!! :-)

Again, if possible, stick with your color scheme!  My students LOVE these bean bags.  To be fair, I said that all of these things need no maintenance and last for years... well bean bags DON'T!  By the end of the school year, these once fluffy bean bags were used as capes or blankets because they were so flat.  I ended throwing them away the last month of school because they were so flat, germy, and leaking beans.  However, I will for SURE buy these again this year.  The reason they get so destroyed is because they are so loved.  Kids LOVE to cuddle up and read on these cozy bean bags, and can sit for so much longer during a mini lesson than on the floor.  Now, I only have 4 in my room... which is actually perfect.  Each day is "bean bag day" for a different 4-student table group.  We just rotate around the room.  The students are responsible for remembering the table day.  If they sit in the bean bags when it is not their day, they lose their turn that round (or next round).  (Trust me... it's not as much management as you'd think... the kids always remember who loses their day and whose day it is!)  The bean bags also have assigned spots.  So, if it is a student's day for the bean bag, then they have to sit on the bean bag in the bean bag spot.  They don't HAVE to sit on the bean bag if they don't want to.  You can choose your own system... but this typically works for me.  Now... we went through a period during the winter when we had snow days more than we had school... the schedule got all messed up.  At that point, I just let students sit in the bean bag when they wanted.  If they fought over it, they lost their chance.  They always worked it out.  It really was almost NEVER an issue.  Benefits totally outweighed hassle.  LOVE THE BEAN BAGS!

  • Again... WALMART!  YES... these are quite costly... especially for four.  Remember, I co-teach in a room with 50 kids... so really I got 4 for two classrooms... so 2 bean bags would be more than enough in one classroom.  Still... yes, expensive.  But, if you have coupons or gift cards, or catch Walmart when they are doing big back-to-school sales, it can bring the cost down!!  

QUICK TIP:  Buying New Bean Bags is Worth the Cost Over Bean Bag Filler! 
Even though these are expensive, I would never buy bean bag filler for these ever again!  First of all, these bean bags are HUGE.  You need a CRAZY amount of filler for each bean bag.  The filler is over half the cost of the bean bag itself!  Plus, it is IMPOSSIBLE (okay... well VERY DIFFICULT) to get those beans in the bean bag without making a nightmare of a disaster in your room!  I regret spending almost $100 on filler (that I will never use BTW...), because I just wasted all of it on a BIG OL' MESS!  If you choose to buy these... just anticipate that they have a 1 year lifespan.  If that is too crazy, then just skip on the bean bags.  P.S. PLEASE comment below if you find purple bean bags for any cheaper!!!  

Part 3:  
Student Work Space & Student Storage

So I've debated between DESKS vs. TABLES for years... but that was BEFORE I went to tables.  I WILL NEVER GO BACK TO DESKS!  I still have nightmares some times of the inside of students' desks... crumpled papers, old rotten food, piles of erasers and mini toys... YIKES!  The question then with tables, of course, is WHERE DO THE STUDENTS PUT ALL THEIR STUFF?!  Well, this is KEY... there MUST BE A HOME FOR EVERYTHING!  (My mentor teacher when I taught 1st grade taught me that!)  Every single item the students are asked to bring from home AND that we give to the students MUST HAVE A PLACE TO GO! (This is where I fall apart... so THANK GOODNESS I have Briggs to guide me!)  I am going to show you our organization for our student work spaces and storage.  Again, if you have questions or suggestions of alternatives that have worked for you, I'd LOVE to hear it!!!  


We had exactly 48 students (remember... technically 2 classes) and each table fits 4 students.  So, how many tables did we need?  (WOW!  That is a great division story problem!  I'll have to remember to use that!)  ANSWER:  The Branke Bunch needed 12 tables.  Even though we have tables, we still have name tags to give each student a sense of ownership over their home base in the classroom.  NOTE:  This is also our first day of school set up, which I will go into detail with below the picture in the "HOW TO GET THIS" section! 

