Creating a Cozy Classroom

What’s Here

The purpose of decorating a classroom is to create a functional space for learning. However, there are tips and tricks for arranging your space in a way that creates a comfortable, relaxed, and attractive environment. Your classroom is where you and your students will spend 30+ hours each week–why not take the time to make it a homey place where you can enjoy spending time? This page shows you photos of how I’ve tried to accomplish this in multiple classrooms I’ve taught in. Some are large and magnificent, while others started off as tiny, dirty places. I hope to share classroom decoration ideas that will help you regardless of the quality of space you have.

My Favorite Ideas for Decorating (B.N.F.C.)

Forget BC and AD. Classroom life for me is BNFC or ANFC: before or after the New Fire Codes. I have been in 8 classrooms in my life, and when I think back to how I have decorated them, there are ones I loved (BNFC) and those I tolerated (ANFC). Back in the good old days, teachers could use curtains, rugs, carpets, couches, lamps, hang things from the ceiling, and cover every square inch of wall with beautiful children’s work. But now, at least in Florida, all that has come to an end. For those of you still fortunate enough to be able to make your room feel like home, here are some of my BNFC touches that I miss the most.

Couches and non-fire retardant rugs made a HUGE difference in how welcoming my room felt! These were 60′s mod couches I inherited from my grandmother. In one school I created a cozy reading corner with them (I held parent conferences there, too) and in the another I had it as part of my whole-group rug area. Students who listened and participated in the lessons were given the extreme honor of sitting on the couch while I taught! It was the best motivator ever. We’re allowed to use plastic chairs ANFC, and I may try that again. I do have some beach chairs in my current classroom, and while they’re not as attractive, they are an effective motivator for the kids.

I miss my funky IKEA lamps most of all. I HATE overhead florescent lights, so I filled my classroom with nearly a dozen lamps and left the window blinds all the way up.I used a cheapbeach blanket to createan inviting area for students to gather and for me to pull small groups to. Area rugs are a cheap and easy way to make a classroom feel like a home.

You can see more of these photos (and pictures of other teacher’s cozy classrooms) on the Classroom Tour pages.

My Favorite Ideas for Making a Classroom Cozy (A.N.F.C.)

Okay, enough of my pity party (the way we were…) ;-) These days we get the opportunity to be really creative…

This classroom I was in had no windows and was really small, so setting up the room was a challenge. You can check out the classroom arrangement ideas post to learn the method I use for determining a classroom layout.

Also in this school, we weren’t allowed to hang anything on the walls because we had a fresh coat of paint (and this classroom had no windows, so it was starting to feel like an asylum), so I strung up yarn like a clothesline and clipped on paper cut-outs of clothes, which served as our word wall. I highly recommend this set-up even if you don’t use it as a word wall (hang posters or kids’ art- just nothing too heavy) if you are not allowed to cover much of your wall space (in Florida, no more than 80% can have paper on it). Check out the Bulletin Board Solutions page for more tips on solving wall space problems, whether you have too much or not enough.

Rocking chairs and lots of colorful bulletin board borders help. I used the borders to divide my whiteboard into sections for our daily schedule, behavior management system (team points), and teaching aides. I also had a large fake palm tree and other synthetic plants (my principal requested that I limit the number of live plants in case there are allergies). I have never experienced a problem with having live plants in my classroom, and I encourage you to use them wherever possible. They’re one of the cheapest ways to brighten up your classroom and make it feel more home-y! You can get cute little peonies and other small flowers for around a dollar, and place them on top of bookshelves, tables, etc. I had to leave my plants behind when I moved to the next school, much to the delight of my former coworkers. You can see more ideas for setting up your carpet/rug area on the Morning Meetings page.

Putting bulletin board borders around the windows makes them seem larger and makes the room very inviting. I also had art and some tropical plants on top of the bookshelf, which served as a focal point when you walked into the room. This is another example of how plants can an excellent way to add some color and life to a room ANFC. I have to admit the main reason why I alwys had new plants is because I have a black thumb and everything kept dying. Perhaps not watering them had something to do with it….hmmm… A few kids took over the job of plant waterer and that helped, but I just couldn’t keep track of which plant needed which amount of water. I asked parents to send in new plants periodically throughout the year but I could only make 2 last more than a few months. Hopefully you’ll have better luck, because the plants are a great addition!

Ideas for Inexpensive Classroom Decorations


-Make them. Craft stores sell special markers that let you draw on windows. Use the die cutter (if your school has one) to cut out shapes to spruce up wall displays. Use what you have, what your school provides, and what other teachers are willing to share to make your classroom beautiful.

