Setting up a New Classroom

30 Aug 2016

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Bare wallsBy a range of factors, two schools and five years later I have not yet managed to have my own ‘space’, a room that I, and my students, can recognise as our own. This year I am hugely grateful (ding, ding) for a permanent space that can metaphorically enact my vision, that will leave young people faint with inspiration and glowing with anticipation to learn. No pressure. This week the experiment begins: what will I do with a blank canvas?

In the spirit of procrastination that would avoid me being alone with the whispering and taunting walls (“you don’t know what you’re doing, do you!?”) I decided to do some research and seamlessly and creatively merge into this diagram.

Very interesting and clearly not designed by me.

Perhaps better to start with what I don’t want (always better to begin with the negatives). The dusty posters that stand, faded and yellow, mourning their superflousness. Gone! The barrage of student work that is covering every angle of the room, some being proudly displayed since 2009. Ruthlessly shed! The endless paper and folders, collected haphazardly in every available shelf. Destroyed!

Now comes the difficult part. Having so arrogantly wrecked havoc, what do I want? Time to think about the base function of a classroom. Surely it is simple: it is there to enthuse and excite young people about the subject. If young people are turned off from the subject by a lifeless shell then the first battle is already lost. The classroom has to scream out the value of the subject, make young people actively interested and intrigued. For me it also has to be a place of order, a place of calm – all sending subconscious messages to young people about how learning takes place.

So the priorities:

Visual Inspiration

I am interested in power of image in the classroom and how we can harness it. This will be the priority in the new space: what images are going to grab students as they enter the room, make them think, connect them with tasks. Creativity, but not too much so that it doesn’t overwhelm. Challenging! I have gone for a wall of Image Inspiration, a collection of photographs from all ‘The Lonely Planet’, all with a range of individuals or settings from around the world. If students finish work early they will use this as a junction to write from various perspectives.

Reading inspiration

The mission to have young people scornfully throwing out electronic devices to cuddle up with a novel continues. How best to harness this in a classroom? Very simply I will aim to have books everywhere, surrounding spare shelves. Then we will have a ‘What we are reading section’ (any suggestions for a better name, please help!) which documents what one member of each class is reading. This will also allow me to share with students what I am reading. This will also have images of individuals reading a range of fiction in interesting places. We will have the tiny penguin classic cards around the room. These will also be used as post cards to go home to star students’ parents at the end of each week. I have also (perhaps sadly) managed to collect a wide range of ‘I Love Reading’ mugs. These will be cunningly placed around the room to subliminally manipulate young people into picking up a book. Finally, the tables will have jazzy alliterative literary names as follows:

Table one: Dickens’ Darlings

Table two: Shakespeare’s Stars

Table three: Fitzgerald’s Family

Table four: Rowling’s Radicals

Table five: Wordsworth’s wizards

Table six: Austen’s Army

Table seven:  Burns’ Battle

Table eight: Larkin’s Lot

Clarity, cleanliness and organisation

While I appreciate this isn’t the most inspiration triplet I have ever come up with, I am a firm believer that the clarity and pride of a classroom has a profound impact on the mentality of the young people who enter it. A lack of clutter, a spacious and light environment, an easefulness of movement – all need to be central. Dynamic and engaging cannot happen without this! The first task is a morning of cleaning, time to get the room looking spotless.


Spare pens, spare books, spare rulers. I am not one for launching into impassioned and sweaty monologue rages over a pen. Provide, record, check next lesson. Pragmatism prevails here; they need to take responsibility but mistakes happen. Each of the eight tables will have a ‘Progress Pot’ (if you think this endless alliteration is getting old, imagine how they feel!). They are responsible for making sure it is full at the end of the lesson: rulers, pens, rubbers, sharpeners. One spare set of everything so there is no wasted time.

Class sections

There will be well over a hundred young people entering and exiting on a weekly basis. Each class needs a designated section for workbooks. Will aim to have this as seamless as possible!

Work of the week

A spare desk at the front of the classroom will be the Workbook champions. An individual from each class will have their workbook displayed proudly at the front of the room.

There we have it: a vision. It sounds great but the blank walls are still staring and looking at me more condescendingly than ever. Time to go design – finally I have a room of my own!


Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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