Organizing Your Classroom: Designing Spaces to Maximize Student Learning

Today I want to talk to you about mindful classroom design and organization--organization that leads to efficient teaching and learning. We often get so caught up in planning lessons and activities that we forget that the space we teach those lessons in can really impact our teaching--and student learning!
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math

Space Planning

Every classroom is so different--it's hard to give clear direction on this one!  I have a few tips to keep in mind.
  • Consider the role of your teacher desk.  I use mine as storage and a place to put my document camera.  I don't sit at it.  Ever.  The last thing I want is to have my students have to interrupt their thinking to come find me--I am moving around to coach THEM.  Some people can live without a teacher desk to free up space in their room.  I wish that were me.  I have too much junk.  #truthbomb
  • Consider carving out multiple "floor spaces".  I want my students to have multiple floor spaces to work--whether they are in pairs, trios, or larger groups.  When I do a new desk arrangement, I seriously count the number of work spaces I have on the floor to make sure we all have room to function without getting up into each other's business.
  • Desks in small groups--always.  I switch up the number of desks in each group and how they are arranged (last year I had a challenging group, so more students were facing forward in their groups than usual!).  I use cooperative grouping nametags to help me quickly form groups when I need to.  We work cooperatively ALL.  THE.  TIME.
  • Consider where to put math supplies (more on this below!) to make sure students have easy access.
  • Make sure all students have easy view of your main teaching area(s) and key anchor charts and displays.
  • Consider traffic flow.  I am huge on transitions (like we practice them) because I cannot stand wasted time.  If there are hard-to-navigate areas in the room, streamline them.
  • Make sure to avoid "hidden" areas where students might get off task when you are working with small groups.
  • Consider having a crate, bin, cart, or table where you keep your intervention supplies and notes so you aren't digging for things all the time.
  • Find an easy storage system for games.  Bins, crates, those fun rainbow carts--whatever the system, make sure students know how to use it and that it won't interrupt others when they access it. 
  • I'm sure you will have tons of other ideas to share as well!

Anchor Charts, Walls, and More

Streamline your walls

One thing I have done more and more as I've gotten more "seasoned" is actually pared down what I put on my walls. I want the items I have posted to be USED, so I don't want a lot of distractions. In the hallways, the sky is the limit! That's where I put student work, projects, and so on--but in my classroom, I keep the walls as learning tools. I have even stopped hanging things from the ceiling to make sure my students can easily refer to my walls. 

Create anchor charts you and students use

I firmly believe that anchor charts are meant to be created WITH and FOR students. That being said, I want them to be useful as well. For that reason, I work with students on a "rough draft" anchor chart...then we group things together, cross things out, and so on--and then I recopy it in a neat (well, relatively!) fashion so it's easier to read and understand. I want students to use these charts independently, and I want to be able to send students to them--both for content information AND for expectations on how to function in my class. Here are a few examples of charts that hung in my room last year...and each year I "remake" them with my new group so they are a part of the process--and they evolve along the way!
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math, precision, math practice standards
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math
Be mindful of bulletin boards and take advantage of that real estate

Bulletin boards can be great reference tools for our students!  I keep up my growth mindset bulletin board all year and add to it as we learn new things.  I refer to it often--as do the students.
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math, growth mindset
Even displaying the Standards for Mathematical Practice posters (in kid-friendly language) is a great way to use bulletin board space--IF you actually use it as a teaching tool.  Simply hanging up the posts (or any anchor chart, for that matter) does nothing...we need to refer to these tools, talk about them, and encourage students to use them.  Click the image below if you want to check out this poster set (I have several versions in my store to match different room decor!)
I'm sure you will think of other great bulletin board ideas that can make a difference in your teaching...whether it's for math or other content.  I love displaying other work too--but I want to make sure my classroom is a place for learning and inspiration as much as possible!

Math Manipulatives and Supplies

We want students to be independent "users" of our supplies

One thing that I constantly talk about is the need for us, as teachers, to get out of our students' way.  We do too much!  We think for them...we make decisions for them...and we need to learn to let go.  Here's an example.

Let's say I'm going to be doing a lesson on elapsed time.  To help, I put a few Judy clocks at each desk group to help them model their thinking.  Great, right?

Wrong.  I did the thinking for them.  I essentially said, "This is a problem you need a clock to solve."--but really, it is not.

Students could draw a sketch.  Or make a number line.  Or get counters out to represent minutes.  Or use a ruler to measure out passed time.  Or use fraction circles where a "whole" represents a whole hour.  Or maybe they will use tally marks or some sort of computation where they "trade" hours and minutes.  It doesn't matter--by giving them clocks, 9 times out of 10--they will use the clocks.

