Organization & Planning: 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting Your Classroom Setup

You are in the pre-planning stage of classroom setup. It’s time to brainstorm and get your head right. These 20 questions will help guide your decisions and classroom setup.

1. How many adults do you have?

This will drastically shift your classroom setup because the more adults you have – the more centers you can have! If you are low on staff you will need to plan on having bigger groups of kids and more independent work. (insert sad face emoji…)

2. How many groups can you organize your students into based on ability and level of independence?

You may not know your students yet but get your hands on those IEPs and start playing around with some potential groupings based on IEP goals and behavior needs. You can always change them later but start to see how many groups you can get your classroom into so you will know how many centers you need. You can’t have 5 groups of students and only 4 centers in your room (where is that last group going to be?!!?)

4. Are your students working on more basic/foundational skills or academic or a mix of both?

Again you may not know this but this is something to start to think about. If your group is pretty diverse (like many of our classrooms are!), you will just need to plan for additional space and storage within the room.

5. Do any of your students have a one on one aide?

Those one on one aides are off limits on running a class wide center (bc they will need to be with their student at all times), but ensure there is either a dedicated space for that student and aide (if they need maximum structure) or space within each center as they rotate around the room.

6. Will you be having a desk for each student?

You don’t need to! Flexible seating is all the rage these days and I must say – I am proud for being ahead of the trend 😉 You’ll be able to fit more centers in your room if you don’t have a dedicated desk for each student. More on this to come.

7. What type of independent work system will you use?

This is the backbone of your class. Most classes don’t have the luxury of a perfect ratio of adults to students so more than likely your students will be doing a decent amount of independent work. Which is fine! We need to teach them to work alone. Check out my super, space saving independent work system here. More on this to come as well 🙂

8. What other independent activities can your students do?

You’ll need more than just task boxes! Think about drawing, puzzles, games, books, etc. What else can your kids do on their own?

9. Will you have a teacher desk?

Again – you don’t need one! Save space and avoid the desk clutter!

10. Will you be cooking with your class?

If you will be cooking to work on social skills, following directions, life skills, literacy, (shall I go on? Read more here.)

11. How many student will your biggest group be?

Check back in on those groups you started making earlier. How big is your biggest group? Each center needs to be big enough for at least the many. Spoiler alert: your kids will each need a chair when a group is at a center!

12. What’s your sensory approach?

Are you a sensory center person? Sensory choice board? Sensory bins? Sensory break area? How are you working your students sensory needs into your day? Dang – this became a lot of question. Get those wheels turning!

13. Do you have any students who are aggressive?

If so you may want your break area to be a safe space. Think limited hard surfaces, soft dividers, not large toys/objects, lots of floor mats. It’ll only take on time of getting hit in the head with an etch-a-sketch to rethink your break area. #truestory

14. Do you have any students who are runners?

This will significantly alter your classroom setup. Think maze. Think blockades. Think multiple opportunities to grab him as he runs to the door. Obviously we aren’t blocking the door or anything like that and yes we will be working on a function based intervention for this but in the meantime – make things easier on yourself – don’t leave a clear path to that doorway.

15. How can you keep things age appropriate?

Are you a junior high teacher? Get those primary colored plastic chairs outta there! Are you preschool? Load up on everything cute and adorable. Check out the grade level equivalent rooms and echo that vibe.

16. What technology will you have access to?

Do you have a smartboard, iPads, computers? Plan how you will be using these, storing this, and keeping them safe in case of emergency.

17. Where will students keep coats and backpacks?

Closet? Lockers? Hanging on the backs of chairs is kind of my pet peeve because – hellooooo, distracting and messy! If this is your only option, brainstorm ways to keep things a little more neat and tidy!

