Reflecting On Your Classroom Space

In the previous blog entry, Designing Your Classroom Space,  we mentioned some things to think about while designing your classroom before the children arrive.  Once the children come it’s time to talk with them about the various spaces – what they are for, how the children will participate in keeping each space neat and organized, and so on.  Perhaps they will have suggestions for areas you haven’t thought of. One year my first graders asked for a Lego building table so they could keep their creations intact and continue building each day when they arrived in the morning. What a great idea! We moved tables and immediately set up that space in our classroom. Once your children arrive you will be able to see if your classroom works. Do you have enough whole group area so that the whole class can sit and not be crowded?  Is your library big enough for many kids to browse books? Is your small group area really out of the way so you and the children you work with are not distracted or interrupted?  Teachers need to be responsive to what the students need and how the classroom can work best for them.

After the first few weeks of school, we suggest you consider the following questions:

  • Walk around your room – does every space have a purpose? Talk about this with the kids. Are they able to explain the purpose of each space and use it effectively?
  • Does your environment help or hinder what you and your students want to do? Some years most of my kids like to work on the floor with clipboards – some years most like tables or desks. I adapt to what my class needs that year.
  • Do your walls tell the story of children’s learning journeys? Consider charting your year of  learning through shared writing monthly, photographs of children at work, photocopies of book covers, etc. – all of this sparks conversation and tracks your year together.
  • Do the children have ownership of all that is displayed – do they know WHY it is on the walls? Does it reflect their learning? Are your anchor charts created with the class – and able to be added to or changed as new learning occurs?
  • Do you have children’s work and photographs displayed? Artwork, family photos, field trip photos, self-portraits, photos from recess or reading workshop, and more – all of these add a sense of community to your space.
  • Do your available resources encourage curiosity, creativity and communication?
  • Is your personal space uncluttered? (get rid of things you do not use or love; find ways to organize things that constantly look untidy; file away things that are not being used.)
  • Is there an area that isn’t working as well as it can?  If so, plan to discuss it with the children and come up with solutions.

Chapter 5 in Catching Readers describes in words and photographs how to set up an environment to support students in a comprehensive literacy approach, as well as provides a list of professional resources to help you design your classroom space.  Your classroom is home for you and your students 8 hours a day, 180 days a year. Make it a warm and welcoming place that encourages learning, creativity and self-expression. And never be afraid to change things as you continue to reflect on your year with your students. What are some ways you create a fabulous classroom space? Please share your ideas!

Designing Your Classroom Space

“It has been said that the environment should act as a kind of aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and cultures of the people who live there.”

-Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia

Teachers all over the country are beginning to gear up for another school year. Setting up the classroom is part of those busy first days back. Boxes are unpacked, furniture is moved, and garage sales are shopped in hopes of finding the perfect coffee table, lamp or pile of gently used books for the classroom library. Designing the space that you and your students will call home for the next 180 days is a critical part of having a great year. Here are some tips to think about as you create a beautiful space where readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists and learners will thrive.


  • Tape off a wide, open space big enough for each member of your class to have plenty of personal space standing or sitting.  (blue painter’s tape with wide packing tape put over it works well) This space has multiple purposes: whole group meeting area, meeting with guided reading groups or writing groups,   Legos, blocks, puzzles, puppet shows, storytelling, indoor recess, literature circles, science experiments, drama, dance,  or stretching out to read/write.
  • Set up an easel in the whole group meeting area for shared reading with big books, poetry charts, morning messages, chart paper for community writing projects – making sure you have a container nearby with everything you may need (markers, correction tape, white board, highlighting tape, current books you are using for reading/writing workshop, etc…)
  • Decide what other spaces you need (writing supply table, classroom library, science inquiry station, painting, quiet work areas, and so on.)  Create these around your wide-open space, making sure every space has a purpose.
  • Set up only the tables and desks you need in specific areas and have them serve multiple purposes (writing table, visual arts table, science table, coffee table (low or high) in library, and a few random tables if you have space.) Vary the level and shape of the tables. If you only have desks, put them together to form clusters – you can take the legs off of desks to create a low work space.
  • Don’t worry about having a desk or specific table space for each child. Encourage children to work in a variety of places in the classroom, depending on what they are working on. Some children work better on the floor while others prefer a desk space. However, you need to have a space for each child to keep his or her things (dishpans, baskets, file boxes on shelf or windowsill, cubbies, stackable bins, etc.)
  • Have enough clipboards available for each child – or use the back of dry-erase boards. (Home Depot will cut shower board for you to use as individual dry-erase boards – they often do it for free if you tell them you are a teacher)
  • Put out pillows or stuffed animals to lay/sit on.
  • Place books all over the classroom in bins or tubs – don’t limit your books to the classroom library.
  • Remove your teacher desk. Use a table as a workspace, but share it with the kids and don’t let it pile up or become exclusively your space.
  • Keep your classroom space beautiful and organized – don’t waste precious space with “stuff.”
  • Reflect on the various spaces with your kids; if an area isn’t working, change it!
  • Label everything and keep all of it within reach of the kids; teach them how to use all the supplies appropriately. Make sure they are held accountable for keeping supplies neat and taking care of their classroom.
  • Use documentation and photographs on the walls to chart the children’s learning.
  • Pair quality artwork with children’s art.
  • Be willing to start the year with blank walls, the room will transform quickly as the children take ownership of their space and their learning.

Chapter 5 in Catching Readers describes in words and photographs how to set up an environment to support students in a comprehensive literacy approach, as well as provides a list of professional resources to help you design your classroom space.  Enjoy these busy days before the children come and take the time to make sure your teaching and learning environment works for you and your students. Here’s to a great start!