  • NAME TAGS:  Again, these are from the Really Good Stuff website.  I LOVE the adhesive sleeves that stick to the desk, and then we can just slide the name tags in and out.  That way, we can switch desks easily AND the students can use the references on BOTH sides of the name tag!  This is WAY easier than taping each name tag down to the table!!  PLUS... THESE COME WITH TESTING INSERTS!  We all know how big of a pain it is to cover up all references and information in our classrooms during testing time... I remember years of having to tape construction paper over all of my students' name tags during testing week.  WHAT A WASTE OF TIME AND PAPER!!!  Now, we can just pass out the cute testing inserts, and the students can insert them all by themselves!!!  So, for about $1.50 per student, you get a double-sided informational desk name tag, an adhesive sleeve, and a testing insert!  Not bad!!  Here is the link again:  NAME TAGS FROM REALLY GOOD STUFF!  PLUS, you can also DESIGN YOUR OWN name tags with the information and design YOU WANT at Really Good Stuff.  I've thought about this before, but I really do love the intermediate leveled ones I just linked for 5th grade.  BUT, if you are interested in designing your own, check them out here:  DESIGN YOUR OWN NAME TAGS.  
  • CUSTOMIZED PENCILS:  Those pencils you see on the desk were part of their first day WELCOME TO THE BRANKE BUNCH gift!  It only cost $7.50 for 24 CUSTOMIZED PENCILS.  Each pencil said "BRANKE BUNCH" (I think...).  You can use up to 30 characters!!  I got these at Oriental Trading!  Check it out here:  CUSTOM PENCILS.  
  • CUSTOM WARNER BRACELETS:  These again were given to each student by the school to welcome them to Warner.  If you Google "CUSTOM WRISTBANDS", lots of things will come up.  Most of them have a minimum of 50 or 250 or something crazy.  But, talk to your school... they get REALLY cheap if you order more!  Like $0.30/bracelet even once you get to enough for a whole school!  It's a great way to welcome students and start them off with school spirit and pride!  (Ours came out of our PBIS budget!)
  • WELCOME LETTER - FROM A FORMER BRANKE BUNCHER:  At the end of each school year, we have students write letters to incoming 5th graders telling them all the wonderful and exciting things they will do in our class this year.  Then, we place one on each desk for the first day of school.  The letters are always AMAZING--as we tell them we will only use them if they ARE indeed AMAZING... so they really take their time on them.  Then, when the students read them on the first day of school, not only do they get SUPER PUMPED and learn a TON about how we roll in the Branke Bunch, but they also feel a bond with a big 6th grader at the school!!  At the end of the year, when the students write these, they ALWAYS remember the letter they got at the beginning of the year, who wrote it, and how it made them feel!!  THIS IS SUCH A FUN WAY TO START THE YEAR!!!  
  • MORNING WORK - CLASSMATE "NAME" SEARCH:  After the students come in, find their seats, and read their letters from the former Branke Buncher, they complete their "morning work" while they wait for everyone to get settled.  This is just a word search with the first names of all the students in their class.  They always have a blast looking for their own name AND seeing all the students who are in their class that year.  You can just make your word search at!!!  Plus, these take FOREVER to complete because there are so many students, so you don't have to worry about students finishing early and not having anything to do on the first day.  


So, the students are at tables and no longer have storage for their supplies.  WHAT DO WE DO?!  Well, for their personal supplies and materials, each table has a caddy and a drawer.  First, I'll explain the caddy.  

  • CADDIES:  We get the caddies at the Dollar Store.  (Actually in person... not online.)  But most dollar stores have them!  We use the kid with the 3 compartments.  (2 small and 1 big)
  • CADDY LABELS:  I use Avery oval labels to label each compartment of the caddy.  We are very particular about what goes in the caddies.  The two small compartments are for PENCILS and the other is for HIGHLIGHTERS.  Then, the big compartment is for EARBUDS or SPECIFIED PAPERS (ONLY if directed)!!  
    • For the PENCIL & HIGHLIGHTER compartments, I use the 18/sheet Avery Oval Labels (6463, 6583, 16463).  Here is the template that you can use to make your labels on your computer:  18-OVAL AVERY TEMPLATE.
    • For the large compartment, I just label the TABLE NUMBER.  I use the 8-OVAL AVERY TEMPLATE for these ones.  (Compatible products = 22820, 22829, 22927, 22931, 22964)


So writing utensils are in the table caddies on the tables, but where do all the students' materials go?!  You know... their notebooks, folders, binders, etc... THEIR TABLE DRAWERS, OF COURSE!!!  Again, we are VERY particular of what goes where.  EVERY MATERIAL NEEDS A HOME!  NO LOOSE PAPERS HERE!!!  


