Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classroom Environment - Your Second Teacher

Long gone are the days of students sitting individually in rows raising their hands when they want to talk and not collaborating with their dismal it looks in there!

These days, kids work together in a classroom community where their ideas and learning are just as important as the teachers'. You can think of your classroom environment as an additional teacher to your students:

"In Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy where preschools are renowned for their quality of education, the two teachers in each classroom refer to the environment as the 'third teacher.'" (Taberski, p. 19).

The way you arrange your classroom will greatly impact the learning that goes on throughout the year. To get the most out of your classroom environment,  consider adding the following components to it.

The Meeting Area

You should think of the meeting area as the hub of your classroom. In this area, you will gather with your students to begin and end your reading and writing workshops, have shared readings and read-alouds, demonstrate reading strategies, and compose anchor charts to deepen and record student thinking and learning.

It might be a good idea to have your meeting area close to your SMART Board in case you need to show a website or model on the document camera. You'll also want an easel close by to compose anchor charts.

While the teacher will sit toward the front of the meeting area, children will be seated on rugs or the carpet gathered together. You may want to have some bean bags or small chairs for students to sit on. I had an armchair that was part of this area, which also served as our Author's Chair during Writing Workshop. Some children might be sitting off to the edges of this space, and that's okay. Intimacy is key here, though. Children need to be up close and personal with the teacher so they can see, hear, and participate with  what is being discussed.

Also, during the workshop time of your Reader's and Writer's Workshop, you kiddos will choose to relax comfortably as their read their Just Right books or compose their writing.

Table for Guided-Reading or 1:1 Conferences

You'll need some kind of table in a part of your room to conduct guided-reading groups and 1:1 conferences. In the past when I've done 1:1 conferring, I have moved from student-to-student wherever they were in the classroom, but after rereading about the classroom environment  I think it makes much more sense to call over the students who you'd like to work with for the period to this table. You'll be able to make much better use of your time this way!

Students who you will be seeing during the workshop part of your literacy block will meet you at this table. You may be conducting a guided-reading group, in which case all four or five of the children who you see will follow one set of directions. Or, you might need to conduct 1:1 conferences with kiddos. In that case, they will spend their time working independently while you meet with the others at the table.

It might be a good idea for this space to be away from the meeting area, as students will be reading silently or with whispers. We want to do our best to not disturb them as they are thinking through their independent reading!

Classroom Library
Your classroom library is another huge part of your classroom. Please see my post The Heartbeat of Your Classroom for more information about setting up your library.

Wall Space for Anchor Charts
When meeting with your whole group, you will often times be modeling new strategies, skills, or other learning. To make the most of your instruction, teachers compose "Anchor Charts" that will later be put up on the wall for student reference. Anchor charts anchor new learning for children, and serve as a reference to them when they are placed up on the wall.

Above, you can see an example of an anchor chart for theme. While this chart is great with many examples, what would make it even better would be a definition of theme and also stories that the class has shared that show these various themes. That way, later in the year, when a child looks to this anchor chart for theme, they remember that, perhaps, kindness was a theme in the story The 100 Dresses that they had read together earlier that year.

Here's another anchor chart for theme:

The key here is to create your anchor charts with your kiddos. As you explain new skills or strategies you can record definitions, but call on the students to provide examples the whole group is aware of to anchor their learning.

Then, the chart goes up on the wall. When you begin to run short on space, you can start to stack the posters on top of one another, but they will always be there when you need to revisit a topic with an individual student, small group, or whole class.

Word Wall
Many teachers use word walls for student reference. In the past, in a middle school classroom, I had put up key vocabulary that we had read for student reference. What's important about the word wall is that it's being referred to often. Students need to know where to look when they get stuck, and by referencing it many times over the course of the school year it will become routine. Playing games with the word wall, devoting a little time to each each week, and natural reference all help students understand that it is there for their use!


How have you done your word wall in the past? Just doing a little research and saw an author who had two different word walls. One was of high-frequency words that they came across in their shared reading or writing texts. The second word wall was for spelling patterns. Around the border of the patterned word wall were the 37 "dependable" spelling patterns with a place in the center to highlight three or four with all the words from that word family. For more on this, you can see On Solid Ground (Taberski, p. 119).

As you think about returning to your classroom to begin getting things put together, how will you help assist students to discovery of new ideas and learning? Will your classroom environment, or your second teacher, be assisting you in their discoveries?

Also, did I miss anything? Please share ideas for other important parts of the classroom set up with us here!

Happy Saturday from 35,000 feet! I'm on my way to visit a friend in Seattle. Loving Southwest and the in-cabin wifi!


  1. Many thanks for imparting more of your opinions. Good job! Thank you your website is remarkably valuable for me personally. We feel very delighted once determined your website.

  2. Our art teachers recently did a project where all the students made colorful butterflies and then Costa Blanca they attached them all to a bulletin board in the shape of a GIANT butterfly. Might be a cool way to display them.

  3. I love this idea. Do you happen to have a list of the instructions that you used?christian music

  4. Where did you buy your tubs that fit each station? What are their measurements? Thanks for you fabulous ideas!lisa

  5. Our art teachers recently did a project where all the students made colorful butterflies and then Costa Blanca they attached them all to a bulletin board in the shape of a GIANT butterfly. Might be a cool way to display them

  6. Our art teachers recently did a project where all the students made colorful butterflies and then Costa Blanca they attached them all to a bulletin board in the shape of a GIANT butterfly. Might be a cool way to display Vyvanse online

  7. That is awesome Kim! I love my mug! I would love if you came back to link up as well! Thanks for stopping by.Lisa


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