Secondary teachers: what do you think when you see all those classroom decor pics on Pinterest? Do you look with envy at all of the cute and awesome primary classrooms? Or do you roll your eyes and thank goodness you teach older kids? I’m very glad to be with the big kids, but I still believe that it’s important to create a classroom environment that’s fun to be in. And, when it comes to classroom decor, there are four things I need to have.
However, this post is not about how I decorate my classroom (even though I do love to make it look nice and cosy). This post is not going to put down those lovely Pinterest-worthy classrooms either; it’s about the fact that you don’t have to spend lots of time and money on decorating your classroom if you don’t want to. It’s ok.
Release yourself from Pinterest stress and envy, because I truly believe that you only need four very inexpensive things to create a dynamic environment that focuses on real learning and critical thinking: chart paper, piles of post-it notes, masking tape and markers. That’s it!
1. Post-its: I use these almost daily so the are definitely a must have supply. I ask students to bring their own, to mark important passages in their texts, but then I use the stash in my desk for critical thinking and collaboration exercises. I will often place two or three on each desk before class starts and then ask students to write an idea or a quote on them, something that relates to what we will work on during that class. For example, I might ask them to find a quote that illustrates an important characteristic of someone in the novel we are reading. Then, I’ll put them in pairs or groups to work with the information. You can read about some activities I did with post-its HERE.
2. Chart Paper: You’ve already seen uses for chart paper above, but I use it in other ways as well. It’s perfect, of course, for creating anchor charts for your students to reference, and it’s also perfect for any type of group work. Once groups are assembled, I dole out the chart paper, asking them to summarize their conclusions or ideas on the paper, after they’ve had a good discussion. Then, I either have them do informal presentations at the end of class or we just put the paper on the walls and refer to it when we have a full class discussion. For that reason, chart paper is also a must have supply in my classroom.
3. Markers: The markers have an obvious use: for filling the chart paper! I keep them in a bin and either pass them out to the groups as they begin their discussions, or put the bin somewhere central so students can pick them up on their own. I usually have to encourage them to write large enough so the class can read what they write, and to jot down ideas in a way that’s easy for the reader to understand the group’s thought process.
4. Masking Tape: This is also pretty obvious: I use it to adhere the chart paper to the walls. Often, when I plan collaborative work, I will post the chart paper on the walls throughout the classroom, so students will have to do their work standing up — something I do a lot to keep them awake and moving around. Gallery walks after group work are another way to not only get them moving, but also to encourage greater exploration of topics.
There you have it: you don’t have to spend a fortune on decorative stuff for your room, or spend hours getting it set up. There is nothing wrong with that at all; we just have to remember that our real focus is not creating something pretty, but an environment that fosters critical thinking and real learning.
👉🏻 If you’d like to try some of my favorite active learning exercises, you can get over thirty of them here.
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Have an awesome time preparing for your school year!