My Classroom & Set up Tips

School is back in session for me!

Last year I did a complete classroom makeover, (click here to see how I did it) so this year all I did was get myself more organized, make a few adjustments and improvements, and I was ready to go! I took a class last summer that inspired me to create a classroom environment that was relaxing and inviting. The idea is to make it a comfortable place for the kids and I to spend so much of our day. Although lots of colors and stuff can be fun, they can also be distracting. I save the colors and “stuff” for my smartboard lessons and the students’ creations.  When the kids and parents walked into my room for beginning of the year conferences, that is exactly the reaction I got from many families!

Walking down the hall and into my classroom

(keep reading for directions on how to make the awning)

The view from the door as you walk in

The kids sit at trapezoid tables that have desks built in underneath. It gives the kids more room to spread out, and the way the trapezoid tables fit together give us more space in the room. These 4 table groups sit 24 kids! I also have a wall flower plugged in that gives off a fresh clean smell that really adds to the ambiance!

Table center pieces

This is in the center of each table group (I have a total of 4 table groups with 6 kids at each table). In the black tubs are supplies that they all share: pencils, markers, small pencil sharpeners, a book of classroom procedures, sticky notes, and a date stamp.

Math, Science, & Writing Area

The shelf (with the books displayed on it) is my immersion area. This is a place where the kids and I bring in things that are related to what we are studying (usually a science or social studies concept) and add them to the shelf for everyone to explore during that unit. The blue tubs underneath are part of the science center. They hold bones, birds nests, rocks, shells, magnifying glasses, and anything that the kids can find that they would like to investigate more closely (as long as it is not alive or decomposing!). The tall shelf next to it holds a lot of writing supplies. Each slot will hold different colors of construction paper, and there are staplers, tape, and word dictionaries on top.  The big shelf on the other side is for our turn in basket, homework folders, and Thursday folders. On top there are more writing supplies such as dictionaries, markers, squiggly cutting scissors, sticky notes, etc. You can also see our classroom mailbox on the left. Behind the curtain is our math supplies . . .

(behind the curtain picture coming soon! I forgot to take one!)

I read Debbie Diller’s Book Math Work Stations this summer, and I’ve started using math stations the way she suggests in her book, and I love it! You can see the tubs I’m using as my math work station ($2.79 at the Container Store!), and our other math supplies. I’ve always used math centers, but I love organizing them in tubs the way Debbie Diller suggests! It’s so much easier. Everything they need is right there, and we don’t have to spend time messing around collecting all the supplies, and if they don’t finish that day, they just keep what they need in the tub and they can pick up where they left off the day before. I LOVE it!

My classroom library and listening center

Every year I have to remake the labels in my classroom library because kids are so hard on things–but not this year! My husband (who is amazing!) came up with a great idea to make the labels in my library last! (He just got tired of helping me redo them every year!)

The picture just does not do justice to how amazing these labels are! Keep reading to find out how we made them.

I also made a new discovery this summer that I think will change the organization of my library forever! I’m so excited! I have my books labeled in different ways. I have many different genres, authors, favorite series, favorite read alouds, and Guided Reading Levels — quite a variety. Because I have them grouped in many ways, it’s hard to find enough different colored stickers so the kids can keep them all straight–and they don’t. By the end of the year, I always find many books out of place. But this year should be different! I found circle stickers from 3M that you can run through the printer! I created my own labels complete with picture AND name! Now they have to get the books back in the right place (I hope)  because they have words and pictures for reference. I think this is really going to make a difference! I have the labels I made on sale at the Teacher Stuff store if you’d like to try it too! (It’s just a digital item, so you will have to buy your own stickers) Click here to buy them.

Front of room: smartboard, doc camera, meeting area (and you can see the pillows from the classroom library)

I do not have a whiteboard because I have a I have a smartboard instead, and they wouldn’t both fit. Sometimes I could really use a whiteboard too, but I have found ways around it. The frame on the wall is holding a  20×24 whiteboard where I write our agenda for the day. My room is not that big, so to make the most of my space, my meeting area and library space overlap. I don’t really use these at the same time, so overlapping them allows me to make only one big space in my room instead of two.

