The new school year is approaching at warp speed, and teachers both new and tenured will soon find themselves in an empty classroom with less than a week to set up shop for the arriving flock. If your classroom isn’t exactly a blank slate, take down the previous semester’s trimmings and start a recycled decorations bin for other teachers to pick through. Your students – especially the ones who spent time at school during the summer – will appreciate a fresh start.
Once the room is ready for its first layer, your job is to lay the aesthetic foundation by organizing the materials you’ll need for each area and designating purpose to your wall spaces. It’s important to give your students the chance to take an active role in creating their shared environment, so plan to break the ice during the first few days by doling out light tasks that encourage group personalization. Instead of trying to get it all done by yourself, make a list of classroom decorating ideas as versatile as an eager young mind and allow your new scholars to help. Here are five ideas to get you started:
1. Build a quiet, tent-like nook for reading or working on special projects by hanging colorful tapestries over a small table and several beanbag chairs. Every student learns at a different pace, and not all schools have the amenities to support advanced learners. If a student finishes an assignment before the rest of the class, allow him to spend the rest of the allotted time reading or working on an ongoing special project he finds relaxing, such as sketching with charcoal or building a model. Hang a set of rules on the wall to remind students that nook time is a privilege.
2. Create a casual share wall. Assign each student one full week to share his or her favorite works of art, poems, song lyrics, or inspirational stories. Explain that the share wall is casual because the student of the week is free to share anything from a dozen doodles of a family holiday on a paper napkin to actual photographs of Grandma carving the turkey with a chainsaw. Instead of displaying a photo of the weekly sharer, which he or she may find uncomfortable, ask him or her to sketch a daily self-portrait in the center of the wall using a removable chalkboard or whiteboard decal.
3. Update your decorations as the central subject changes. Studying ancient Greek culture? Turn your classroom into the Agora and give the students a week or two to prepare for a busy market day. Reading Tennessee Williams? Build a menagerie (preferably one not made of glass, considering how that book ended) and ask each student to create one small representative item to exhibit. If your students have a separate art lesson, ask the teacher if he or she can integrate the next art project with your history or reading lesson by allowing the students time to make subject-specific art for decorating their Agora or menagerie.
4. Display a real-world problem that takes time to figure out, such as how to calculate interest on a loan or how to set up a new government that appeals to two opposing societies. Once a student can offer a conscientious answer to the problem, change it up to give others a crack at it. If you’re looking for classroom door ideas, reward the problem-solver with a bit of healthy recognition by putting together an impressive door display that demonstrates how he or she came up with the answer.
5. Encourage exercise, which is intricately connected to brain activity and information absorption. Hang a map of the United States on the wall and stick one colorful pushpin for each student along the coast of California. Encourage the kids to keep track of the distance walked during physical education class and take walks at home with their parents. For each mile a student reports, move her pin 100 miles in the direction she wishes to travel. The goal isn’t necessarily to get to the other side, but to travel the country and get pretend tourist’s bragging rights.
You’d be surprised how refreshing a “new” environment can be, so make sure your classroom decorations are multi-talented and moveable. You definitely don’t want to get in trouble with the building staff or administrators, and you never know when a sudden room change can occur. The more portable the decorations, the more variations on a cool classroom you can foster.