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The New Teacher Advisor

Lost in Space


Just before the school begins is always a hectic time for educators -- a time full of big plans, joyful excitement, and boundless energy. For veteran teachers, the final days of summer bring a sense of anticipation as they look forward to getting back into the classroom. For those brand new to the profession, "back-to-school" means getting their very own classroom for the first time.

For many beginning teachers, the first question that occurs to them as they enter that initial classroom is, "What do I do with all this space?" For others, the question is "How will I ever accomplish anything in this tiny space?" Whichever situation you're facing -- whether you've got a room that appears to be the size of a football field or one that seems barely bigger than a closet, the ideas below will help you maximize your space.


Desk placement is one of the first factors you'll want to consider when arranging your classroom. The placement of student desks or tables will largely determine how much room you have for everything else in your classroom.

Although some teachers prefer straight rows of desks, all facing the front chalkboard or teacher's desk, that arrangement isn't always the best layout for maximizing space. Remember, you want to be able to walk by -- and reach out and touch --each student in your class. That can be difficult if you're walking through rows of desks cluttered with backpacks, purses, and books. Consider, instead, arranging students in groups of four or five, their desks facing one another. That arrangement allows for plenty of room for you to walk between groups, to kneel and work with each student as necessary, or to go directly from one group to another without having to exit one row and enter another.

Another arrangement that works well is shorter rows of desks, all facing diagonally toward a large center aisle. You might put only three desks in each of those rows, making it much easier for you to weave among students.

Some teachers like the "U" or semi-circle arrangement. Although that set up allows plenty of space in the middle for getting to each student, it can make it more difficult for students to move around easily. That arrangement also can cut down on the amount of space you have near the walls.


Most teachers place enrichment spaces in the corners and around the edges of the classroom. Those spaces might include a reading corner, a thinking center, a "time-out" area, office space for you, and/or an administrative area.

Obviously, a reading corner would contain bookshelves full of books, perhaps a throw rug or two, and maybe a beanbag chair. Reading corners, by the way, are not just for elementary or literature classrooms. Teachers of all subject areas can benefit from having a place where students can go to read. That area also can serve as a reward for students who do well in class, as a holding tank for students who finish their work early, as a place for students to conduct research, as a quiet area where students can go to calm down and more.

Depending on the subject you teach, you also might want to set up enrichment centers, a research center, or an area where students can find extra credit assignments. Such centers don't have to take up a great deal of space. A classroom writing center, for example, can be a card table with file folders and writing instruments; an extra credit center can consist of just a poster showing the extra-credit assignment.

Your office and administrative space might be an "all-in-one" area that includes your desk, a filing cabinet, shelves or cabinets to store additional resources, and perhaps a table.

One good way to maximize your classroom office space is to include a filing cabinet (if you have more than one) for student use. Assign each class a drawer and provide a hanging file folder for each student. That is where student work can be placed when graded and ready to hand back, where novels and projects can be stored, and where materials you don't want leaving the classroom can be housed. You even can have students place completed assignments in a hanging folder in the front of the drawer. Another option is to provide separate milk crates for each class, rather than file cabinet drawers. Milk crates, however, can take up a lot of space, depending on how many classes you have. Of course, some teachers solve the space problem by simply turning their desks into storage areas!

Whichever solution you prefer, take the time to plan the best use of the space available for your classroom office; don't just allow items to accumulate in haphazard piles of paper. At the very least, purchase a few plastic trays and label them "Mail In" and "Mail Out," and label manila folders for storing lesson plans, paperwork, memos, names of parents to call, and papers to grade.


And what about the walls? Are they just sitting there looking beautiful? Your wall space also can be a great place for storage!

If you don't have shelving along the walls of your classroom, try to locate a few short bookshelves. With those, you can store books and other materials on the shelves and use the tops of the bookshelves to hold paper trays, enrichment activities, or student work.

I use clear plastic shoeboxes to hold writing supplies for each student table, math manipulatives, and other small materials. Label the outsides of the boxes so you quickly can identify what you need. Use a small desktop upright file holder to hold manila folders containing student enrichment activities. Paste and laminate one activity inside each folder. Label the outside and place the folders in the file holder. Students then can pick an activity and take it to their desks to complete.

Bulletin boards provide another efficient use of classroom wall space -- one that's especially important if you do not have a lot of floor space. If you're running short of space, don't use bulletin boards just for decoration, make them functional too.

Decorate one of your bulletin boards as an enrichment center. Attach a large pocket to the bulletin board and place the manila activity folders inside the pocket for easy student access. You also can post extra assignments and missing work on bulletin boards. Hang clipboards with sign-out information or class assignments on a bulletin board. Post vocabulary words and journal entries, the "Math Question of the Day," or "Puzzle of the Week." Put up posters containing extra credit assignment. And don't forget to display those always-important rules, procedures, and classroom expectations posters that should be placed where everyone easily can see them!

In short, when trying to maximize classroom space, think outside the box. Is there something special you want to do? Do you have floor space for a table or bookshelf? If not, can you post information and materials on a bulletin board, extra chalkboard, or blank wall space? With a little creative thinking you can do some amazing things with even the smallest classroom!

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