So...the moral of the story is this.  Have a bounty of resources in your classroom.  Have them at student-height.  Have them available--not in a closet.  Teach the students where they are and how to use them.  Create the climate where students know they can go grab whatever they need whenever they need it.

Consider small storage containers or toolboxes


One way I help make this happen is to store math manipulatives in easy-to-use containers.  Snack sized plastic storage containers are great for individual sets of counters--easy to grab and take back to students' desks with no fuss or hassle.  You can use little cubes, fun mini erasers, bingo chips--whatever you can find!

I also love my toolbox as pictured below:
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math
Each drawer pulls right out and students can take it right to their desk.  I fill the drawers with different counters so students can pick what they like!

All other supplies...pattern blocks, base 10 blocks...rulers...Judy clocks--ALL of it--is on open shelves and ready for students to use when needed.  

Teach students about where things go and how to access them


Because of this easy access, I do make sure my students know how to use the tools, where to get them, and HOW TO PUT THEM BACK!  This takes some training at the beginning of the year, but it saves so much time eventually because when students find dice on the floor or a ruler--they can just deal with it without interrupting me.  #timesaver #sanitysaver


via GIPHY

Have stacking trays of different types of paper


It's not just math supplies either!  Get a stacking tray and fill it with lined paper, white paper, different grid paper, dot paper, blank number lines--anything!  Students can realize that paper itself is a tool...and it may inspire them to solve problems in different ways.

Don't assume students have supplies 

One thing I didn't think about when I was a younger teacher was that some students may not have supplies.  Our supply list has things like rulers, glue sticks, and protractors--but I know not all students come with them--for a variety of reasons.  I always have this type of supply on hand in my math area so there is never any embarrassment or need to ask.  Again, I want students to be independent and to have access to any tool they need.

Other Organizational Tips and Strategies

There are other people FAR more organized than I am who can write a better post about classroom organization.  That being said, I thought I'd share a few more tips of things that actually seem to improve the quality of instruction (or efficiency) for me.

Colored paper in hanging files 

I like to use colored paper to shake things up sometimes...for problems that I have students glue in their notebooks, for directions at stations, or for headings for math sorts.  I used to have to go foraging, but by biting the bullet and buying some hanging folders, my beeyooootiful paper is easily within reach at all times.
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math

Zipper bags for math games

I like to use gallon zip bags for my games most of the time because they are so inexpensive and easy to replace.  I like that you can write on them--and I even will write what supplies are needed, how many people can play, or other directions.

For the games I use for interventions, I do put them in these nice bags from Seat Sack.  I like that they are oversized, super durable, and have a spot to put a label.  These are all the games I have as a part of my bundled math centers...4 games and the labels to go with them!  Click here to see what I mean.  I love how durable they are and that I can grab what I need and hang it on a tack on the wall next to my table so it's ready for me.  They are big enough to put several sets of the game and dice, counters, or whatever is needed.

Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math
(These are the bundled game sets with labels if you are interested)

Premade exit slips and word problems

Another time saver that REALLY helps me is that for each unit, I print off the word problems and exit slips I want to use, get them cut, clipped together, and marked with a sticky note for the day/lesson I want to use them.  Realistically, I don't get through them all which is GREAT!  I put the extra word problems in a vertical letter holder to use as warm ups over the next week ( I love to keep using problems as review even when the unit is finished!) and the exit slips in a different one.  I am a firm believer in continuing to measure skills--so if we finish our unit on partial products, my students can count on exit slips on partial products sprinkled in for the rest of the year.  This is so important as I plan interventions--to makes sure students retain their learning and get reteaching when needed.

Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math

Get a mobile math cart!

Seriously.  I use this cheap piece of plastic ALL. THE. TIME.  It stores my whiteboards, a bin of markers and erasers, and then whatever else I want...fraction pieces if I am meeting with a fraction group...task cards if I need those...and I can move it to wherever I want.  I often move my "teaching area" around the room based on how much space I need, so it's awesome to be able to relocate this "hub" either to where I am--or far away from me if students NOT working with me need it.
Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math

Want a FREEBIE to help you do some classroom planning of your own?  

Have you missed the other posts in this series?

Click HERE for the introductory post.
Click HERE for Challenge 1 (yearly planning)
Click HERE for Challenge 2 (math talk and mindset)
Click HERE for Challenge 3 (word problems and problem solving)
Click HERE for Challenge 4 (math organization)
Click HERE for Challenge 5 (math assessment)
Click HERE for Challenge 6 (meaningful problem solving)

Did you miss signing up for the FB group?  CLICK HERE
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Classroom space planning and classroom organization are critical parts of helping teachers be more efficient and to help students learn.  Use these classroom organization tips, anchor chart ideas, math manipulative storage ideas, math game storage ideas, and more!  third grade math, fourth grade math, math workshop, math stations, math centers, teaching math, guided math

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