Classroom computers

Sorry about the quality of the picture, but I have the most beautiful view out my window! I just can’t bear to close the blinds!

Teacher Area

I don’t have my desk at the front of the room because I only sit at it when the kids aren’t in the room. I just couldn’t get rid of my desk completely because I’m not organized enough without a space to put my stuff. I did downsize several years ago to a trapezoid table which takes up much less space than the big bulky teacher’s desks we have, so I just have my stuff in a corner out of the way. I have a toolbox drawer organizer from the Container Store that I keep paperclips, sticky notes, staples, etc. in since I don’t have drawers. I actually like it so much better than drawers! It keeps me so organized!

This little corner is called “Austrailia”

In the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Alexander wants to move to Australia to get away! So if the kids are having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, (or if they aren’t feeling well) we have a mini Australia where they can take a little break and compose themselves before they come back to join the rest of the group. There are also band-aids, Vaseline, and books about getting along with others and following the rules.

Small group area: for guided reading/guided math

Once I have taught the students to work independently at their math and literacy work stations, I begin my guided groups (as I’m sure you do). I use this sign to remind students that if I am working with a group and my sign is closed, I cannot help them and they have to keep working. If they try to interrupt (which they always do in the beginning!) I just point to my closed sign and keep working with my group. It works! They learn quickly when I am available for questions and when I am not. I just got an open/closed sign at Home Depot and added stickers for what I wanted to say. The sign I got said “Come on in” on the ‘open’ side, so I just colored over it with black permanent marker. My sign has lasted for 7 years so far!

To make the little awning you see as you walk into my room you need:


-hinges or a dowel rod


-E6000 glue


-spray adhesive

-ribbon-type stuff with little balls that hang down (sorry–I have NO idea what it is called!)

I got this idea from Debbie Diller’s book Math Work Stations, and I made it my own by adding my own color scheme, so you can too!

1. Flip the hinges so they won’t close all the way, and put them under one of the flaps on the poster board so it sticks out like an awning. Use a pencil to mark the holes where the brads will go.

Poke holes where the brads will go and attach the hinges to the poster board with glue and brads . . .

We also used packing tape hold the brads flat on the back.

Now you have an awning ready to decorate! After we got this far, my husband realized that we could have accomplished the same thing by gluing a dowel rod in the bend, and that would probably be simpler!

To attach the fabric we used spray adhesive on the cardboard and smoothed the fabric over it. (I had to cut out a little window in my board so I wouldn’t cover my name plate on the wall).

Then I hot glued the finishing touches! Now I have fun, eye-catching display to welcome students and parents to my room!

To make the classroom library labels (that will never bend, rip, or tear) you need:

-your own library labels printed on cardstock

-3×4 sheet of whiteboard from Lowe’s or Home Depot

-double-sided tape

-Furniture tacks (5/8 of an inch long)

-Parks Super Glaze Pour on Finish & Preservative Ultra Gloss Epoxy from Home Depot

These labels really are so amazing! The picture really doesn’t do it justice. They were totally my husband’s idea! He is such a rock star!

These labels do take a bit of work up front, but it will be worth it because they should last you forever. We made a few mistakes and had a few practice labels we had to throw away before we got the final product, but I’m SO pleased with how they turned out! Hopefully I can give you some advice that will save you from some of our mistakes!

1. I highly recommend printing your labels on cardstock. I didn’t the first time, and when we poured on the epoxy, the corners floated up and I couldn’t use them. (Those corners were so sharp when it hardened it would have caused stitches!)

Stick the labels down to the white board using double sided tape. Make sure you get the very edges!

Pour on the epoxy, but be sure to mix it EXACTLY as the directions say. We had one batch that we did not mix properly and it didn’t set correctly–it stayed tacky, so be precise! Give it about 24 hours to set just to be safe.