-Have kids make them. My kids have made posters explaining how to solve math problems, displays of different geometric shapes in the classroom, a ‘quilt’ of their favorite books, etc. Use student work rather than store-bought posters. It’s more meaningful to the kids, and tells visitors more about what’s happening in your classroom. Large paintings done by children always look beautiful, no matter how young the students.

-Focus on useful displays. A pretty poster is just taking up wall space unless it’s helping the kids learn, retain, and utilize their skills. Hang up your text connections poster, tricks for remembering multiplication facts, directions for how to do long division, a calendar with important dates and events for your students clearly marked, the correct friendly letter writing format, and so on. Refer to the posters often and your kids will, too.

-Retiring teachers. One retiring teacher I know set up a store in her room on the last teacher workday of the year. Everything was free for the taking, although donations were requested. There were tons of resource books, none of which she wanted to lug home to store in her garage!

-Teacher’s Magazines. Lots of times there are free pull-outs in teacher magazines. If your college or public library subscribes, ask if you can take the posters out.

-Don’t change decorations frequently. There’s no law that says you have to have new bulletin board displays for every holiday. Pick bulletin board paper that will work all year long and change the border, if you must. (For example, red is nice for fall leaves and apples, and then for Christmas, later for Valentine’s Day, and then for a general or thematic display towards the end of the year). I buy one versatile set of borders for each bulletin board I have and leave them up. I have frogs, planets, calendars, paintbrushes, designs, plain colors, and other themes not associated with any particular time of year. Also, remember that your border does not have to correlate with the stuff that’s on the board, as long as the colors and styles complement one another. A train bulletin board does not have to have a train border: a plain blue one will work just fine.

-Display a minimum of seasonal decorations. I try to pick borders that don’t need to be changed- I have way too much to do to worry about having snowflakes up in May! In fact, I rarely display kids’ seasonal work, focusing on thematic displays or things that look good all year, such as “Our Best Work”. When I do hang seasonal work, I try to do it at least a month before the occasion to get the maximum usage out of it.

Cornerstone Cross-Reference

Find even MORE info about setting up and decorating your classroom in The Cornerstone book and eBook! Book-exclusive content includes:

Ch. 1: Classroom Arrangement
*How to create space for the 8 basic elements of an elementary classroom, no matter how small or oddly-shaped the room
*Photographs of four desk arrangements that really work (and why two others don’t)
*Attractive and useful set-ups for bulky and outdated computer stations
*The number one factor you should consider when placing your desk and workspace

Ch. 2: Planning for the First Weeks of School
*Sample lesson plans for teaching procedures during the first week of school
*The 11 things that HAVE to get done before the first day
*What to buy (and what NOT to buy) for your classroom

Ch. 4: Avoiding the Paper Trap
*Detailed instructions for establishing ONE place for EACH type of paper you come across, regardless of the space and containers you have

Ch. 5: Finding and Filing Instructional Resources
*Specific guidelines for managing your lesson materials for each subject area

Ch. 6: Organizing Classroom Materials
*How to make the most of students’ school supply lists so you don’t have to spend out of pocket
*Why you should think twice before allowing students to share materials or use communal school supplies
*Inexpensive ways to get classroom materials

Ch. 7: Maintaining a Class Library
*How to choose books that kids will want to read (and how to obtain them on the cheap)
*Quick and inexpensive ways to categorize, level, and arrange your books into baskets or bins
*How to spend just ten minutes setting up a self-running book checkout system
*Solutions for the great debate: should you allow students to take books home?
*5 simple lessons that teach your students to care for and maintain your classroom library
*Creative ways to give kids ownership over the class library

Ch. 8: Cleaning, Packing, and Moving
*What to keep, what to toss, and where to put it so you can find it!
*Step-by-step photographs that show how to pack up your old room and unpack your new one
*How to pace yourself so you don’t get overwhelmed

Now What?

There are TONS of other images on the site to give you ideas for creating a cozy classroom!

Don’t miss:

classroom organization and decoration tipsAvoiding the Paper Trap
Bulletin Board Problems Solved
Classroom Desk Arrangements
Lesson Materials and Files
Teacher-Submitted Organization Ideas
Photo and video tours of over a dozen other classrooms
Pictures of teachers’ rug/carpet areas for class meetings

 

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DorforShut July 29, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Wow, Angela! How inspiring these classroom tours are! Thank you so much for all your hard work. Do you have plans to put any NY classroom tours on the site?

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2 Angela Watson July 31, 2010 at 4:13 pm

You’re welcome! I would love to add more classroom photos of the rooms I work with in NY. Most of them are in private schools so they have limited space and resources–which is definitely a common challenge for many teachers out there and I’m sure they’d benefit from seeing how things are set up. I’m also always open to posting classroom tours from site visitors–I’d love to share your room! :-)

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3 faizawaheedrajpoot May 11, 2012 at 12:47 am

these are beautiful classrooms..

