Thursday, August 26, 2010

5th Grade Classroom Re-Design

I was fortunate enough this summer to hear a great group of teachers/educators speak about classroom design at a Choice Literacy workshop. The Sisters, Brenda Power, and Franki gave me the kick-jump I needed to design our classroom this year in a way that reflected the needs of both my students and me, as well as making a statement about some of my personal beliefs.

My classroom set-up this year went faster than any other in my 28 years of teaching. I knew what I wanted and what I believed, and the room needed to reflect those needs and beliefs. I think from start to finish took me only 3 hours. One kink in my thinking (but most definitely a good problem to have!) was that our classroom had a SmartBoard installed in it over the summer. It was centered in the middle of the room, and I had to figure out a way to make it look a little more "de-centralized"; not just a place where I share information with students, but more a place that small groups would be able to colloborate together.

The following are just a few snippets of my thinking when I designed the layout of the class:

The "prime real estate" (a phrase coined by my friend, Mary Lee) belongs to the children. I have 2 wonderful windows, and I want my students to have that area -- in front of one window, there is a rectangle table with many stools. I find that many students love this table already; it is highly popular all day, but especially during writing workshop. In front of the other window are two durable nylon chairs with a small table and lamp where students can relax and read.

The SmartBoard area - I meshed the SmartBoard with my easel and chart pads for whole class meetings and mini-lessons. I needed to clear a lot of floor space for my 5th graders to gather. I gave this area "boundaries" by putting bookshelves around it. I also have a low round table in this area where students love to gather as well.

Anchors - This is a concept I learned from the Sisters (Gail and Joan). Instead of having desk groups or tables "floating" in the room, you anchor them to something else. In my room, I anchored the 4 tables of desks and the one rectangular table with low bookshelves. I can't believe how drastically it changes the look and feel of the classroom.

Desks - In a perfect world, I have decided I would not have desks; instead, I would have all tables. However, my room comes with desks so I did some thinking about how I could make them more "table-like". I've always grouped desks together in tables, but this year I am taking it one step further. We will be turning the opening of the desks away from the students so that they will look more like tables. Because I'm taking this step, I had to make decisions about where the items that used to live inside their desks would now live. I decided to have communal supplies and have them in several spots throughout the room, including the bookshelves that act as anchors for the desks and table. The kids use their cubbies now for their materials for social studies, science, and math -- it is actually a great transition piece for them as they are headed to the middle school next year. All their language arts materials are stored in different tubs throughout the room -- we have a read aloud notebook tub, 2 writer's notebook tubs, and individual reading binders / book tubs. A huge thanks to my friend, Ann Marie for this idea! It is truly easy to lay my hands on notebooks that I want to check, read, or comment in. I know exactly where the tub I need is.

Multiple and varied work areas for students -- I wanted there to be a wide variety of work spaces for my students. I have left lots of open floor space, I have created nooks with bookshelves, I have a small round kitchen table by our class door for two or three students to collaborate, there are 2 different rectangle tables (one by the window and one by a cupboard), a computer table, and we have a low round table. Add to that, the fact that the desks will become tables themselves next week -- 4 more tables from which to choose!! There is a space for everyone in our room.

Teacher desk -- I moved to my current school a year ago. Before that, I went without a true teacher desk for over ten years. However, this classroom came with the teacher desk, so I tried to make it work last year, but I could never get satisfied with its placement. In a recent Choice Literacy video clip, I heard one thing that changed my outlook on my desk. Instead of fighting my desk, I have worked it into the scheme of the room, by simply turning it 90 degrees. It is now facing a wall, right against it, opening up so much valuable floor space. The other thing this wall-hugging desk has done for me is send an important message: I don't face my students looking out at them over my desk anymore; that area can actually be used by them. The students are a stakeholder in that area if they are looking for a quiet out of the way place to read, write, or think. More importantly, I am not behind the desk; I am out in the classroom, working alongside my students.

Books - If you follow our blog, you know Bill and I are both crazy about books. I want my students to know and feel that love of books each and every day. So I have found a variety of ways to surround them with books. We have a nonfiction section, a poetry section, and two fiction sections. The precise tubs have not yet been decided, but the general locations are clear.

Bulletin boards -- I have heard and read many, many times that keeping one color tone in your room is more settling and allows the charts and the students' work to take center stage. I love blue (I love the water) so I chose blue as the color for the boards with a simple black border. Easy to do and easy on the eyes.

This is my favorite classroom setup ever. Thanks so much to my design "mentors" who helped me think about what I really valued for myself and for my students.


  1. 3rd Grade Re-design. I, too, made changes. I read the Third Teacher this summer and it helped me pull my thoughts together. I have no set front to my room. I can point my document reader and projector towards different white spaces. the joy of have REALLY high ceilings. I used an old kidney table for my computers. (they take up too much space for reading.
    I ordered a round rug to put in the middle of our community space and away i went.

    The best addition was a great chair from the container store. It is well loved in the library.

  2. Karen, I'm just getting caught up on blog posts, and so glad I didn't miss this one. This is such a wonderful tour into your classroom. I love the way you have used classroom space with the children in mind.

    I'm thinking the window has to be a hot spot during the day. You gave me much to think about in regards to classroom arrangement. The idea of "anchors" was new to me, but worth more thought. I know I like the feel of the tables I have connected to other pieces of furniture much more than the ones "hanging out" in my classroom. I don't like our tables to feel like they're the center of the room.

    Of course, my favorite thing about your classroom is the way books abound. They are everywhere! Students are surrounded by literature. I am always trying to get that feeling in my own classroom. Your pictures really complement this post. I'd love to see it live sometime.

  3. Kyle - I also read The Third Teacher. It had a lot to do with my thinking as well. Your room sounds wonderful!!

    Cathy - I would love to have you stop by anytime. Yes, books are definitely the focus; I just needed to rethink some other areas. So glad you liked it! Give me a call and let's set up a date for classroom stuff and grabbing a coffee or something.

  4. I found this post through a Tweet on Twitter, and I'm so glad it was brought to my attention. I was sitting here thinking (with dread), I should go to school and arrange my room. Now, I want to go right now and see if my small room could use some of the ideas in this post. Thank you very much for sharing!!

  5. I love the way you've designed the space for student movement. Your design really allows for collaboration.

  6. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful article. I love the changes you made the reasons behind all of them.

  7. I'm wondering how you do whole class learning? I use tables and we use floor space for independent and small group learning. I want to design more collaboration space. Can I get rid of some tables?

    1. Hi Cynthia - thanks so much for your comment. I would be glad to have this conversation with you, but it's probably bigger than the comment section of this blog.
      My school email is
      If you contact me there, we could continue this conversation if you'd like.