13 Things to Consider when Creating a Structured Classroom

You know I love a good list. My type A personality thrives on tiny check boxes and nicely numbered rows of tasks. Maybe this why I love working in this field. I totally understand the need to hyper organize. Now if only I could get my husband on board…

Today we are talking classroom structure. I have 15 essential things to consider before throwing on your crappiest work out clothes and getting ready to push massive shelves around your classroom.

1. How many centers do you need?

Remember that amazing list we created during the Organization and Planning Step? Yep – time to whip that puppy out and get rolling. See if you need to edit that list if you were a little more optimistic than you should have been. Sorry my love, 27 centers will not fit into your classroom… See if you can combine any centers and get your list a little more reasonable.

2. Transition Space

Your students will be doing a lot of transitioning in and out of our classroom. They will be going to the bathroom, the bus, gym class etc. You will spend more time transitioning than you think and transitioning is hard for our kids. Make life easier by having a plan on where your students will be while transitioning. If your students are younger and more squirmy – I highly recommend having some type of seating for your students to use while waiting to leave the room. Trying getting a group of 5 year olds to wait in line while you transition the rest of your little kiddos through the schedule is damn near impossible. Sitting and waiting is the way to go. If that’s the case you will want to save some space near the doorway. If you kids are stand-in-line ready, you will still want to some space for a natural line and maybe consider adding some colored tape on the floor to concretely show where each student should be while waiting.

3. Schedules

Oh schedules. My one true love. Just wait until we get to the schedule step and I completely bombard you with everything you never knew you wanted to know about schedules. But before we get there – we have to think about schedules during our structure set up process. Schedules NEED to be in a central location of the classroom and they can take up a lot of room. If you will be using wall schedules – you need some uninterrupted wall space. Don’t even think about trying to put a center or god forbid – your teacher desk in front of those wall schedules because you are literally just asking for behavior problems. Your kids will be checking your schedule throughout the day and walking back and forth and back and forth to that area – so make sure it is somewhere accessible! For your binder schedule kiddos – don’t think you are in the clear from this one. Where are your students keeping there binders? Yep the binders look pretty great neatly stacked in that shelf but can we imagine for a moment the catastrophe that will occur when 6 kids are trying to trample over each over grabbing binders off the same shelf and then get organized enough to somehow view the schedule and check off the schedule list while miraculously holding the binder mid air? Yea me neither. Hello hot mess. You will need a flat space for those binders, my friend.

4. White Boards & Smart Boards

This is a big consideration – if you have a white board … or you are lucky enough to have a smart board (jealous me!) you will want to plan your room around this commodity. Pick your direct instruction or group time table to be in this area so you can utilize that board – and believe me you will want to!

5. Plugs

In old school buildings – this is a secret little thing that will always trip you up. Some really old buildings aren’t so generous with the plugs. I have gone through great lengths to create probably extremely unsafe labyrinths of extension cords because I was damn determined to put my computer station in an area that had no freaken plugs. And then I proceeded to blow a fuse several times a week… Save yourself the hassle and pick those high electricity centers (computers, kitchen, cooking, etc.) to go near an area with plugs.

6. Runners

If you are one of my sweet, sweet friends who has been blessed with the joy of having a runner in the class – I will continue to pray for you. Jokes aside – these kids are no joke. Many of our students who engage in running behavior are extremely smart so you have got to rise to the challenge of trying to keep them in your room. One preventative strategy you can implement (of course, while also looking at function of the running and teaching a replacement behavior…) is to make it just a little bit harder to leave your room. Don’t set yourself up for failure by putting your break area right by the door or that students desk with a neat little straight runway to freedom. Get a little maze like, set up some “obstacles” and buy yourself a few minutes to ‘redirect’ the running before you find yourself sprinting down the hallway like a madman.

7. Break Area/Safe Space

While on this theme of less than desirable behaviors – let’s also chat about aggression. Do you have students who have aggressive behaviors? Will your break need to be used for a safe space/de-escalation area? Whether we ‘should’ be or not, sometimes we are put in positions where we need a space to bring our students when their behaviors have escalated to a point of potential injuries. And in this moment – you do not want to have to think about needing to pull toys and materials out of the way to maintain safety. I learned this the hard way and have a permanent scar on my head courtesy of well thrown etch-a-sketch a few years back. I learned real quick that during that school year – toys will be kept outside of the break area. If you have a  situation like this – keep toys at a shelf nearby that break area so other students can bring toys in as they use them but in case of an emergency – the area is void of additional materials that may cause further injuries. Keep the area free of metal shelves, throwable chairs, and use soft dividers as much as possible.