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4 Denia Cardona December 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Muy buen trabajo con tu aula de clases, realmente pareze que tienes mucha iniciativa propia. me encanta. saludos desde Roatan, Bay Islands. Honduras

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5 emily lala December 10, 2010 at 12:35 am

AWESOME :)

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6 mslaini January 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

Hi Angela, thank you so much for those pictures that you have included in your article. I teach in a private school and the class that I in in charge of is rather ackward in size. I have already given up hope to make the class presentable or felt that it was nearly impossible when I came across your article. May God bless you for being generous in sharing your ideas.

I really love your phrase “… Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable”. I hope you will allow me to use the phrase in my class.
Thank you once again.
Mslaini

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7 TANVIR KAUR April 2, 2011 at 10:18 am

a marvellous job

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8 Sheri Hand May 5, 2011 at 12:11 am

Angie, I love your initiative. I used to be that teacher standing on desks to hang items and warm spaces and am now on a mission to stop teacher injury.
We’ve invented a ceiling hanger that will assist teachers to hang items from their ceilings without leaving the floor. The invention is called the Hang-Mate, and teachers are using it across the nation.
We’re interested in getting the word out quickly, so the first 10 visitors to your website who write me will win a free sample kit. Write me at sheri@hang-mate.com.

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9 Printing Services August 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I especially appreciate your tip about “focus on useful displays”. This is so easy to these days with lots of charts and timelines available online for free. Just download and use printing services to get them the right size.

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10 Angela Watson August 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Agreed. The more customized, the better!

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11 Sylvia March 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Hi Angela
I love your Cornerstone Book. Haven’t finished reading it yet. I was ready to give up teaching . . . Had been a successful principal overseas in a small new church school. Returned to Australia to teach. Had a tough class yesterday with very demanding parents . . . .
Re: token or bead system: why did you stick to the bead system and not go back to using the token system? I can’t decide which to use. I’ve used a points system that turned into cash for shop once a fortnight or bank and save but it did get complicated. Also used the marble in group jars effectively.
The bead gives visual like the marble in the jar but I know I can forget to give points or marbles out.
The token system seems really good but not sure if the children will cope without a visual. Doing relief at the moment having moved interstate, so have time to try out on a daily basis.
SS

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12 Angela Watson March 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Hi, Sylvia! I like to use different systems just to experiment and see what works best for different groups of kids. I do like the visual aspect of the beads, as you mentioned. I think it’s very helpful for kids.

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13 Gene Tilby@batikartstudio March 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm

There are some really good ideas in your article, thank you for sharing. My daughter (8) has a teacher that has implemented some of these ideas, she has comfortable reading chairs aroung the room, a nice rug that she has put in a library type corner and every now and then they have a read-in where all the kids wear their pj’s and lounge around and read all day. Pretty cool.

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14 Katie April 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm

These ideas are so inspiring. I love that you can be so creative when decorating a classroom. Another idea I have found that teachers love is a pot or vase of flower pens on the teacher’s desk. When a student asks for a pen, give them a flower pen and most likely you will get it back at the end of the day.

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15 Savanna May 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Another easy way to create separate spaces on large white boards is colored masking tape. It does come off, I promise!

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16 Mary Wood June 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Awesome website. Even though my career is ending,25 + years, I want my last year to be a fantastic year!!

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17 teacherlady August 18, 2012 at 2:12 am

Thank you for the advice

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18 Tom February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Hi, I really enjoyed your web site. I am teaching in an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. We had small classroom last year but over the summer they knocked out the center wall and made all elementary classrooms twice the size. Oh what a relief. I have 22 students and now we have room to work. My problem is setting up my classroom. I have reviewed your pictures of how a classroom should be set up and will send copies to the director to show her what type of furniture items we need.I feel like my classroom is in need of so many things.Thanks,
Tom Benjamin
Keerapat International School.
Bangkok, Thailand

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19 Lisa Horace January 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Hello Ms. Angela,
I really appreciate the time you take to give insite and advice to upcoming teachers. Your website is chalk full of useful information that I will surely use in my own classroom oneday. (I am a student studying Early Childhood) That’s the reason why I said oneday. Again thanks for sharing you are an inspiration.

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20 Brittany Owens May 26, 2014 at 11:41 pm

I am a first year teacher and LOVE everything you wrote on this article! I NEEEEEED to know about something you mentioned for behavioral management “team points” Could you please explain this in further detail or tell my where to find more info on that strategy!

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21 Angela Watson May 27, 2014 at 11:09 pm
22 Studying Teaching June 20, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Great post! Been reading a lot about setting up my classroom. Thanks for the ideas here!

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