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Setting Up and Organizing Your Classroom, Part Two

By Nancy Jang on August 12, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2


Join me as I organize my teacher's desk, library, and subject area materials. I'll also share some quick tips for organizing Very Important Parent-volunteers and making your lunch count quick and painless. Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win BLOG CANDY!

The Teacher's Desk

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Before, during, and after pictures of my desk. I used a small laundry basket to hold everything while I sorted and purged. And this is just the top drawer! Look at this and then imagine it times three, since I had two other drawers to clean out.

When I started this project, my desk hadn't been cleaned in a long, long time. My teacher's desk has a tendency to become a dumping ground for odds and ends since it is the first place I go when I enter the room with my arms full. I have photocopies and mail to put down, and kids are trying to put notes in my basket  and inevitably, it all lands there. I kept thinking to myself, I will get around to organizing it later, but "out of sight, out of mind."

Some teachers consider the teacher's desk an essential piece of furniture, but many of my coworkers have actually had their desks hauled out of the room to create more space. After all, how many of you actually sit at your desk during the day for any amount of time? I will admit that I rarely sit at my desk, and if it wasn't doing double duty as a projector and document camera table, I would probably get rid of it, too. 

The Library  Library

Last year, I had three areas for books. Two low bookshelves for chapter books, three front facing shelves for picture books, and a separate area near my desk for my Accelerated Reader Library. The front facing bookshelves were purchased from a store that was going out of business when I was just starting to teach. I fell in love with the idea that my library would look like a bookstore with the covers face out, inviting kids to browse and read. The $100 I paid almost made me cry as a cash poor first year teacher. Even though I continued to love these shelves for years, the kids had a hard time finding a book they liked, and it was always a mess.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


This year, I wanted to focus on making the books more accessible and easier to organize. I want kids to be able to focus on finding the right genre and the right level of book for themselves, and avoid having them spend hours browsing and not finding what they want to read.

This year, I'm moving all of my classroom library books, including the AR books, to the new low shelves along the walls.

I purchased the red and blue baskets from IKEA and the black baskets from the Dollar Tree.The green baskets came from Target. The red baskets will be for fictional picture books. The blue baskets will hold chapter books in a series and the black baskets will hold other chapter books. The light green baskets will house all of the nonfiction books. I am also labeling each book with the genre using category labels that I downloaded from Beth Newingham's Web site.


Subject Area OrganizationScholastic2 005

I am planning to separate materials that belong to the math, science, social studies, and language arts programs. Items such as extra textbooks, student workbooks, teacher's manuals, and resource packets will be on a shelf together. I will also house my supplemental materials, professional development books, and any games or manipulatives that go with those subjects on these shelves. Science and math both have several huge boxes of materials, so I may have to dedicate a cabinet to these two subject areas.

On the left shelf is our math program. This year we have a new math adoption. There are 20 topics in second grade with black line masters and transparencies that go with each topic. I purchased some very cute magazine files from IKEA to house the materials for each topic. To the right are my extra textbooks and supplemental language arts materials.

Quick Tips

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Lunch Count 

Last year, when I took the lunch count, it sounded something like this: "Okay, everyone, raise your hand if you are buying lunch. Okay, now who is buying hot lunch? Who is buying cold lunch? Who brought their lunch?" It took more time than I wanted to spend, it was a bit disruptive, and inevitably someone would tire of raising their hand or forget to raise their hand because they were busy talking to their friends and then the whole production would have to begin again.

Now, when the students come into class, they stop by this board and move a magnetic star to their choice for lunch. The cafeteria doesn't require a specific name for each lunch, just a number for each area. I used to write student numbers on the stars, but it took forever for them to find their numbered star. This way it's so much faster! Then the students sit down and begin their day quietly while I take roll and enter the lunch count on the computer.


Tooth Jar

Old film jars make great tooth holders. Just decorate them with stickers, and they are ready to go. The cap stays on, and the jars are easy to find in a backpack. The containers from our office are cute, but the lids always pop open. I can tell you that we spent a lot of time looking for teeth "somewhere on the playground" and writing the tooth fairy letters about what happened. I also like to use them to hold paint and starch. I get the canisters from Costco film developing.

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Getting Ready for the Week

This cool idea came from the Clutter Free Classroom. The author of the blog is an organizational guru and a teacher. I bought these magazine files from IKEA and labeled them with the days of the week. All of my photocopies are neatly deposited into the files and ready for the week. I usually have a VIP (Very Important Parent-volunteer) do all of the photocopying the week before I need it. If I don't get to something, I just move it to the next day.