Now you’re ready to cut them apart. My husband used a band saw to cut them out, but a table saw, skill saw, or jigsaw would work too.

Then take off the rough edges, and drill a hole for the tack to go through, and they’re ready!

Because the epoxy is so thick, the furniture tacks were long enough to hold the labels up, and they looked nicer than screws or nails. Now you’ll have extremely durable, professional looking labels!

Happy decorating!

84 thoughts on “My Classroom & Set up Tips

  1. WOW! I LOVE your room. It’s what I want to do to my room. Since my room already has a blue theme (blue carpets, blue chairs, although the walls are a light pink….) I wanted to keep it to a blue theme but felt so overwhelmed to totally start over. I wish I saw your room early on in the summer because it would have been the motivation I needed. You’ve motivated me to just do it and not be scared! Let’s see if I can at least get my bulletin boards to be only blue since school starts on Wednesday! 🙂

    • Thanks Jamie! I know what you mean–it is hard to know where to start, at least it was for me. I started with the bulletin boards and borders a few years ago, so I think that’s a good idea to start there (especially with kids coming on Wed)! The next year I painted all my furniture the same color. The class I took talked about only emphasizing what you really want the kids to pay attention to and putting your color there. They said the furniture and stuff should just blend so your eye goes over it, and it will make your room look bigger. Where you put the pops of color, your eye will stop and take notice instead of trying to notice everything! It took me awhile to really be able to do this because I was the queen of “stuff” before! I really do like my room so much better now, and since I spend a lot of time there, it should feel comfortable. Good luck with your room! I’ll look for your pictures on TBA!

      • My eyes totally went towards the color in the room. Such a good idea and a “duh” moment for me. I’m waiting for my polka dot borders to come so I can at least change the bulletin boards. (Funny how many teachers like polka dots. It’s just so cute! 🙂 ) So my old borders are still up just in case the borders don’t get here on time.

        Again, LOVE your room. 🙂

        Jamie @ Teaching Little Firsties!

      • Ha! I know exactly what you mean about a “duh” moment! 🙂 That’s how it was for me too when I took the class. Be sure to post pictures of your room too! I’d love to see what you have now and how it changes when you get your new borders and stuff!

  2. Em your room looks amazing! Those kiddos are so lucky to get to learn in such an inviting, organized and creative environment!

    • Thanks Eve! When I was looking at my pictures, (because pictures give you a different way of looking at it then the real thing) I was thinking that my next focus (next year) for improvement would be the front of the room where the smartboard is. I don’t want anything too distracting, but I feel like it could use a little something. Maybe a swag or something to spruce it up? Since you are my decorating consultant, I was hoping you had some ideas! Let me know what you think! I’ve been looking through other teacher’s classroom pictures, and I just LOVE Kleinspiration’s room! I’ll email you the link, and maybe it will help you give me some ideas for the front. Thanks!

  3. Where did you get your book shelf that the labels are on? Was it homemade? Also the stickers you printed the book labels on, where can I get them (online? if so what name of them?).

    Love your room so inviting and HUGE!! I went from what I thought was a large room to basically a closet and now a portable and I am so jealous of the size of your room.

    • My husband did make my bookshelves for me–he’s so amazing! I don’t where you live, but he does make custom things like that for teachers. It’s nice because he can build it to fit the space you need! The labels are not actually stickers. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I just made them myself and printed them. I’d be happy to send them to you if you’d like them. Being in a portable is tough. I actually have a smaller room now than I did before I came to this school, so I had to learn to use every space I had wisely! Not having as much clutter and using black as the color to blend into the background really helped make my space look bigger too. In the class I took, they said only make the things pop that you want to draw kids attention to. The furniture and other stuff should blend in so your eye flows around the room. I used black, but I’ve seen other teachers use brown or dark green and it looked amazing! Good luck with your room!

      • Emily –

        I would love if you could send me the template for your bookshelf labels. This is exactly the design I am looking for. I am planning on decorating in black and red but your black and blue has me thinking about changing my mind. I love how happy it is.