  • DRAWERS:  Again, we get these from WALMART!  They are the Sterilite 3-Drawer Wide Carts.  They are under $20.  Again, I know it is pricey.  These at least last a couple years (typically).  Again, if you have coupons, gift cards, or get them on sale... they are TOTALLY WORTH IT!  SOOO much better than nightmare desks.  SOOO organized.  SOOO nice looking.  We DO take the wheels OFF.  The wheels cause more wear and tear on the drawers... or at least that's what we noticed.  
  • LABELS:  We just used standard shipping labels (10/sheet).  We got the NEON labels... but whatever works for you!  Our labels are as follows:
    • TOP:  iPod Binders (both sides) -- I'll talk about these in another post, but iPod stands for (I Plan & Organize Daily), and it is their EVERYTHING binder with their planners and folders that they take home and to school every day.
    • MIDDLE:  
      • ELA Notebooks (LEFT):  This is their Reader's Response Journal & Writer's Notebook.  (Again... I will go into details in all of this in another post!)
      • Science/Social Studies Notebooks (RIGHT):  They also keep their unit booklets that we make for our students for each unit in this drawer.
    • BOTTOM:
      • Math Interactive Notebooks (LEFT):  I'm OBSESSED WITH INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS!!!  (Again... more details to come!)
      • Math Data Notebook Folders (RIGHT):  See my "MATH WORKSHOP" tab for more info on Data Notebooks!!
OKAY!  Well, that is just the tip of the iceberg!!  I forget each year just how much goes into setting up our classrooms each year.  Just remember, the more you do to prepare for the year, the smoother the whole year will run!!  I am so excited to continue this blog by telling you about:
  • Classroom Community Decor & Creations
  • Learning Goal Displays / Hard Core Common Core Walls
  • Classroom Library
  • Classroom Organizational Pieces
  • ...and much, MUCH more!!! 
I can't wait to hear more about all the wonderful ways you set up and decorate your rooms!  Also, I'd LOVE to answer any questions.  Just comment in the COMMENTS section below!!!

REMEMBER:  It is still just the beginning of summer.  No need to stress.  This is ALL FUN STUFF!  So, KEEP CALM & BRANKE BUNCH ON!! :-)


  1. I love your purple color scheme! Your room looks fabulous. I always wanted to have tables instead of desks, but my school didn't have enough tables to put that many in one classroom.
    Lots of great ideas, thanks for sharing.
    Crockett's Classroom . . . Forever in Third Grade

  2. Thanks, Debbie!!! :-) I <3 purple!! Growing up, my bedroom was always purple, so when I came to a school with purple as its school color...I PURPLE PALOOZAED IT UP! As for the tables, our district recently redistricted and tables from schools that closed were distributed to all the remaining schools. My teaching partner and I had to hunt our whole huge school to find 12 matching tables. It was quite a fiasco. Desks really do have many pros though. I suppose if I was as organized then (when I used to have desks my first few years of teaching) as I am now (with the help of my teaching partner), then they really would be just as great. The concept of "everything must have a home" is such a PERFECT way to think about it! (Now if only I could figure out how to implement that same organizational philosophy at home...) HA! Thanks for your kind and supportive feedback!!! ~Elyse :-)

  3. Oh Elyse with a Y!!! Girrrrrl, this is too good!!! I'm following this blog now bc I know I'll be coming back here A LOT!! Wow! Amazing tips! I was going to ask if you'd been working on your room this summer, but obviously you have! ;) I'm one of 2 teachers in our school that comes up to school thruout the summer to prepare! And I'm kinda OCD about it looking perfect (I can easily spend 3 hours putting borders on a bulletin board-WISH I WAS KIDDING!) but you're right-it's so much FUN to me! Totally using your student name word search on the first day! LOVE that idea!! Ok, you're inspiring me to think about starting a blog!

    1. Elise (with an "I"!!!!!!) WAHOO! I'm SO excited you liked my blog!!! It was so scary to start, but I'm slowly becoming obsessed!! :-D I can see how this can get addicting! Our hard core OCDness must be an Eli/yse thing!! LOVE IT!!! Let me know when you start your blog, because I can't wait to check it out!!!! WAHOOOOOO!