menu   home About Me My Shop My Classroom  
menu   TpT Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest Bloglovin  

Classroom Sneak Peek: Together We Are Better

It's that time of year again! The time when we roll up our sleeves to get our rooms ready for a new group of students.  Unless you're a teacher, or are close friends with a teacher, you may not realize how much thought goes into classroom set-up (or unpaid hours of work!)  There are so many things to consider when trying our space as warm and inviting as possible.  

  • We reflect on what worked in our spaces last year, and seek ways to improve.  
  • We consider our incoming students, and mold our spaces to meet their individual needs.  
  • We think about how our space will support the structure and routines that we create, and promote independence.  
  • We look to create natural paths in our room to help students easily and safely navigate their environment.  
  • We develop meaningful reference points for students to use and help internalize key concepts.
  • We designate spaces to highlight the growth and learning taking place in our classrooms.
  • We strategically develop seating arrangements that will both support independent work and foster collaboration.

SO MANY THINGS GO INTO PLANNING A CLASSROOM, and sometimes it can feel pretty darn overwhelming!

Not going to lie- I'm feeling VERY overwhelmed right now.  I'm starting at a new school, in a new grade, and my students come back tomorrow! I have spent the last two weeks unpacking and moving furniture (about a hundred times before I approved of the layout!)  A blank canvas can be an amazing source of excitement, but as crunch time approaches, the butterflies begin fluttering, and the panic brews begins to brew... WILL I EVER GET THIS READY IN TIME?

Well, my full reveal is not ready just yet, since my second graders aren't here yet (meaning there is no work up, no terms posted on our math and word walls, no bulletin boards filled with content area learning).  However, I thought it would be fun to link up with my friends Schroder Shenanigans in 2nd and Lucky Little Learners, and let you see the bare bones and all I have left to do before my new kiddos arrive in 24 hours.

Let's start in the meeting area.  This is will be the space where we begin each day.  My classroom is a Responsive Classroom, and our morning meetings are critical to a successful day for my students.  I write our morning message on the easel every day, have our visual schedule ready to preview with my students, and any key words posted in the pocket chart that we will be working with that day.

I snagged this carpet from Ocean State Job Lot for about $80!  It's basically leftover carpeting and the edges have been bound to keep from fraying.  It was a steal, and has really helped make our space quite cozy.  The cushions are from IKEA (if you don't know by now, I basically live there!)  They are meant to be for kitchen chairs, but they are a colorful addition to our meeting space and help my students out of each other's personal space.

This "bulletin board" in our meeting area is actually no board at all.  In fact, there are no bulletin boards in my classroom, but that didn't stop me from faking it!  A few rolls of fadeless paper, some borders, and a good staple gun can go a long way in defining space!

The iHelp Job Chart was something I created last year, and am definitely using again! You can grab it by clicking {HERE!} I love how simple it is, and how little it takes to manage it!  I haven't created any of the name magnets that I place below each job just yet, because I am certain to get another few students added to my list tomorrow.

Let's move on to table layout.  I was given a mix of circular and rectangular tables, which I love!  The variety of shape gave me a lot to play around with, and allowed me to create some nicely defined work areas.

There are NO MATERIALS OUT YET!  It's so incredibly hard not to fill those caddies with beautifully sharpened pencils, new crayons, glue sticks (with caps on them!), and all of the other school supplies that make a teacher heart so happy!  However, in true Responsive Classroom fashion, I put the supplies out one at a time, and only after I have modeled how to use them appropriately, and they have shown they can do it.

Yes, this means that we don't do any coloring, writing, or even sitting in chairs for that matter, in the first half of the first day of school.  However, I wouldn't do it this way if I didn't see such a tremendous benefit from such explicit modeling.

This awesomely large white board will soon be our Word Wall and Math Wall!  I wanted these two important reference points to be very accessible to students, no matter where they were in the classroom.  I put up the words and terms as we learn them, hence the bareness of it all at the moment.  I promise to post pics in my full reveal to show you how I organize them!

Although I was very overwhelmed by the massive pile of furniture and boxes when I first glanced at my new classroom, I couldn't help but drool over the built in shelving!

As you can see, I have a lot of books (yes, they are ALL MINE!)  These books fall into four categories:

  1. Monthly/Seasonal books to display in the library
  2. Read Alouds separated into subject/theme (e.g. building community, anti-bullying, challenging gender stereotypes, celebrating individuality...etc.)
  3. Books to support content area learning
  4. Guided Reading books (We have a book room, but I also like to have my own - #controlfreak)
The top bins hold random (but organized) supplies that were already in my new classroom that I don't know if I will be using, but wasn't ready to throw out.

I have defined two teacher work tables.  I am not sure what my literacy and math supports will look like at my new school, so I wanted to make sure that there was a place for a specialist, special educator, or ESL teacher to work if they were pushing into my classroom.  

My only requirement when creating these spaces is that I have a clear line of site to all other areas of the classroom.  That way, I can keep an eye on the whole class during small group learning.

This little nook is called "Australia" and is always my favorite part of the classroom.  The name comes from the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  In the story, Alexander wishes that he could get as far away from his horrible day as possible, and wants to leave to Australia.  

All students will have moments during the year where they want to get as far away from the classroom as possible (like Australia!)  Maybe a friend hurt their feelings.  Maybe they are feeling frustrated because they can't remember something they were able to do yesterday.  Maybe something happened at home and they could not leave it at the door when they came into the classroom.  Whatever it is, all students will feel this way at one time (or many times!)  I feel that it's important that they have a designated space, out of sight from their peers, for students to feel safe having those feelings.  

