Classroom Organization

My Classroom Isn’t Cute

Back to School Classroom Decor Ecard Teacher Humor from The Pensive SlothWith all the photos of cute classrooms making the rounds on Pinterest, I’ve given some thought to what my classroom looks like. It isn’t cute and I’m OK with that. It’s organized, most of the bins match (because I only buy the same semi-indestructible ones), and my students and I can find what we need quickly. But it isn’t decorated. I don’t really have a theme. And I don’t think cute is an adjective anyone would use to describe it.

I guess the reason I’m writing this post is two-fold. First, for those teachers out there that don’t have cute classrooms, I want you to know that it is OK. You’re in good company. There are plenty of us in the teaching world—even in elementary–with functional, student friendly rooms that don’t look like they came out of a teacher’s version of “Better Homes and Gardens.” The second reason for writing this post is a little more controversial. As professionals, how we spend our time and money setting up the classroom matters. It speaks volumes about what we hold important, and frankly it worries me when I see classrooms where more energy was placed into pulling off a jungle theme than building a classroom library.

Here’s why I don’t stress about decorating at the beginning of the year:

  1. BOOKS—If I have spare money, I use it buy books rather than decorations. In my classroom we call it “Book Christmas” when the Scholastic box arrives, and it’s a pretty big deal. Last semester I spent a small fortune building a cryptozoology section in the classroom library because my kids were crazy about bigfoot, aliens, vampires, ghosts, and monsters that year. I went to every Half Price Books within 60 miles of my house and wiped out their crypto collections. Right now I’m working to beef up my graphic novels tub, but that’s another post! Personally, I’d rather spend money to build readers than buy labels, borders, and notepads that match.
  1. FUNCTIONALITY—Everything in my classroom serves a purpose. Supply tubs have everything students need so we don’t lose instruction time during activities. The posters and anchor charts that line the room are relevant to what students are learning. Our classroom shelves hold tons of books, reference materials, and science supplies. There isn’t space for anything else.
  1. WE DECORATE TOGETHER–In fact, the walls are pretty bare when the students come in. I have a cursive alphabet chart up, but that’s about it. It’s our job as a class to fill that space with our learning. If you come back about 3 weeks later, it’s not bare anymore and students have ownership of what’s covering the walls.
  1. TIME—They say that we make time for what is important to us in life, and decorating is not at the top of my list. When it’s time to head back to school and set up the room, I revise systems so that my classroom will run more smoothly this year, or I plan and prep for lessons. In my mind, there’s more important things to do than put up colorful borders or paint all my tubs the same color.
  1. DISTRACTED STUDENTS—There are plenty of articles out there about how too much color and bling can take the focus away from learning for students who already struggle to pay attention. Check out this one from Scientific American. Food for thought! The article talks about kindergarteners. I teach upper elementary, but trust me, they get distracted too!

Now, if decorating is your thing and it makes you truly, deeply happy, then go for it. Just please don’t give the side eye to those of us who do things differently. We have our reasons.

And for you brand new teachers stepping into your very own classrooms for the first time, seeing blank walls and empty shelves, I offer this advice… Focus on the shelves first. If you’re lucky enough to have a little cash, buy a few books. Resist the urge to spend your hard earned money on jungle-themed décor.  Purchase the essentials, a few tubs, some desk supplies, anchor chart paper and markers. Make peace with your bare walls and know that they won’t be bare for long.

–The Pensive Sloth


Supporting ELL Students–Turn and Talk/Partner Wheel

I’m trying something new this year to give more structure to the old ‘Turn and Talk.’  Even though I teach upper elementary, we still come to the rug for lessons and read-alouds.  I love my easel and I like having my students nearby when we’re trying something new.  The problem was that when I asked them to turn and talk about something, some students opted to sit silent because they didn’t know who to turn and talk to, while other students spent a few minutes scooting closer to their BFFs or trying to find someone to turn and talk to.  At their assigned seats, they talked with their shoulder partner, but on the rug they were lost.  This was wasted time.  There had to be a better way!

Turn and Talk  or Partner Wheel for 5th Grade ELL Students

Enter the ‘Turn and Talk’ or partner wheel!  Here’s how it works:

1–Post the wheel in the classroom and turn the inner circle once a week.  This will be a student’s ‘turn and talk’ partner when they come to the rug.  You can spin more often if you like.

2–Teach students that when it is time to meet on the rug (yes, I still say that to my 5th graders), they need to sit beside their partner.

That’s it.  It was very easy to make and only required some poster board, brads, scissors, and markers PLUS something to trace the inner and outer circles.  I traced the lid to a bucket for the larger circle and a paper plate for the inner circle.   In hindsight, I think I would have laminated before adding numbers so that I could use a dry erase marker and switch things up from time to time.

NOTE–Turn and talk is part of “Structured Conversations,” from the book “Seven Steps to a Language Rich Classroom” by John Seidlitz.  It’s a strategy for building language with ELL students, but I’ve found it really benefits ALL students.  It’s a must read if you work with English language learners.

Best Book for Building Language With ELL Students--Seven Steps to a Language Rich Classroom

Classroom Hack–Use Zip Ties for Task Cards

Here I am, chugging along with back to school on my mind.  I know we still have about 4 weeks left, but I’m sprinkling some teacher stuff into my demanding sleeping, swimming, and Netflixing schedule.  There’s a LOT to do, and if I don’t start now it will just nag at me.

