This is my 11th year teaching secondary English, and my 5th year in my second school district. I started from scratch when I moved to my current school, but I didn’t really decorate during my first year (see picture below). It wasn’t unit three summers ago that I did a big makeover thanks to the administration in our school who wanted to try something different in my classroom.
That’s when I ditched the old rows of desks and added tables. Over the past three summer, I’ve changed my room a lot, but this year, my goal was to make design and decor decisions based on academic purpose and function. I also did research on sensory overload, and how visual stimulation can affect students learning. (See my sources at the end of this post.)
The main academic purpose of all of my classes is to inspire students to see multiple perspectives. I use literary lenses to make this happen, so you’ll see a lot of decor that I designed specifically to support student learning of literary lenses.
For a full video tour of my classroom, check this video on my Instagram account. In this post, I’ll link as many of the items that I was able to find, and I’ll give you some insight into my design decisions.
At the end of this post, I’ll share the picture inspired me to go with a brick, black, and flower. I’ll also show the few before pictures that I was able to find from a few years ago.
The Front of the Classroom
- Black Bins: This is a great price for six bins. I use this to hold (aka hide) lots of not so cute materials.
- White Cart: I got this on clearance from Target. I LOVE it! The wheels make it really handy to hold my supplies and books
- Brick Paper: This paper is AMAZING! It’s thick, and feels a little like vinyl. This wall was cinder block and because the old SmartBoard moved around and painted around several times, so it really needed either paint or covered. I ended up covering the wall by cutting pieces, lining up the brick, and hot gluing. I, of course, got permission ahead of time. I had to rip a few pieces down and it doesn’t damage the wall or paint at all!
- Hot Glue Gun: (similar) I did NOT (let me repeat…I did NOT) use a cordless hot glue gun to hang the brick paper, and I sure wish I would have. I attached my regular old hot glue (which is so old you can’t purchase it anymore) to an extension cord, and it was a PAIN! I’m going to buy this cordless one because I realize NOW how much I need it. Don’t be like me! 😉 I also advise using a tool belt to hold a box cutter and/or scissors unless you happen to have a cute little helper to get your stuff about a million times!
- Paper Flowers: I made these using card stock and this tutorial.
- Rug: I bought it from Tuesday Morning two years ago, and unfortunately, I can’t find anything similar. It is an indoor/outdoor rug, and I’ve found that this kind is much easier to keep clean (aka shaking out) than regular indoor rugs.
- Bookshelves: I inherited these with the room.
- Black Contact Paper: I covered the front and sides of my desk with black contact paper. They key to get this to go on smoothly is to put it on top to bottom rather than side to side.
- Pink and white banner (similar)
- Star book pages banner
- Black Bulletin Board Paper
- Hanging planters: I LOVE how these look! Thank you to my friend Ashley at Building Book Love for the idea!
- READ Sign: (similar) I bought these at least five years ago from Michaels. Mine are battery powered, so they are really inconvenient to turn on and off when they’re up high. I found these remote operated ones and I might just have to pick up some new ones myself because these would be much better!
- White Rocking Chairs: These are durable and a fan favorite! I purchased these with a gift card I received from doing a Back-to-School tour of my classroom with We Are Teachers two summers ago.
- 6-Cube Organizer: I bought this two years ago, and I did some shopping around to find the best prices. This was the best price I found. You can usually find coupons if you search their website.
- Black and White Upholstered Wooden Stools: I found these when I stopped at Dollar General to grab vinegar (true story: amid all of this back-to-school business, we decided on a whim to remodel our master bathroom, which included stripping wall paper. Blah! White vinegar and hot water in a spray bottle are a godsend for that task in case you are wondering.) These are only available in store.
- Wooden Box with Chalkboard: These are from the Target Dollar Spot from last summer, and aren’t available anymore, but often they will have similar for the new year.
- White Stool/Side Table: Ikea
- Black and White Pillows: I bought these pillows and covers from Ikea last year. I’m not sure if the stripe is still there, but they have so many different options, so I suggest going to check it out.