18. Where will you store your resources?

This is one of the trickier parts of our jobs. We spend all of this time and money making all of these amazing resources and then we completely forget that we have them. I don’t know how many times I have pulled something out months after the holiday or the time I was working on the skill. Or we end of wasting so much time looking for the right resource when we need it. You need an easy to use and simple system of organizing your materials so you can find them when you need them quickly! Check out these posts: file folder organization, sort organization, and worksheet organization.

19. Where will you store extra materials?

Same with our resources, you have to find some space for extra markers, pens, construction paper, and all that stuff! Having everything out in your classroom is a perfect recipe for a gigantic mess. Pack up what you aren’t using!

20. What budget will you give yourself for classroom setup?

This is such a loaded question. I try to give myself a budget for classroom setup so I don’t end up being the only person able to spend $300 dollars at the Target dollar spot alone. Yes we may need to spend some money on our classroom during this process but giving some guidelines, helps me from getting out of control…. (somewhat….)





  1. Your question prompts explained a lot of frustration. I selected three questions for doable solutions. Thank you for the nudge to get serious about finding solutions.

  2. Thank you for this list. I have chosen several areas to work on and one is coats and backpacks! That is a big annoyance to me, but I never really thought about doing anything about it. Maybe hooks? Not sure if 3M hooks would be strong enough. Maybe I could get permission to install some real hooks on the walls. Any suggestions? During statewide testing they are always in a pile by the door. I certainly don’t want that either.

  3. I would love to know how you structure your independent work time. Most students won’t work independently and this is something I struggle with. Do you have any suggestions on how you run this and what materials do you use besides task baskets and file folders?

  4. The class I took over had hardly any storage/cubby space so i used the 3m command hooks to create cubby storage. Only had 2 out of 14 be ripped off the walls by crammed backpacks and even with those, it was more training them how to properly hang up their bags and decide what came to school and what was left at home.

  5. I really can’t wait to read more about flexible seating. It’s what I struggled with this year. I had 9 students and 1 assistant. I was supposed To have 6 1:1’s but none showed and the district didn’t seem to want to hire more.

  6. Great list to think about! I totally agree with planning ahead for runners and aggressive behaviors. It’s much harder to rearrange your room after the behaviors begin. Don’t forget about planning for any kids with physical limitations as well. I have a student in an electric wheelchair and I have to make sure he can access everything too.

    (FYI, you skipped #3 ?)

  7. For my kiddos backpacks, I zip-tied some sterilite file crates together and made a set of cubbies. The back packs fit in there no problem. I had 12 students last year and the whole space was only about 4.5 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

  8. Thanks so much for the helpful questions to guide me in my effort to improve my space and organization for next year! This will be my second year in a self-contained classroom for K-2, so I have seen some things that worked well and many things that could be so much better. Your questions highlighted exactly what changes I am looking to make and helped me organize my thoughts and plans in a way that will allow me to tackle them all before Fall.

  9. Love that idea!!! 3m command hooks = my love 🙂

  10. Haha, always the way! Yes when we have overloaded classrooms, I think flexible seating actually makes managing that many students easier! Will be sharing more in the behavior week!

  11. Haha, I know I noticed but thought maybe it made it more interesting. Kidding.

    Yes – so much easier to think about it now! Wheelchair access is a great point as well.

  12. LOVE THIS. Zip-tied crates is my file folder storage system and I am obsessed.

  13. Love all of the ideas everyone shared. I would definitely get them out of the way (either hooks, crates, bins, etc.). I think leaving them all over invites problems (tripping, roaming hands, haha)

  14. That’s a great way to approach this! I’m all about breaking things down into manageable steps and doable solutions!!

  15. Yay! So glad these prompts are helpful 🙂

  16. I have been following your posts as I set up my structured classroom. I tend to be a decorate with cute stuff person, but my principal is a less is more person, so now I am trying to find a balance! (New school this year, switching from junior high to elementary). Thanks for all of the pointers and resources! I am located in Illinois as well, so I know we are both dealing with the same budget issues!!

  17. Good luck! Fingers crossed these budgetary issues get resolved!!


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