Parent Volunteer Station

I set up an adult-sized table and chair and label it VIP (Very Important Parent-volunteer). This station has a caddy with pencils, pens, scissors, glue, tape, and a stapler. On the table is a bin that contains three folders, a spiral notebook "To Do List," and all the materials for each project on the list. The folders are labeled "Photocopy," "Check In/File," and "Prep." In the spiral, I write down what needs to be done. For example, "Photocopy 30 of each master in the folder on colored paper." Parents just walk in, sit down, and get to work. They cross out whichever activity they completed and move on to the next task without interrupting my class! I will usually pop over to check on them, answer any questions they have, or clarify things, but most of the time the VIP is already working on something else in the bin while they are waiting for me.

Next week, I am taking a break from organizing to focus on some first day of school activities and my September Read Aloud Booklist. Then, we will take a grand tour of my class and I will reveal my theme for this year.

What Is Your Favorite First Day of School Ice Breaker?

Leave a comment with your answer and you could win some blog candy! I am giving away a set of 20 new Judy Clocks (without the gears)! I will announce the winner at the end of my next post. One entry per person, and you must answer the question to win. Good luck.

Happy organizing!

Nancy Jang

Scholastic grades 12 advisor

2nd grade teacher

Woodland Elementary School

Newport-Mesa Unified School District

Comments (32)

Well, my favourite ice-breaker is how half of my hair ended up being grey :) I always do this, almost every Summer and kids love to see my grey hair at the beginning of each year! I usually do half of it purple and the other half black, so every Summer I don't do the purple part, leaving it almost grey at the beginning of the school year :)

Children have so much fun with it!!!!

Miss Nancy,
Thanks for sharing your ideas. I too use magnets to take roll and lunch count in the morning. I have also made it a class job to return the magnets to a start position. This way I know if someone is absent. As for the books in bins based on genres, I chose to label each book with a different colored marker (stickers can fall off) on the top. This makes them easy to recognize even when they're not in the right place. Finally, another option for bulliten boards is material. It lasts for years and never shows staple damage. - if you plan to wash the cloth over summer, be sure to wash it before you cut it to fit.

One of my first day ice breakers is a one colored plastic ball that you can find at any major retail store for a couple of dollars. With a black sharpie I divided the ball into sections and in each section I write a question in it. We all sit in a circle and gentle roll the ball to a person and that person can pick a question to answer. The kids love it and it lets me have some insight on how the class dynamics may be in the future:) Oh yea, I teach the wonderful grade of second.

Hi, I am a first year teacher, going through a career change, I have taught college and worked in the business arena. This is exciting and scary. Thank you so much for all the ideas, I will be putting them into action very soon. I love the idea for the lunch count, that will be one of the first things I put up.
As for an ice breaker I thought about playing a sorting game with the children. First yellow shirts here, blue here, red here, etc. Say Hi to each other and tell your name, then switch and everyone with blue eyes here, green eyes here, brown eyes here, same and switch to another sorting method.
Any tips anyone wants to share with a new Kindergarten teacher would be greatly appreciated.

Peggy Tsai, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found something useful here. When my kids come in, they have "Study Hall" for 10 minutes where they work on Homework or read quietly. They move their stars when they walk into the room. I bought the star magnets at the Dollar Tree 6 for a $1.00. :) I love a good bargain!

Happy teaching, Nancy

Hello Nancy,

I love your idea of using the stars for lunch count. It also takes me a bit of time in the morning to do roll and lunch count. Meanwhile, the students sit and say good morning, but they can do something much more productive in that time. I will try it in my class this year. It's still early enough in the year to try something new.

Where did you get the star magnets?

Thanks for the great idea!

Brittani, What a great idea to get the kids involved in knowing more about the staff. This would be a great to do with your class too! Thanks for your input and for your comment! I may have to borrow it!

Happy teaching, Nancy

On the first day of school I play a getting to know you game with the students on our smart board. I have created a page for each person in the school with which the students will work. Each page has 3 or 4 clues about the person and a picture hidden underneath a rectangle. After the students guess, we reveal the person's picture and name. Last year I had the students play the game against me. If they got the answer correct they got a point, but if they got it wrong, I got a point. If they had more points than me, they got 5 more minutes of recess for the day. The students really like the game and it helps them learn new faculty members and new children meet our school's faculty.

Gina, Thanks for your comment and for visiting the blog! I found out that roof flashing comes in metal sheets at Home Depot that you can cut down to any size. I love the automotive oil drip pan idea too!