I introduce this space within the first few days, and allow all of my students to each "try it out!"  They use it rather independently (even when I taught Firsties!) and really love the safety and security it offers them within the classroom.  

I keep a lot of tools inside:
  • Sand Timers- Students like to monitor how long they spend in Australia, but I also find that watching the sand slip through and gently pile on the bottom is very soothing!
  • Weighted Fitness Balls- Students like to hold these in their laps, as the extra weight often calms them.  Frustrated friends like to do repeated lifts to get out some of the negative energy that builds up.
  • Stuffed animals- Nothing cures a sad heart like a good hug and a snuggle.  These little friends are always there when needed, and are very loved members of our classroom.
  • Books about feelings- My students have created a collection of books that they like to read while in Australia.  The feelings discussed vary greatly- embarrassed, frustrated, scared, sad, anxious, hurt...etc.  It's often helpful for children to relate to a book character in an effort to process their feelings.

There is also an "ART WALL" hanging above Australia.  This is where I collect all of the little drawings my students make for me throughout the year.  Each new picture is placed on a clipboard, hanging for all to see, until it is eventually covered up by a new picture.  I like this way of hanging them, because students can always go back and see old pictures they drew, but they don't all have to be visible at one time!

Finally, let's check out my new classroom library!  I purchased the bookshelves a few years back from IKEA (they were so cheap!) to help host my growing number of chapter books.  The couch was a great Craigs List find.  A woman was moving out of her studio apartment and needed to get rid of her furniture- studio apartment means small furniture, which is perfect for little bodies! My amazing mother made the adorable slip cover, which helps keep the couch clean and critter-free!

For second grade, I'm trying out a hybrid model of my first and third grade classroom libraries.  I will have a good number of new English Language Learners, so it was important to keep all of my beginning picture books.  However, I know that I will also have many students who are reading beyond grade level and will be looking for new series to captivate their imaginations.

I have color-coded all of my books by guided reading level.  Each book has a small piece of colored tape at the base of the spine that denotes a specific level.  I have many picture books sorted by level and in these "JUST RIGHT BOOK" bins (The color of the label matches the color on the spine of the books).

My chapter books are also leveled, but organized by genre (I have yet to put the genre labels on the shelves yet... must do that today!)

I also have a few bins for favorite authors, picture book series, and high interest categories (dinosaurs, sports, Mo Willems, Bernstein Bears...etc.) I know they are blocking the complete view, but how stinkin' cute are these mini adirondack chairs from Lowes?!?

Finally, I have a nonfiction section, which my students LOVE! With more and more emphasis on reading nonfiction texts, I think it's really important to make these books readily available to my students, and have there be a clear distinction between the genres in my classroom library.  These nonfiction books are separated into 8 categories (student designed!)
  1. Mammals & Birds
  2. Ocean Life
  3. Reptiles & Amphibians
  4. Earth and Weather
  5. Outer Space
  6. Human Body
  7. Books About Math
  8. Insects & Arachnids
P.S.  Biographies have their own section, as they are a big focus of second grade!  I just don't have them showcased here yet!

Finally, I have my display books that I switch out monthly.  These are usually seasonal interest books that help me keep my library fresh! 

Soon, my beautiful genre posters from the amazing Rachel Lamb will be posted on the "bulletin board" above the shelves, and my R-E-A-D letters will be painted and hung vertically, to the left!

Still on my to do list before students arrive?

  • Put student names on EVERYTHING (we have a very transient student population, so it doesn't make sense to label anything until the last minute when you have a confirmed number of students!)
  • Put up genre posters in library
  • Put up the title of each bulletin board (e.g. Reading Strategies, Reading Genres, Social Studies/Science Vocabulary, Hopes & Dreams, Student Work...etc.)
  • Create schedule tags (we don't finalize our schedules until today, so that will be a job for this afternoon).
  • Organize what's behind those cabinet doors (NO YOU MAY NOT LOOK IN!)
  • Assign table and meeting spots for the first few days.  This will change when I get to know them better, and I see how students interact with one another.
Okay... I'm making myself anxious!  I'm going to stop there, knowing very well there are about 20 more things on that list!  

I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek at my classroom!  Thank you to Ashley and Angie for hosting such a fabulous link up!  Check out the amazing classrooms from some of my favorite bloggers below and get inspired!  Wishing you a wonderful school year :)


  1. Looks great Jill!! It's definitely a room I would love to learn in! Have a great year!!

  2. Your room looks so crisp and fresh! I'm sure your little ones will love learning and interacting in here! I adore the 'Australia' area- I think I may need on in my classroom..although I might find myself sitting in there more than any students!! What a lovely idea. Have an awesome back-to-school- your new home is very lucky to have you Xx

  3. Your room looks amazing!!! I love your Australia space! I need to think about having a space like that in my room!! And your library is so inviting!!

    A Tall Drink of Water

  4. LOVE LOVE LOVE every part of your new room! Australia is such a great idea, I also love how the bulletin board above it will soon be filled with love notes from your students. I agree and believe we should never give our students supplies/materials unless we model (for me the WINTER WAY :) how to use and care for them. Hope you are have a great day of rest today! xoxo

  5. Hi Jillian,

    I happened to chance upon your blog and found it very interesting!

    We have recently launched a science app that uses augmented reality to enhance classroom teaching. The app has 3D models for kindergarten to grade 12. I thought you might want to check it out and may be review it on your blog, if possible.

    It is a paid app(with a few models free) but in case you are interested in trying it out I will be happy to provide you with a free copy.

    The link to the app is: 



    You can also search for the app on the app store as 'Augmenter'.

    Do let me know if you would be interested. I am really Looking forward to your response.

    happy teaching!