- Black Chalkboard Roll: Same with the Target Dollar Spot
- Yoga Mats: These yoga mats are only $7 each! This little meditation station is designed to encourage reflection and relaxation, but they actually have a much more functional purpose: it gives students a place to sit if they want to work in a group with the white rocking chairs. I have sworn off fancy carpets because in my experience they get really dirty, and I don’t have a vacuum at school. I figure these Yoga Mats are cushy enough to be comfortable, and they are easy to take home to clean in my backyard with a hose and some soap.
- Wire Basket: I couldn’t find a link for this one, but I got it at Dollar General this season.
- Wooden Stool: (similar) My parents bought this for me for my very first classroom 11 years ago! It has so many uses in the classroom. I sometimes use it as a hot seat, and sometimes use it for decor. I highly recommend getting yourself one.
- Sea Salt Lamp
- White Picture Frames: These are only $.50 each! You can use them in so many ways!
- Everything a Band-Aid Can’t Fix by Nicole Russel: This is such a great book to get in the hands of students.
Interactive Bulletin Boards and Decor
- Window to the World Interactive Bulletin Board/Decor: I made this to encourage students to read independently. It’s a fun reading challenge.
- Perspective Posters: I printed these posters at Staples as engineering prints. Then, I hot glued wooden strips from Home Depot across the top. They’re hung using command hooks.
- Try a New Lens Bulletin Board: This is an interactive bulletin board that encourages students to read and write using different literary lenses. It’s the way that I deal with the annoying, “What can I do for extra credit?” question.
- Literary Lenses Posters: Not only are these pretty decor items for a bulletin board, but I also like to refer to them throughout the year. At the end of the year, I put students in groups and ask them to explain how the quotation expresses the literary lens.
- Typewriter: I got this beauty for free on the side on the road! Isn’t she beautiful? Since my students LOVE typing on it (it’s kind of therapeutic!), I decided to make it sort of an interactive decor. When students type the only rule is that they have they have to write something wall worthy.
- Felt letter board: My mother-in-law bought me this for Christmas. I LOVE it! (similar)
- Hanging Lights (similar)
- Hooks to Hang the Lights and Planters
- Bulletin Boards: I spray painted these with chalk paint to give them the black texture.
- White peg board: I got these from the Target Dollar Spot and I hung them with Command Strips. (similar)
- Metal Buckets: Target Dollar Spot from last year
- Stools: Our school bought these for me.
- High Tables: Built by one of our principals.
- Crystal Rainbow Maker (not pictured, but you can see it my Instagram tour on my stories)
- Plants: I bought a real Aloe plant and a succulent plant. We’ll see how long they last before I forget to water them. I’m going to try though! They were really cheap from Home Depot.
Before and After
Here is a little before and after from last year to this year:
I think the brick wall really warms up the room and makes it feel inviting. You can’t tell as much in this before picture, but above and below the TV are line marks from painting around old objects. You know how some things just really bother you, even if they’re not that obvious to anyone else? Well that was me with this wall. If you look really closely you can see it, but it looked a lot more obvious in person. I love that it’s covered now!
And this is what my classroom looked like for the 2015-2016 school year, my first year at my second and current school. It’s come a long way in 4 years!
Finally, this was the picture that inspired my classroom feel. It’s the first picture we ever took with everyone (cough, cough Gigi and Camilla) looking and smiling, and it took place during a really fun family vacation at the beach. The picture brings me so much joy, so I wanted to incorporate elements from it in my classroom.
More reading and sources:
- Rodrigues, P. & Pandeirada, J. (2018). When visual stimulation of the surrounding environment affects children’s cognitive performance.
- This article from Edutopia summarizes many research studies (including the one above) and gives research-based advice for decor.
- My Flexible Seating Philosophy
- How to Build Your Classroom Library
- Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee: I highly recommend this book! It has brought me so much awareness and JOY!
- Young House Love Has a Podcast