1. Home for everything: Have a clearly marked home for everything in your classroom. Spend time in making it look presentable so you feel happy, comfortable, and proud of the space.
2. Colors and Numbers: Color code and number your items. Have your students learn the color coding/numbering system or, depending upon their age, have them help you. I have four large pillars in my classroom. These are decorated with different colors and numbers. This allows me to have students meet in groups by number or color and they know where to go. I also number students' binders and expect them to return their binders back to their designated shelf in number order. Their numbers also correlate with their seating charts. I like to keep the same number throughout the year so students have a clear space/home every time they come to my classroom. However, I mix students up a lot in a variety of group work and partner work and they physically pick new areas to work in on a regular basis.
3. Accessibility: All materials need to be clearly labeled and easily accessible for students. Items that are only for you, the teacher, should be out of the reach or placed in a secure place. If your supplies are next to student supplies, don't be surprised if students use your personal supplies. Also, make sure that there are no blind spots in your classroom. Organize the desks/furniture in a way that you can see the whole room and you can easily move around the classroom. Finally, only have things out that you don't mind students touching or interacting with. I wouldn't have rulers available unless an activity calls for them. This eliminates the "ow, so-and-so hit me with a ruler" - no ruler, no hitting with a ruler!
4. Defined place for each student: Every student should have a clearly marked spot in the classroom - a place they can call their own - whether it's their own desk, their own cubby and/or their own hook for elementary students or their own consistent place to sit for middle/high school students. If you have students come to the carpet as well as their own desk - provide them with a spot on the carpet as well. Knowing that every activity and lesson will provide them with a space they can call their own is comforting and extremely needed for some students! Students crave predictability and it helps everyone to know that a space is reserved just for them. If a student arrives late, their spot is waiting for them. This sends a signal that they are missed. Imagine the signal it sends when a student arrives late and the carpet seems full and now students have to adjust to allow the other student a place to fit. If you choose to have students choose their own seat, some students will inevitably feel left out and it will encourage more of a social experience. Some will gravitate towards the back and corners, hoping to be invisible. Some will look uncertain of where to sit and where they will feel safe. Enough social and emotional elements are happening during the school day. Provide a seating chart, that you can always change if a student speaks to you about it or if you notice that some seat assignments aren't helping the students do their best work.
5. Lighting/Accessories: Invest in lighting and comfortable furniture that make the classroom space feel more inviting and less sterile! This makes a huge difference! I like the clip on lights you can clip onto bulletin boards, floor lamps in corners of rooms, and table lamps in corners of the rooms. If you can invest in lighting or even a dimmer switch, go for it! Research indicates that we tend to be more creative in a room that isn't as bright. I avoid florescent lights like the plague (which means, they are mostly off in my classroom). For those who've experienced wedding planning, spend as much time thinking about your classroom design as you may have thought about for your own wedding.
6. Displays: Post information/art work at students' eye level - be careful of posting things too high that you really want your students to see and interact with. Try to post things created BY, WITH, and FOR your students - make it belong to the classroom. Make the displays neat, clean, and don't feel the need to fill up the walls. Too much can also be distracting to the students.
7. Organization Checks: Encourage your students to be organized with their materials and conduct regular checks to help them keep their areas neat and tidy.
8. Material Managers: Have students take on the job of material manager, help them keep their areas clean and organized.
9. Play Music: Play a song during set-up of activities that require certain materials and during clean-up to make the process more enjoyable - it can also act as the time limit to get the room set and cleaned! I play music at the beginning of many of my classes as we start with a meditation. This music is calm and it magically makes the kids act as if they're entering a zen sanctuary. Without the music it feels like another regular classroom. It is important to model and demonstrate your expectations before students know what to do in response to the music you play!
10. Teacher Daily Closing Procedure: After the students are gone, spend the last 30 minutes of each day closing out your classroom/day. Spend 10-15 minutes setting up for the next day (Reset your schedule, post your morning message, check that things are where they belong, set the first activity on desks if applicable). Then spend the last 10-15 minutes at your work station - reorganizing, filing, and putting things away, while also taking out anything you feel you will need.
What ideas do you have to make your classroom cozy and organized?