As teachers, we rarely get to take a close look at other classroom environments, especially ones in other schools. In order to get an idea of what other teachers are doing, you need to get out there and visit other schools in your district. When I was a substitute teacher, I got to do exactly that. I took notes, and made comments in my journal regarding writing walls, math bulletin boards, white board set ups, libraries, and classroom discipline plans. I compared what the schools located in high income areas with a large influx of money, were doing in contrast to ones in low income areas that were on the brink of failure. What I found were great ideas in all sorts of different places. Below are a few ideas that I think can really spice up a classroom environment.
Setting Up a Reading Tree
In one classroom I visited there was a large tree standing tall in the corner, hanging over the reading area. It provided a fun place for students to get away from the world and read. Some teachers provide students with earplugs for silent reading. This is a good way to help students who get distracted easily by others.
The tree was bare at the beginning of the school year, and a leaf was added as students read a new book. Students wrote the title of the book on the front of the leaf; this was a way for students to mark their reading progress. As an extension, you could have your students write a review of the book on the back of the leaves recommending it, or not, and providing a short synopsis of the story.
I think you will find that your students will enjoy the thrill of adding new leaves and decorating the tree. They will also be inspired by the visual representation of the books they have collectively read.
Putting Some Magic in Writing
Writing Wizards was the title I saw on one particular bulletin wall. The teacher made an effort to make writing magical for kids. The board was used to display their work, and also to provide information. There was a dead word poster on which the teacher listed words that were overused or boring and dry, such as good, bad, and great. On the other side of the poster, the teacher had listed exciting, magical words that could be used instead. As the year went on, students added new words to the wall and were able to see their progress as writers and creative thinkers.
Take Kindergarteners on a Windy Voyage
Here's how a windy voyage works. A teacher creates a path on the floor composed of letters and blends. The path starts at the front door and wraps around the desks, and continues on its way through the classroom ending at the spot students store their backpacks. As students walk along the path they say each letter or blend out loud. This is a fantastic way to get students' brains warmed up in the morning and to help them practice letter and sound recognition.
Putting Together a Museum Gallery
In one classroom there was a bulletin board called the Museum Gallery devoted to students' artwork. Underneath each piece of artwork was a description and a note about the author. There are many ways to generate artwork for this board, here is one suggestion.
A great way to have students work together is to create a class mosaic. Take an image of a famous painting and cut it into as many squares as you have students in the class. Give each student a small square and a big piece of blank paper. Have them duplicate the image on the tile using magazine cut outs, tissue paper, or colored construction paper. Once each square is complete, have students put the puzzle together to create a large mosaic depicting the famous painting you selected.