I am so excited to dig into task cards with my students this year.  There are like a MILLION ways to use them and I’ve only scratched the surface.  Back to the story.  I’ve just cut out 72 cards, punched holes in the corners, and am ready to put them together…when I realize I don’t have any of these–

Photo from  I am addicted to office supplies.  Love them!

Photo from–Yes. I am addicted to office supplies. Love them!

Time for a cliche. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I have a need.  I need a way to bind my task cards together WITHOUT some of those ring things.  Then, I remembered that I have a pile of zip ties sitting on the counter and decided to give it a try.

Classroom Hack Zip Ties for Task Cards from The Pensive Sloth

Classroom Hack Zip Ties for Task Cards from The Pensive Sloth

It worked!  We had clear and yellow, but the yellow ones were huge and barely fit through the holes.  Now, I’m off to search for zip ties on Amazon.  Surely they have a rainbow colored pack???

–The Pensive Sloth

My Favorite Things: Tiny Storage Baggies

Did you know that they make tiny storage bags?  Well, they do and they are perfect for all of those laminated cardstock pieces you spent hours cutting out.

These baggies are about 2 X 3 ish and are perfect for a fraction sort game I made for my kiddos.  I think I paid $4.00 for a pack of 100.   Great for centers and stations in the classroom!

These baggies are about 2 X 3 ish and are perfect for a fraction sort game I made for my kiddos. I think I paid $4.00 for a pack of 100. Great for centers and stations in the classroom!

I discovered these earlier in the year when I was picking up craft supplies for our holiday ornaments and needed something for storing sequins.  It dawned on me that these would be perfect for our science and math sorts and cutups…so I bought a few.  They are the bombdiggity because:

1–They don’t take up much space.  I hate putting cards in baggies that are too big.  They flop around, get bent up, and storing a few sets takes up more space than it should.

2–They are cute.  I’m not much for cute most days, but I do find these tiny little bags to be quite adorable!

3–They are cheap and easy to find.  You can get about 100 of them for less than $5.00 at most craft stores.  I usually shop Hobby Lobby, but Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics probably sell them, too.

@thepensivesloth small ziplock baggies for storing classroom games

I placed them next to a pencil so you could see the approximate size. I think these are about 4 X 6. Because the cards don’t have lots of room to ‘swim’ around in the bag, they seem to last longer without getting bent up.

@thepensivesloth mini storage bags for classroom stations and centers

Seriously. You have to try these! My next project is to organize my games into a binder and these will fit perfectly…Perhaps this summer?

These are a MUST HAVE if you use teacher-made materials, centers, or stations in your classroom or if you are a Teachers Pay Teachers junkie like me!


–The Pensive Sloth


#thepensivesloth #teacherproblems meme #teacherhumor ecard covering walls staar

Anchor Chart Attack

OK, so if you live in Texas or another state with a big test…basically anywhere in the US…you know the challenge that anchor charts present.  I love anchor charts!  My students use them.  I don’t spend a ton of time making them pretty, but rather focus on making them meaningful for my kiddos because we create them together.  My challenge is where to put them?  I am self-contained, so I have anchor charts everywhere about everything.  Other than anchor chart overload and running out of space, when the big test comes it all has to come down or be covered.

I am trying something new this year.  I bought a few command hooks, some colorful dollar store clips, and grabbed a few plastic hangers and voila!  My anchor charts are now removable.  I could only get back far enough to see part of the wall where they are hanging, so I’m sorry about the picture.  I’ll work on getting a better one up soon.  Actually, they are hanging on cabinets above student lockers. It’s not perfect, but it should help significantly with hiding all of the learning and help before the big test!

See for yourself:

I Escaped the Zoo Cage!

I read a blog post earlier this week by Common Core Galore and More! and it was hilarious.  You should read it.  It gives a very honest look at one teacher’s perspective of centers from the “zoo cage.”  It was as though she took a photo of my classroom when I taught first grade and wrote about it.  Spot on.  Now that I’m an intermediate grade teacher, things aren’t much different during centers.  We call them stations now.

So last week, I left the zoo cage.

If you are wondering what the zoo cage is, it is the teacher’s seat at the small group table, tucked away to the side of the room where much maneuvering is required to get out.   The problem is that the kids know you are trapped, and while the cat’s away, the mice will play…

Last week, quite by accident, things changed in my room and I escaped!  In all the hustle and bustle of teaching and meetings and trainings and tutoring and paperwork and the various other minutia that makes up a large percentage of a teacher’s job, my small group table has become a pile of projects and it just wasn’t suitable for children.  But, this was no excuse not to meet with my kiddos who needed a refresher on multiplying and dividing with decimals.  So, I moved to the rug.  With clipboards in hand, my students gathered eagerly (well, obediently) around my easel and all was right with the world!  Things weren’t perfect, but I certainly had a better position in the room.  I could see more, get up and around faster, and interact more openly with the others who were working on tech projects.

It has been over a week now, and I plan to continue my experiment and let you know how it goes.  Happy teaching!

reading groups, guided reading, guided math, math groups, small group teaching

Teach small groups somewhere other than small group table? Challenge accepted!