Happy teaching, Nancy

We use the same idea for lunch count at my school. We purchased large oil drip pans (bc they are magnetic) from advanced auto or walmart and the kids move their name over to the correct spot. This also takes care of attendance for us as the kids names are "signed in" for lunch! Love reading your blog!

Debbie, Thank you for your great idea too! I have an Interactive Whiteboard, so I may try your idea too.

Happy teaching, Nancy

I love your new idea for the lunch count. Since only a count and not names are involved that's a great fun way to do it. If you have an interactive board you could put that same idea on your board, having the students more an object to the correct category. Thanks for the idea!

Audra, Great idea! I'm sure that your kids will have changed a ton during the year. Thank you for sharing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

I found this great idea on my Facebook page from a teacher freebie info. supporter. The first day of school this year my students will be making time capsules. The "container" is a paper towel tube. In my LA/SS classes the first day they will have their picture taken, draw themselves (as they see themself), and complete the writing "I am Special because..." My math/science teacher will be having them measure their height using yarn and will be tracing their hand. On their hand tracing they will write goals for their academics and behaviors, their favorite color, their favorite and least favorite subjects, their favorite movie ever, and their current favorite television show. I teach seventh graders and their likes and dislikes change often and they grow in height and maturity during the year. During the last week of school we'll open their time capsules.

Lauren, Thank you for your support and comment.

Happy end of summer, Nancy

I am so impressed with your website. Keep those good ideas coming.

Mary, I'm glad that you are going to try out my VIP system. I hope it works for you!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

I like your VIP system. I think I can apply this to aids that come into the room. Thanks for sharing.

Dawn, Thank you for your comment! I like that you have an easy art project for the kids to do in order to get to know them better. I'm sure they LOVE to decorate those cut outs. I am entering your name in for the drawing. Thanks for visiting.

Happy Teaching, Nancy


Jeanell, Thanks for your comment. Great idea to use your interactive whiteboard to get kids involved! Have you checked out the interactive whiteboard activities on the Scholastic landing page? I have an interactive whiteboard and it has really changed my teaching. I am entering your name into the drawing. Thanks for visiting!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

This year I am incorporating technology with my icebreaker. Bright colorful dots conceal questions. The students will stand about five feet away from the smartboard as they gently toss a koosh ball toward one of the colorful dots to reveal the hidden question. I hope it turns out well!

Leigh, What a great ice breaker for both the staff and the students. Thank you for sharing. I am entering your name into the drawing for the clocks!

Happy Teaching, Nancy Jang

Hi Victoria! I'm currently buried under about 3000 books, sorting, and labeling. I have been looking at pictures from tons of blogs and this seems to be a common way to organize the books and give the kids good access to everything. By the way, I have tackable surface from the floor to the ceiling in my portable, that is why the bulletin boards are so big!

Happy organizing, Nancy

An icebreaker that we are using at my school is all about the students getting to know the teachers in a fun way. All of the teachers in my hallway created a circle map and put a question mark in the middle instead of their name. We laminated pictures of ourselves and put velcro dots on the back so students are able to physically match our pictures with our maps.

I transitioned to bins to hold my books as well last year, Nancy. It improved the organization in my library tremendously, and the kids read MUCH more than in past years. Some students stayed loyal to their genres more, but they were able to find books quite easily. - Victoria

Brittany, Writing a goal for the year is a great way to get to know the students and what they would like to accomplish this year. The Pre-K advisor Allie Magnuson does this with her kinders too. I think it's great to write your goals down at any grade level, even as an adult, and then reflect on them periodically during the year and at the end to see if you've made progress. Thanks for sharing! Your name will also go into the drawing for the Judy Clocks. Good Luck!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Rebecca, Thanks for your comment! I really like your activity. It incorporates teamwork and would be a great introduction to some art terminology. I am entering your name in the drawing for the Judy Clocks. Thanks for sharing!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

My favorite icebreaker is an appropriate activity for any grade level! Prior to the class time, cut out 7 circles of different cf colors and size for instance, a red cup size circle, a blue large circle, ect. Gather the students into groups of 3-5. Have each group create a poster incorporating all 7 of the circles on one sheet of white paper. Give them only 30 minutes. They must create an image with the circles, but cannot include any words or phrases. You can really learn about the dynamic of the class through this activity-who are the leaders, the followers, the passive, ect. Have each group share their poster with the class as time allows. Post pictures up for parents during open house or back to school night!!

This year I am going to have the students write down a goal for the coming school year and share them with the rest of the class. In the past two years I have had students fill out an "about me" sheet. I read the sheet out loud (leaving out names) and the students had to guess whose sheet I was reading.

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