      • Thanks! I’d be happy to send you my library templates. I’m back in school now, so I’ll send them to you this weekend. I can’t quite seem to find the time yet during the week! I’ll be sure to check out your blog for pictures too!

  4. Looks wonderful Em, love the colors! My supervisor said she’s making her classroom dinosaurs this year, can’t wait to help her decorate (so excited to start)

  5. WOW!!! Your classroom looks beautiful! I love the warm and calming colors. It is certainly inviting!!! I am going to strive for an environment that looks like yours!!

    GREAT JOB!!!! Thanks for sharing. Jodi ~ Buffalo, NY

  6. Fantastic use of the trapezoid tables and I love the color scheme. So calm! Saw a photo on and wandered over. I’m bookmarking your blog. 🙂 Have a great school year!

  7. What an amazing space you’ve created! I love all of your organization ideas and beautiful decorative touches. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi,

    I love the black, blue and brown wall panels (with borders) in your classroom, and was just wondering what materials you used to create them? I will be setting up my first ever classroom in 2012 and would love to do something similar.


    • Thanks! I used black and white polka dot borders from a teacher store and the walls are covered in fabric. I just painted the furniture black so that the accent color drew attention and not the furniture. I got the little things like placemats and pillows at Target. I actually focused on having less (which is different for me because I used to be the queen of stuff!) good luck setting up your new room! It’s always fun to do! Let me know if you have any specific questions I can help with, and I’d love to see pictures of your room!

      • Wow, thanks for the info and advice. And thanks for replying so quickly, I was expecting an alert in my email but it never came, so I didn’t realise until now that you had gotten back to me. Fortunately, I saved the link to your page and just came to look at your post again! 🙂

        I do have another question, actually. I really like your idea of the Australia ‘Getaway’ Corner, but was wondering if you might know of a similar book from another country? I might end up using the same book, but as we are in Australia already I might need to alter the destination slightly lol 🙂 Maybe by making a tropical island setting or just a calm space..

        My transportable room has not arrived at the school yet, so in the meantime I might just start stocking up on black fabric! I will try to send you some photos once I’ve had a go at setting it all up, though. 🙂

        Thanks again,

  9. Love Love Love the bookshelf. My hubby is handy. This might work out! Thanks for sharing such wonderful ideas. I AM the Queen of stuff at my school and I want to declutter and have it stay that way. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks! My best advice to start decluttering is don’t be afraid to get rid of things! If you haven’t used it in the last year or 2, don’t keep it! With the new CCSS standards, I’m fairly confident they won’t change again anytime soon, do I organized my “stuff” based on that. I also made sure that everything I kept had a permanent place so I could always put it away. I used Debbie Diller’s book as inspiration to start decluttering, Spaces and Places, then the class I took to redecorate. Good luck! I’d love to see what you do with youre room!

  10. Thanks for sharing your dynamic decorating! I love the bookshelf, I plan to show it to my handy hubby. Please let me know how you managed to “declutter” and stay organized. I am a Kindergarten teacher who hates dealing with my piles and papers, etc. Thanks!

  11. I really love your bookshelves! I am a teacher in Thornton. I would totally be interested in checking out his designs!

  12. Hi there, simply become aware of your weblog through Google, and found that it is really informative. I’m gonna be careful for brussels. I’ll appreciate for those who continue this in future. Lots of folks will likely be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  13. What size is the box that is under your Smartboard? I have firsties and we all are short. No one sells these step boxes. Love yours!!!

    • Thanks! My husband made it for me–I couldn’t find any for sale either! He made it to fit my smartboard and the baskets I already had (from really good stuff), so it is 4feet wide by 8 inches high, by 12 inches deep. It is perfect! Depending on where you’re from, he does make/sell custom furniture for classrooms as a hobby. It’s expensive to ship though, so probably not worth it if you’re far away.

    • Thank you so much! You’re so sweet! I did find the ideas other places and just made them my own. Please let me know if you try any of these ideas. I’d love to see how it turns out!