8. Material Storage

This is another biggie. As autism teachers – we need so much stuff! Between file folders, worksheets, dry erase markers, velcro… ugh. Our rooms can quickly look a little hoarder-y if we aren’t careful. Also if we aren’t careful all of that stuff will quickly get ruined by some naughty kiddos. And can we blame them? If you make it accessible – they will find it. Set up systems for organizing your materials! Both academic/teaching materials and supplies! You spend all of this time making all of these glorious resources yet it is just as important to have system of finding them when you need them! You will want some materials stored way out of the way and others stored nearby centers to be used at each station. But again we might not want to make it too accessible. Bins with lids on shelves, cabinets with doors, and drawers are all great solutions to this.

9. Cooking Area

We are kind of cooking obsessed in my classroom. I have taken it down a few notches over the past few years because I have gotten a lot of students who are much more academic based. But back in the day we cooked on a weekly basis to hit up all of those uber important foundational skills in a fun and functional way. So we needed our kitchen equipment (mini fridge, microwave, toaster oven) near our group table for easy access.

10. What Stuff Do You Have

Take inventory of the furniture you do have. Don’t rule anything out yet. I have used some of the weirdest pieces of furniture and busted old materials as dividers when I didn’t have much to work with. You will need A LOT of furniture to create physical structure. So make a list, look around your school for any leftover goodies, – it’s time to get creative!

11. Teacher Desk

Guess what, friends? You don’t need a teacher desk. Take a deep breath and say it again with me. You don’t need a teacher desk. It’s all good. You will be fine. The world will not explode. The world will actually continue on and your will be a happier person because you will have more space in your classroom for students centers, avoid the monster pile of paperwork that every teacher desk inevitably turns into, and I will give you a million dollars. Okay, I won’t give you a million dollars. But I do think the no teacher desk move is kinda brilliant. We need every inch we can in our classrooms and eliminating the teacher desk not only felt freeing but literally freed up some much needed space. Check it out more about it here.

12. Student Desks

I bet you know where I’m going with this one too. You don’t need student desks either! Ahh. Am I rocking your world right now? I am not anti-student desks but I am anti-student desks for the sole reason of just ‘having’ student desks. If you are planning on using them for a specific activity every day – fine. But in our classrooms it’s usually highly unlikely that we are doing any type of whole group instruction with the wide range of loves we get. So then why do you need ten desks in one center? Only keep your centers as big as the maximum amount of students in the group. You can use small groups of student desks in different centers. But there may not be a need for everyone to have exactly their own exact desk. Jump on the flexible seating bandwagon. I have been riding it for years before it was even a trendy education thing. Again – this is space saving! You can have more centers if you don’t have student desks.

13. Which Centers Should be Near Each Other

This is an important consideration especially when it comes to staffing. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to work in these magical schools that have more than enough staff and you have paraprofessionals that can manage each center all day every day. Most of us are just trying to make it work and that usually ends up with a lot of independent work for the kiddos. But we do what we gotta do. If you are feeling the understaffed pressure, I recommend placing your centers strategically. Put an independent center near each center that will have an adult. That way the adult at the center can monitor the neighboring independent center as well. It’s all about multi-tasking. Also consider noise issues. A noisier center like break time, sensory, group time, or even computers should be placed away from more academic or potentially distractable centers.

5 Comments

  1. Will you be creating a document with all the things you’re writing for setting up an autism classroom? Basically putting it all together to include everything a teacher needs from organization to lesson plans, data, behaviors, visuals etc? That would be amazing!!

    Reply
  2. When you put things into your teacher binder, do you then file it in a filing cabinet? We are required to store things like permission slips, IEP information for 7 years, and my files get pretty large. I also pile on my desk, I’m just wondering what exactly goes into your binder? I’m moving classrooms this year and I am considering doing away with my teacher desk!
    Thanks for all the help!

    Reply
  3. With flexible seating, how do you store materials that are needed? Does each student have their own that they bring from center to center, or do you have community supplies at each station? For whole group activities (announcements, morning meetings, movies, etc) do students just pick anywhere to sit? I would love to hear more about how you implement this! Tempted to try it but nervous about it in our type of room 🙂

    Reply
  4. I like having materials at each center as opposed to carrying items around. For whole group activities, have some system of assigned seats all in a central location!

    Reply

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