September 6, 2014

A Peek Into My English Language Arts Classroom

Decorating your English Language Arts classroom doesn't have to be costly. Get ideas for where to shop and look for inspiration (besides teacher stores) as well as practical tips for arranging your classroom.

I admit it, I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to teaching supplies, which means I never throw away anything I think I might be able to use again and many of the materials in my classroom are from my very first year of teaching. To celebrate my sixth year of teaching and my first time teaching a third year in the same school, I decided to go all out and get some new classroom decorations!

Classroom Decorating Tip: Teacher stores aren't the only places to find classroom decorations.My first purchases were at a Crate & Barrel outlet store. I found four pairs of paper lanterns (eight total) with a fireworks theme, intended for the Fourth of July, marked down on clearance as well as a matching square tablecloth. I used to have blue and green lanterns from IKEA hanging in my classroom, but after five years they were in pretty bad shape so I was excited to find new ones for cheap. The tablecloth could be used to top my desk or maybe a pair of filing cabinets. These small red baskets, also intended for Fourth of July and marked down, were the perfect size for pens, pencils, markers, crayons, etc. and will be used to pass out supplies to tables to prevent them from rolling all over the tables and onto the floor. With this red theme in mind, I picked up a couple red table runners from IKEA to top the three bookcases in my classroom.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Keep color schemes simples as not to overwhelm or distract students.My next step was to start thinking about the very large bulletin board at the back of my classroom. I usually cover it with black paper so that if when students write on it, the writing doesn't show. The black background also makes anything on white copy paper really pop. Since the other decorations I had purchased were red and white, I wanted to get borders and letters with the same color scheme as not to overwhelm or distract students with too many colors. First, I found some border at Staples (top left), but it was a little expensive, $7 for the pack, so I was excited to find red scalloped border with white polka dots at Becker's (bottom right), two packs for $6. I also found letters to match.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Don't forget to utilize your ceiling space.Once I could get into my classroom, I started decorating from the top down, which meant hanging my new lanterns first. Because I hung them over the vents along my windows, they "sway" in the wind. This whole wall of my room is completely covered with windows and you can see my view of Philadelphia’s skyline through the curtains. The amount of natural light in the room is great except when I'm trying to show movie clips, especially ones are set at night (think the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet). The room doesn’t get dark enough, even with the shades down for the scenes to be seen clearly. On top of the heating vents along my windows are crates, one for each class period, where students keep their in-class folders. This prevents classwork from disappearing into the book bag/locker abyss. I teach primarily ninth graders so I have to balance teaching them how to be organized with the necessity of helping them keep track of their materials.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Replace your word wall with a word "tree" to save wall space.Classroom ceilings totally under utilized and are a great place to find extra space in your classroom. After having a word wall that hogged all of my bulletin board space, I came up with the idea of making a word "tree" after seeing something similar in a pre-school classroom for hanging artwork. I bunched together some tree branches and I'll add more words as the year goes on. The sign hanging from my word tree says “Growing Our Content Knowledge.” You can see more pictures of my word tree and get tips for creating your own here. Beneath my word tree, you can see my fireworks tablecloth covering two of my filing cabinets. The wire basket on top will hold papers to be filed, a job I assign to students. You can also see one of my two bookcases filled with my color coded classroom library. You can read about the coding system I use here. My sister-in-law works for the Philadelphia Free Library system and is gracious enough to pick out the best donations to set aside for me. She has a boxful waiting for me to pick up so I will soon be adding even more books to my library.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Cover your walls with student work rather than spending money on pre-made decorations.Across the back wall of my classroom is my one and only, extremely long bulletin board. My expectations (rules) and negative and positive consequences are posted on the left. At the top are writing rubrics for constructed responses and essays. I'll hang writing exemplars below them as the year goes on. Across the top of the board are collages of the units in the ninth grade literature textbook my school district uses (plot & setting, character, narrator & voice, etc.). I made them my first year of teaching and still love them. At the bottom right of the board, I will post the Latin and Greek roots we cover throughout the year. On the right side of the board I will post the names of students who score mastery (80% or higher) on their assessments. All the rest of the space will be used for student work; that is the only thing that will change on my bulletin board throughout the year. It keeps things simple for me and students would much rather see their own work hanging up than some pre-made store bought decoration. Hanging up and taking down student work is another job I assign to students.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Position desktop computers so the screens can be monitored from anywhere in the classroom.I have five desktop computers in my room, which I try to use as frequently as possible for projects and writing. While I didn't really have a choice about where to put them (there is a countertop specifically for that purpose built in), if you have any in your classroom, you want to position them strategically so that you can see students' screens from anywhere in your classroom. This will eliminate a lot of off task behavior. Above the desktop are inspirational posters, many bought from on Black Friday, as well as informational posters about Shakespeare and a Romeo & Juliet movie poster. That's the Shakespearean play taught in ninth grade. The empty space in the middle is for my citing evidence posters, which I will hopefully be creating this weekend. I have some ideas from Pinterest. The bookcase on the right holds student supplies and more books. I like student supplies to be out and accessible so students can independently get the materials they need.

Classroom Decorating Tip: Arrange your teacher desk so it takes up as little classroom space as possible.The front of my room has my whiteboards and SmartBoard. I hate writing on the board so I usually just post my objectives and agenda on the board. Any notes I do are PowerPoints on my Smartboard. My desk is pushed in the corner to the right to create as much open space as possible. I never sit at it during class so it doesn’t matter that it faces away from the rest of the room. I also have one single student desk in case someone needs to sit all by themselves. Hanging above my desk are more posters from These are two works by two of my favorite artists. While I think too many posters and decorations can be distracting for students, I also think it is fine to have some decorations that are not content-related but help to give your room a homey feel and/or reveals some of your own personality.

I still hadn’t moved tables and chairs when I took these pictures because I was waiting to see what the final numbers on my rosters were. As of Friday afternoon, I had 32 at the most; on Thursday it was 36. I ended up arranging my tables into five groups of four and two groups of six with a large circular space in the middle. As I find out how many of those 32 or so show up, I may be able to move some of the tables out of the way to the back and/or front of the room to create more space. Looking forward to my first day with students!

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