    • Wow! Thanks so much! I checked out your blog too and became a fan on facebook! I’m looking forward to reading your blog too!

  14. Thank you so much for your ideas! They are great not only for schoolrooms, but for little vintage campers that don’t have much room in them! We are always looking for decorative ways to store things, and your labels are just the best….we weren’t even looking for that, we were on the search for awning ideas to begin with, and we think, with a couple of small modifications, your awning will be just the ticket. Mucho thanks!

  15. I LOVE your room! This is my first year teaching second grade, coming down from 10 years of Jr. High, and I’m still using trial and error to arrange my room to fit our classroom needs. I wish we had tables instead of individual desks. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    • Thanks so much! Good luck setting up your room! Sometimes if you ask for things you’d like, such as tables instead of desks, your principal, or janitor, or someone comes through for you! It’s worth a try . . .

  16. Hi there,
    I love your awning! I have a question though. Is that regular posterboard or foamboard? I’m just curious because it would seem that plain posterboard would buckle. Also, if it is plain posterboard, do you just tape the stuff instead of pin or staple it? Sorry for so many questions.

    • Ah, I looked at your pictures again. I saw the cardboard backing and then I enlarged your picture to see another fold in the board. Now, I realize that it is a tri-fold board. Now, I have a new queston. Did you paint the board blue or is it BB paper, or something else?

      • It is actually fabric. I just used adhesive spray to put it on, but I’m sure painting or butcher paper would work too. I’m just a fan of fabric because I think it stays looking nice longer. Let me know if you make one! I’d love to see how it turns out!

    • Hi! Yes, it is regular poster board which is necessary to you can fold the awning down. The other fold on the poster board doesn’t fold up when I put it on the wall. To hang it on the wall, I used furniture tacks. They’re longer than regular thumb tacks, so they will go through the poster board and the wall and hold everything up well. I just did a google search for furniture tacks and ordered them from a company online. They were inexpensive, and they work great!

  17. Hello,

    I am
    Doing my classroom polka dot themed for next year. Where did you buy your borders? And where did you buy your book library shelf?

    • Hi! I got my borders at Lakeshore, and I’m sure any teacher store would probably have them. My very handy husband built and painted the bookshelves for me. If you are handy or have a handy husband too, we can let you know how he built them. If you live in CO, he builds them for others too, but they’re too big and heavy to ship. 🙂

  18. I ran across your blog through google and I love your ideas! What did you use to put your material around your desk and other items in your room to hide everything. I want to cover my desk but not sure what to use.

    • Thanks! I just used the cheapest fabric I could find at Walmart or Hobby Lobby and cut them to size. For the taller shelf I bought curtains at Target and used a tension rod to put them on. I do suggest using one of those roller cutting wheels and a cutting mat to cut the fabric though (you can find it in the sewing section) because it is almost impossible to make a straight cut with scissors! I used sticky velcro to attach it to the sides of the table so I could take it off at the end of the year and throw it in the washer. When the sticky stuff stopped being sticky, I used a hot glue gun to restick it to the fabric. I hope you can make it work for you too!

    • I used furniture tacks to hang it up. They are twice as long as a regular thumb tack so they go through the poster board and the wall and it stays put. I just googled furniture tacks and found a store online that I could order from. They were pretty inexpensive, and I love using the furniture tacks to hang other things in my room. They work really well!

  19. HI! I love the awning idea and read through all the responses, but still have a question…How far into the poster board did you fold the awning down? Also, you said in one response that it was just plain posterboard? Not foam-board. Is that correct?

    • Thanks! I’m glad you like it! It is not foam board, just plain poster board that kids would use for a science fair project, so it already has 2 folds in it. I used one fold for the awning, and I did not use the other fold. When I hung it on the wall with furniture tacks, I tacked the 2nd fold straight, not bent (does that make sense?!)I hope that helps! I’d love to see your finished product!

  20. Thank you for all your great ideas. I will be able to implement alot of your ideas in my Kindergarten classroom. This has been very helpful!

