It’s back to school time! English teachers everywhere are busy planning lessons and preparing their materials for the new school year. The first day of class is always a special one and it’s so important to start off on the right foot. I love this time of year. It’s new stationery, new books, new learning space, new materials all organised just so. It’s a fresh start full of possibilities. Do you feel the same?
As a Young Learner English teacher, I invest a lot of time and thought into the layout and organisation of the physical space in my classroom. In this post, I’d like to tell you how a well planned and organised classroom space can make a big difference to the learning environment and your classroom management. I’ll also share some ideas of how you can do this with small changes that make a big impact.
Classroom Layout, designing a better learning space
A well organised and attractive classroom is not only visually appealing, it also contributes greatly to making it easy for everyone to follow what the teacher or others are showing or saying, stay focused and find, use and take care of the materials.
In a typical English classroom, tables and chairs take up a large part of the room and this is what most of us think about first when we are planning our classroom layout. In my opinion, the arrangement of your furniture should first and foremost align with your teaching approach and beliefs about learning. I have noticed that the more I move away from the traditional teacher-led lesson, the more this is reflected in the way I set up my classroom. This means less desks and chairs in rows and more arrangements that are flexible and encourage student collaboration, agency and autonomy.
I use the furniture and accessories to physically and visually divide the classroom into learning spaces. These are areas in the room where certain activities take place. So there is an area of the room where we always start the class, another area for circle time, story telling, etc. This may take a little more time to set up at the beginning of the year but the difference it makes to your lessons is incredible. If you are lucky enough to have your own classroom, take a look at the photos below for some inspiration.
The use of learning spaces is not a new one in mainstream education but in ELT many teachers have to share their classrooms with others, making it difficult to move furniture around. If this is your case, I still recommend finding a way to move the students to different parts of the room for specific stages of the lesson.
Defining the use of different spaces in the classroom makes it easier for a child to organised themselves and recognize what type of activity and behavior is expected from them when they are there. In the foreign language classroom, this becomes even more useful as, depending on the level of proficiency, verbal instructions are not always understood. Using this strategy combined with a regular routine and planned classroom language you will find it a lot easier to manage the class and transition from one activity to another without having to revert to using L2.
Having your materials thoughtfully organised and easily visible and accessible will not only save you time when you have to set up, it can also inspire you when you are planning. I follow the same rule when I set up the toys and other materials that the children will have access to in the classroom. I think having things like scissors, glue, pens and pencils organised and easily encourages learner autonomy and responsibility.
The same goes for toys, puzzles, books and sensory materials. Why have them hidden away where the children can’t access them? I use neutral colored baskets and trays to beautifully display the theme based materials that we will be working with over the course of the week or month. This area of the classroom becomes an inviting spaces that children love to be in. It also makes it very easy to get them to collaborate when we tidy up the room.
Everything has a place and it’s very easy for them to pack up and put away whatever they were using. Again, this approach ties in with my personal beliefs about teaching and learning. I am a huge fan of child-led play and this is reflected in the way I have toys on display and available for the children to choose freely at certain times of my lesson.
I must confess that I don’t have a great track-record when it comes to keeping plants alive but I really think that a bit of green in the classroom makes such a big difference. In fact, bringing plants into the classroom has been shown to be a great way of filtering the air, creating a sense of community and ….Watering and caring for the plants can also be something that your students can become responsible for. And if the plants die, it can lead to a great conversation about what happened and what plants need to stay alive.
The walls can be used to display the students work, introduce new themes, revise language as well as useful classroom language or instructions.
There are some incredibly creative teachers out there who also decorate their doors with thematic displays, decorations and inspirational quotes. Check out Pinterest and you’ll find lots of ideas. I think this is a great way to get children curious and excited about a new topic. You can also use it to introduce or revise target language.
Before my students’ artwork goes into their portfolio or sent home, I like to leave it displayed in the classroom for a week or so. This creates a sense of pride and belonging in the space these are important for building a positive learning environment. It may take some time to organise and display everyone’s work attractively but it’s really worth it. Any parents who visit your room will also appreciate seeing their child’s work displayed and it can be a jump off point for a child to share what they have been learning in English class.
I use a lot of posters in my room which act as a visual reminder for the students and provide helpful language support for when I’m giving instructions or reminding them about different rules. One of these is my ‘ready to learn’ poster.
This is a visual reminder of how they should sit when they come into the classroom to show me that they are ready to start. I call out “Who’s ready to learn?” and point to the poster, reminding them to sit facing me, looking and listening, hands in their laps and a smile on their face. I model this too to show them I am also ready and call out the names of the students as they become ready and focused too “Davi is ready to learn! Vitoria is ready to learn!…”. It’s a much nicer way of getting everyone ready to start class than using the old “Be quite please!”. There are lots of other posters I use to help with classroom management.
Keep It Clean
It may sound like my room is plastered from wall to wall with displays and decorations, but the opposite is true. I think that when it comes to a learning space, less is more. it can be very tempting to fill every inch with color and excitement but it’s important to avoid creating a visual overload when you walk into the room. When there is too much going on, it becomes impossible to focus on things. Make sure that when you are planning your classroom decorations and wall displays, you also leave a lot of blank space. This will make the important things that you want the children to notice really stand out. If you have too much going on, they will get lost in the crowd.
Pinterest Saves Lives
Lastly, I have a Pinterest board when I have collected lots of ideas from classrooms all over the world. You might like to stop by and check it out.
I hope this has given you some fresh ideas for setting up a great learning space for your Young Learners. I’d love to see photos of where you teach. Send me an email or tag me in Instagram using #activeenglishclassroom!