Eight Secrets of Class Design

Does the thought of that bare classroom awaiting you give you an anxiety attack? Do you envy the teacher whose room is always the first stop on a school tour? If so, make this the year you conquer your insecurities about classroom design. Any teacher can create an attractive, fun learning space by following this advice from colleagues across the country.

1. First Things First
Have a pen and clipboard in hand when you first set foot in your room. Stand at the door and draw a floor plan, including board and display places, outlets, sinks, closets, cupboards, and windows, before you physically begin moving objects. Draw out your plan or use cutout shapes that you can move around on the floor plan. Establish flow patterns, allowing room for art tables, listening centers, and group-discussion areas. Try moving between desks, and sit down in student chairs to check overhead and board visibility from different areas of the room. Use your at-school time efficiently to work on tasks that must be done on location; use your off hours at home to create bulletin board elements, set up student folders, and so on.
Doris Dillon
Williams Elementary/Graystone Elementary
San Jose, California

2. Color Magic
Colors define the look of your classroom. Choose a color scheme that appeals to you and reflects what you want the class atmosphere to be: Calm and soothing? (Think blues and greens.) Wacky and creative? (Try tropical colors.) Warm and homey? (Earth tones or primary colors work well.) Use this color scheme for your bulletin board backings, storage containers, and rug and pillows. Then let kids' work do the rest.
Judy Vowels
Hazelwood Elementary
Lousiville, Kentucky

3. Opt for Versatility
I section my classroom write-on/wipe-off board into three equal sections, and create construction-paper frames for each. For example, I might put up a pink scalloped border to create a birthday space, and then invite kids to write or draw something there on their special day. The frames can invite kids to create a story or announce a special event. This board is the focal point of my room.
Judy Meagher
Emily Dickinson School
Bozeman, Montana

4. Try Something Different
One of my most versatile (and striking) classroom touches is my pipe tree. I bought some PVC pipe and used brackets to mount it upright on a plywood base. Then I drilled holes in it and slid dowel rods through the holes to extend on either side, like branches. I hang small plastic bags on the rods with games, activities, and books in them. It also works well for displaying things like masks, kids' published books, and other 3-D projects. Last year, I covered the tree with brown crinkly paper and added palm leaves. The kids made coconuts by stuffing brown construction paper, then added a bit of artificial grass, and we had a palm tree to go with our ocean theme.
Judy Vowels

5. Share the Challenge
Whether design is your strong suit or not, it's best not to decorate your classroom all by yourself. Invite the kids to help choose colors, decide where furniture goes, and help solve storage dilemmas. It helps them take ownership and pride in their room, and it's also a great lesson in problem solving and cooperation. Best of all, they can be very creative!

In my classroom last year, we decided together on an ocean theme. As a finishing touch, the kids and some parent volunteers painted the window shades. We used the overhead to draw pictures on the shades, then used acrylic paint to fill in all the details. It was quite an undertaking, but the result was an ocean mural with a humpback whale that covered three windows! Everyone loved it, and it changed the whole atmosphere of the room.
Judy Vowels

6. Eye-Catching Time-Savers
I have a card holder on my classroom wall that stores cards with each student's name on them. When kids arrive in the morning, they turn their cards over. That helps me take attendance by simply seeing the one or two names that are not turned over. I also place a motivational sticker on the back so that when they turn the card over they see messages like "Glad you're here," "You're special," and so on.
Judy Vowels

7. Use Center Logic
Color-coding has saved my sanity when it comes to learning centers. I find what I need in local grocery and discount stores. For self-contained games, small laundry baskets are effective; games can be stacked neatly in each basket. I use larger laundry caskets for high-volume centers, such as math and language arts. A color-matched dish drainer holds thin games and flash cards. Small plastic tubs and boxes hold spinners, number cubes, and markers.

Colored clothespins (or plain clothespins whose tips you color with markers) effectively manage traffic flow for each center. Figure out how many students each center can handle, and put that number of appropriately colored clothespins in a central container at the front of the room. As students choose a center, have them each take a clothespin to clip to a sleeve or collar. When finished, they return the clothespins to the bin.
Donna Rice
Highland Village Elementary
Lewisville, TX

8. Focus on Kids
For a get-to-know-me bulletin board that spotlights my primary-grade kids and lasts all year, I create a page-sized template of a house, photocopy it, and give one to every child. During the first week, they decorate their houses to represent themselves and their own homes with snapshots and/or drawings. They write or dictate one sentence about themselves to add to the house. Then, as the year goes on, I use the houses as an anchor point for displaying children's work, adding their writing and drawings, and watching the houses grow!
Judy Meagher