5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Tiny Classroom

Thursday 15 August 2019

Have you ever had to teach in a super small classroom? In my first year of teaching, that was exactly what happened. My very first classroom actually used to be a storage closet for PE equipment (not even joking) and was eventually expanded a bit so that it could be converted into a classroom. I only had six students that year (not joking about that either), so we had no trouble fitting in the space, and I also didn't have that much stuff because it was only my first year of teaching.

Fast forward four years, two of them being in a large room, and I found out I was going back to the #tinyclassroomlife, this time to another small room at my school. (I don't know if tiny classrooms are a thing at any other school, but they definitely are at my school! If tiny houses are a thing now, don't you think tiny classrooms should be too? Ha!) This move wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that I had accumulated quite a bit of stuff during my two years in that large room and wasn't sure how this tiny room was going to work for me. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was up for the task. Two years after moving into that small room, I can honestly say that the transition back to #tinyclassroomlife definitely wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Today, I'm sharing five tips for getting the most out of your tiny classroom.

1. Prioritize 

This is a given when you're in a smaller space. Some bulletin boards, items, classroom spaces, etc. are more important than others. Some questions to ask yourself are: What are the non-negotiables? What can be eliminated or minimized? For me, a teacher's desk was something I could do without (more about that under the next tip!), but a large classroom library with cozy seating was a must. I also eliminated my word wall and gave each student their own personal word wall to keep in their desk. This worked super well and saved bulletin board space! 

We spend a lot of time in our classroom library every day. We go there for morning book shopping, read alouds, and read to self/read to someone time. I have no regrets about using a big chunk of my room for our library and my students love it! Some teachers prefer a smaller classroom library and that's fine too - it's all about what works best for you and your students!

2. Allow spaces to serve multiple purposes 

I alluded to this in the previous tip, but when you're working with a tiny classroom, you're forced to create spaces that serve more than one purpose. In my classroom, the library is also our whole group meeting space. I don't have room for two different carpeted areas, so the rug in our classroom library works just fine for whole group mini lessons. 

I also use my small group table as my teacher desk. Some teachers prefer to have a completely separate area for themselves, but if that's not a big deal to you, it's a great way to save on space! It was a challenge at first to keep the table from getting cluttered, but I've gotten much better about keeping things in their place and cleaning the table off before I leave each day.

This picture was taken in the middle of classroom setup, so I didn't have my stools around the table yet. But you get the idea. Having all the storage around the table also helps to prevent it from getting too cluttered. It may not be an actual teacher desk, but I was still able to add some personal touches to this area. I can't help but smile every time I see it!

3. Use wall shelves and carts for storage instead of bulky bookshelves and bins

In my current classroom, I've learned to appreciate wall shelves and rolling carts. They allow you to store so much in a tiny space! One of my favorite things about my 2016-2017 classroom was having a countertop for my paper baskets. I was so disappointed when I moved into my current classroom and realized there was no countertop. I ended up adding a long floating shelf against the wall of my classroom and it works just as well without taking up half the space of a countertop! My paper baskets sit right on top of the shelf and the area doesn't look too cluttered because it's not a bulky bookshelf or large storage unit.

Adding a floating shelf to hold my paper baskets was the perfect solution for my tiny classroom! And there's plenty of space underneath to store my students' book boxes!
I also added a wall unit (similar to a pegboard) in my teacher area for additional storage. It was the perfect storage option for my supplies, photos, decor items, and grading caddy! If you're interested in purchasing this unit for your own classroom, you can find it on Amazon here.

4. Try to only display/keep out materials that you need to access daily 

Think carefully about the materials you want to display in your classroom. Are there some you need to access all year long? Which materials do you only need at certain times of the year? When I was in a large classroom, I had tons of bookshelves and kept so many materials out all year long. One example of this is my math manipulatives. While it was nice to have them out all the time, I just didn't have the space to keep them on display in my current classroom. I decided to store them inside a cupboard in my closet and only take out the ones I'm using each week. This has worked really well and saved a lot of classroom space. I also use my closet to store monthly bins with seasonal materials and I only take those out as I need them. There are some materials that we use all the time (such as whisper phones for guided reading), and I store those items in the classroom instead of the closet.

5. Use space creatively

When you're in a small classroom, you'll be surprised at all the creative ways that you end up using the space you have! Something I've started doing is using my windows and/or blinds to hang student work, anchor charts, or reference materials. (You can see an example of this in the very first photo in this blog post.) I don't do this with all my windows, nor do I do it all year round, or it would end up looking cluttered. But if you really need to display something, it works as a short-term solution.

Other creative ways I've used my classroom space include placing student book boxes under my floating shelf, storing bins under tables, and keeping my supplies in a teacher toolbox. All of these are great space savers, whether you are in a tiny room or not!

These five principles have worked well for me over the past two years, but my classroom is still a work in progress. I usually take the summer to reflect on what is/isn't working and make the necessary changes when I return to set up. I love that we get a chance to do that every year as teachers! What are some of the ways that you maximize space in your classroom?

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