  21. I love your classroom and especially the awning. How did you get that to hang outside your room?? I have tile walls outside in the hall and can’t figure out how to hang it. Thanks!

    • Thanks! My wall isn’t tile so i used furniture tacks. You might try a hot glue gun for a tile wall. The awning isn’t very heavy, so it might work. Good luck!

  22. I used your picture (with a link and credit) on my blog. I think you are okay with that, but I know I like to know if people are talking/blogging about me! Your awning is officially my first “pin” that I actually took from pinning on Pinterest to real life. And the wooden dowel? I bought it, and my husband comes out and says, “Gee, I would have used a set of hinges.” I told him that you did and your husband suggested the dowel. lol
    In the end, though, the dowel wasn’t straight enough, so guess what I used? Foam triangle pattern blocks!

    • Thanks so much Rebecca! Youre right, it is nice to know when someone is blogging about you! That is so funny that your husband said to use hinges! I’m so glad you told me about the dowel rod. I’m making a smaller version of the awning to go over my CAFE board in my room, and I was going to use a dowel rod. The triangles are an awesome idea! I’m definitely going to do that for my new awning! Thanks for the advice! I checked out your post, and your awning looks awesome!!

  23. Love your classroom…especially your awning!
    Would you please let me know HOW you hung it on the wall? Thanks!

    • Thanks! I used furniture tacks to hang it on the wall. They’re extra long, so it went through the poster board and the wall. I ordered them online, but this summer I saw them at ACE hardware. They’re great for hanging lots of things!

  24. Wow! I had planned a polka dot theme this year but this is way better! It still keeps with my obsession with the dots but it make it so much calmer and relaxing. And thanks for all your great tips and love that it came with pictures. And again….Wow!

    • Thanks so much! It’s easy to do, but I think it has a big impact! Polka dots in any color are easy to find right now. I’d love to see your room when you have it ready to go!

  25. How did you get the material to stick to the trapezoid table? Mine did not stay.
    I love your labels – they are adorable. I just have one concern – Why did you not use capital letters where needed?

    • Thanks! I’ve tried a variety of things to keep the fabric on the trapezoid table, and the simplest thing has been hot glue straight on the fabric. I’ve tried Velcro & a few other things & they all work about the same, and hot glue is less steps & less materials. You can also easily take it off when necessary. As far as the capitals go . . . The font I used was like that! It made
      caps look that way! I was too far down the road by the time I got to a label where it really mattered, so I left it alone. A god lesson to learn from me!

  26. I just love your bookshelves. This is exactly what I have been looking for. Would your husband be willing to share the materials and an idea on how he put it together. Thanks so much!

  27. I found your posting by way of Pinterest. I’m setting up a new classroom and was looking for some new decorating ideas. I immediately felt like we were on the same wavelength. Then I read about you and I understood. I taught at Lone Tree until 2 years ago and that is where you got your inspiration. I am still sticking with most of the HET environment but I especially like your “spin” on things. I am using your color scheme and a lot of your ideas. Thanks so much for posting.

  28. I love your room set-up. I’m moving from a large room to a portable and a new grade. I don’t know where I will put all my books. I would love the labels if still available. Thank you for your inspiration.

  29. LOVE your bookshelf! Wish we were close enough to have your husband make me one. How deep is it? Thanks so much.

    • Thanks! Since I left the classroom, I’m actually looking to sell it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever used, but it’s pretty big, so I don’t have a great place to store it. If you’re ever in Colorado, I’d love to give it to you!

  30. I love your room! Those are my colors too. I am trying to do bulletin boards like the ones you have to add color to my white walls. Is that butcher paper or bulletin boards along the wall? If not bulletin boards, what did you do, use, and how did you get it to stay? Thanks!!

    • Thanks! I actually have fabric–it tends to last longer, but butcher paper would work. I just stapled it because those walls were the foldable kind, so it was kind of like a bulletin board. Good luck! I’d love to see your room!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s