The author of this blog post on classroom management, Annie Alcott, was a Bay Area teacher for 30 years. She taught at the K-3 level and as a teacher educator at UC Berkeley.
The key to classroom management is (drumroll please): relationships. Your relationship with your class, your relationship with individual students, and students’ relationships with each other.
The first week of school, and beyond, is all about instilling in kids a true sense of belonging so these relationships can develop in healthy, authentic, and thoughtful ways. In this weird and never-ending situation we call “school during the COVID-19 pandemic,” finding multi-layered strategies for kids to feel a strong sense of connection in a well-structured learning environment is more important than ever.
If you’re looking for classroom management ideas for the 2022/2023 school year, read my tips and activities to help you get started.
Looking for school supplies to help with classroom management? Register on AdoptAClassroom.org to raise donations for the classroom resources you need.
Classroom Set-Up Tips
1. Form Follows Function
As you get started with the seemingly endless tasks required to get your classroom ready, take a moment to consider the very important role of the space. This environment is where all the year’s action – learning, drama, relationships, and emotion – takes place. Think of your classroom as a second teacher.
There is no single “right way” to set up your classroom. You are the architect of your space. And with all things architectural, it is always better to start with function and the form will follow. This means thinking about how you want things to work, how you want people to interact in the space, and trusting that the arrangement of the things (desks, rug, books, shelves, etc.), the aesthetic will follow.
Some people begin by making a map, some people peek into other classrooms, and some just start pushing furniture around – do what works for you!
- Traffic flow
- A gathering place
- Seating- consider table groups of 2-4 (or more) kids at each. Budget permitting, take the plunge into flexible seating.
- Carving out a spot for kids to have a little alone time – doesn’t need to be big.
- YOUR space – maybe a traditional teacher’s desk or maybe a table, counter, or a set of shelves.
Remember: Do what works for you and remember you can change things up as the year(s) go by!
2. Less is More
You do not need to have everything perfectly set up on the first day. Let me repeat that. You do not need to have everything perfectly set up on the first day.
You want your classroom to be inviting and ready for whatever you have planned for the first week but give yourself permission to let the space evolve. You will have the whole year to get to know your kids and figure out how best to meet their needs with your physical space.
The room will fill up with color and beauty as the kids create it – trust me. For instance, you don’t need to have perfect and beautiful bulletin boards before the kids arrive. There will be time for that and when the kids participate in their creation, bulletin boards are learning tools, not just decoration.
3. Teacher Time
Finally, make time to take a walk, grab coffee with a colleague, and get outside even for 10 minutes during the first couple of weeks of school. If it means not copying something or not hanging kids’ work right away, so be it!
Your mental health is also important for classroom management. Truly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Classroom Management Activities
Here are a few specific tools for classroom management to use and first-day lessons to try.
Names Everywhere (K-5)
- Print kids’ names on cubbies, coat hooks, book boxes, notebooks, popsicle sticks, family communication folders, workbooks, job and seating charts, etc.
- If you are in a primary classroom, whether you handwrite names or use computer-made labels, choose your font carefully. The letters “a” and “g” can be tricky for developing readers to recognize. Comic Sans, Poppin, and Quicksand are a few to try!
- Find out what your students like to be called before you make the labels permanent and/or be ready to change their names. You might find out that Charlotte goes by Charlie or that Daniel really wants to be called by his Korean name Ji-Hoon. Ask former teachers or if you get the names ahead of time, send out a questionnaire to families.
Pictures on Chairs
- During the first week take a photo of each student. (Or get a kid to do it!)
- Get them printed by using a photo/color printer or better yet online photo printing service. I use the pharmacy I pass on my way to school. I suggest wallet-size prints because you get four pictures to use throughout the year. They’ll come in handy.
- Use strong, clear packing tape to put each kid’s photo on the back of their chair. When it comes time to change desks/tables, teach them to safely carry their chair with them.
Color Detectives Activity (K-3)
- Cut out squares from various colors of construction paper.
- Glue one colored square in the top left-hand corner of 9×12” white construction paper.
- Make one for each student in your class. Some kids will have the same color – no problem!
- Put each paper on a clipboard if you have them and if you want to.
- Tell the kids that their job will be to search the classroom for things that are the color on their paper. When they find something they should draw it. Even starting in kindergarten, I ask kids to label it the best they can but not to worry about spelling. Even a first letter is great. Keep the tone light – it should be fun and low-stress.
- Set kids to roam with a pencil and their paper. Watch ‘em carefully – you’ll learn a lot about your students’ confidence, independence, literacy, social interaction, etc.
- After each kid has something on the page (some will have one drawing or a letter, some may have many objects and words), gather the kids on the rug to share.
- Model exactly what to say to lower that anxiety filter… I found a (color) (object). “I found a brown block.” “I found a pink eraser.”
- I often keep these papers as a first-day assessment.
- For older grades, you could do a room scavenger hunt. It will go a long way in helping them feel comfortable in the space as a shared space that belongs to all of them and to you.
Human Bingo (K-5)
- Download the activity here or design your own. It is okay to have a few more or fewer squares than students. I’d do fewer for kindergarten and more for 1st-5th.
- Kids will only need a pencil and bingo paper, and a clipboard if you like.
- The object of the game is to get kids to sign their names on your paper.
- Each kid can sign a paper only once.
- Kids can sign their own papers once, too.
- Project the bingo board on a screen. Read through the various boxes, asking kids to raise their hands or do a thumbs up if the statement is true for them. “I went to a birthday party this summer.” Thumb up! (This is a good rehearsal for the actual game – kids will figure out which boxes they can sign.)
- Model how to ask a question based on each box. “Do you play video games?”
- The beauty of this activity is that students do not need to read or speak a lot of English to participate because of the pictures and the modeling. When the activity gets started, stick close to your English learners or children who seem reluctant to engage. Helping them find boxes they can sign on classmates’ papers will go a long way in giving them the confidence to participate.
- At the end, gather the group back together to find out what they learned from each other. This is a good opportunity to practice using specific sentence starters which will lower first-day anxiety and also give your ELLs access to the sharing. “I learned Annie made a new friend.” For further engagement during sharing, have kids do a silent signal (like thumbs up) if they learned the same thing.
If you’re a PreK-12 teacher in need of school supplies for classroom management or any school supplies, register on AdoptAClassroom.org to fundraise for what your classroom needs.