How to Set up Your Classroom for the First Day of School

Set Up Your Elementary School Classroom in 10 Easy Steps

Male teacher assisting elementary school children in classroom during lesson
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With the start of each school year, teachers get a fresh chance to arrange their classrooms for a new group of students. Every choice you make sends a message to your students, their parents, and anyone who visits your classroom. Through furniture, books, learning stations, and even desk placement, you communicate the values and priorities of your class. Follow these steps to deliberately maximize the organization and efficiency of your classroom set-up.

What You Need

  • Classroom furniture (desks, chairs, bookshelves, etc.)
  • Textbooks and reading books for the class library
  • Posterboard for sharing class rules and other key information
  • An alphabet/handwriting poster for easy student reference
  • Materials for decorating bulletin boards (butcher paper, die cut letters, etc.)
  • School supplies (paper, pencils, dry erase markers, erasers, scissors, and more)
  • Optional: Computers, class pets, plants, games

1. Decide How to Place Student Desks

If you are going to emphasize cooperative learning on a daily basis, you'll probably want to move the student desks into clusters for easy discussion and collaboration. If you want to minimize distractions and chatting, consider separating each desk from the one next to it, leaving a little buffer space to discourage misbehavior. You could also place the desks in rows or semi-circles. Whatever you choose, work with the room and materials you have, leaving plenty of aisle space for you and the students to move around with ease.

2. Strategically Place the Teacher's Desk

Some teachers use their desks as a central command station, while others use it primarily as a paper pile repository and rarely sit down to work there. Depending on how your desk functions as part of your teaching style, choose a spot where your desk will meet your needs. If it's very messy, consider placing it in a less conspicuous spot.

3. Determine What Belongs up Front

Since students spend most of their days facing the front of the classroom, be very deliberate about what you place on the walls up front. Perhaps you want to emphasize discipline by placing the class rules on a prominent bulletin board. Or maybe there's a daily learning activity that requires easy-to-view space that all students can see. Make this prime time space engaging, but not distracting. After all, all eyes should be on you, not necessarily a colorful explosion of words and images that distract from the core instruction at hand.

4. Organize Your Class Library

Just like a public library, your classroom book collection should be organized in a logical manner that will be easy for the students to maintain throughout the school year. This could mean sorting the books by genre, reading level, alphabetical order, or other criteria. Labeled plastic bins work well for this. Also consider providing a little comfortable reading space for students to lounge with their books during silent reading time. This could mean some inviting bean bag chairs or a dedicated "reading rug."

5. Set Aside Space for Your Discipline Plan

It's wise to post your class rules in a prominent spot for all to see each day of the school year. That way, there's no opportunity for argument, miscommunication, or ambiguity. If you have a sign-in book or flip chart for rule offenders, set up a station for this activity. Ideally it should be in an out-of-the-way spot where curious student eyes can't easily stare as a rule-breaking student signs in, flips the card, or otherwise does his or her penance.

6. Plan for Student Needs 

Make sure basic school supplies are strategically placed for easy student access. This may include various types of writing paper, sharpened pencils, markers, erasers, calculators, rulers, scissors, and glue. Organize these materials in one clearly-delineated part of the classroom.

7. Define the Role Technology Plays in Your Classroom

Placement of your computer center communicates the role technology plays in your teaching. If you aim for a more traditional approach to instruction with technology as an occasional compliment, the computers likely belong in the back of the room or a cozy corner. If you integrate technology into most of the lessons, you might want to mix the computers in throughout the room so they're easily accessible. This is a personal choice based on your beliefs about teaching in the 21st Century in combination with how available technology is on your campus.

8. Express Yourself Through Bulletin Boards

Almost every elementary school classroom has bulletin boards on the walls, requiring themes, displays, and regular rotation. Consider designating one or two bulletin boards as seasonal, and thus focus on keeping those boards timely and relevant to current holidays, instructional units, or class activities. Make it easy on yourself by keeping the majority of the bulletin boards "evergreen" and constant throughout the school year.

9. Sprinkle in Some Fun Stuff

Elementary school is primarily about learning, for sure. But it's also a time for fun personal touches that your students will remember for a lifetime. Think about having a class pet and make space for cages, food, and other required materials. If a pet's not your style, place a few houseplants around the room to add life and a touch of nature. Make a game center for educational activities that students can use when finished with their work. Pop a couple personal photos from home on your desk to express your interests and personality. A little bit of fun goes a long way.

10. Minimize Clutter and Maximize Functionality

Before your new students (and their parents) enter the classroom on the first day of school, take a look around your classroom with fresh eyes. Are there any little piles that could be put into a cupboard to tidy up? Does each part of the room serve a clear, functional purpose? What messages are you sending with your classroom's overall appearance at first glance? Make tweaks as necessary.

Check out your colleagues' classrooms

Visit the classrooms of other teachers on your campus for ideas and inspiration. Talk to them about why they made certain organizational decisions. Learn from their mistakes, and don't be shy about copying any brilliant ideas that will work with your teaching style and resources. Similarly, don't feel pressured to adopt any aspects that aren't a good fit for your personality or approach. As a gesture of gratitude, share a few of your own best tips with your colleagues. We all learn from each other in this profession.

Strike the right balance

An elementary school classroom should be engaging, colorful, and expressive. However, don't go overboard and end up more towards the overstimulating end of the spectrum. Your classroom should project a sense of calm, organization, and positive energy, as well as a seriousness about learning. If you gaze around your room and feel overwhelmed by too much color or too many focal points, your students will feel scattered, too. Find a balance between chaotic and stark. Aim for cheery, but focused. Your students will feel the difference each day they walk into the room.

Don't be afraid to make changes at any time

Once your school year gets underway, you may find that certain aspects of your classroom set-up aren't working quite the way you initially envisioned. No worries! Just eliminate any parts that now seem obsolete. Add in the new functionalities you now know you need. Briefly introduce the changes to your students, if necessary. Every so often, reevaluate with a practical, flexible attitude, and your classroom will be a vibrant, organized place for learning all year long.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Beth. "How to Set up Your Classroom for the First Day of School." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Lewis, Beth. (2020, October 29). How to Set up Your Classroom for the First Day of School. Retrieved from Lewis, Beth. "How to Set up Your Classroom for the First Day of School." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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