Preparation

Problem: What do you do with the annoying pole in your classroom that is always in the way? Also, it is badly in need of a fresh coat of paint because you once had a student who had a habit of chewing on it.

Solution: You turn it into a tree, of course!

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I saw this idea online several years ago and always thought it would be fun to try, but it looked like too much work. Plus I was afraid I would spend lots of time on it and not even like the results. My tastes in classroom décor are generally fairly simple, besides the fact that my small classroom doesn’t leave much room for extras. But because the pole was in the way anyhow, and the tree idea wouldn’t go away, I decided to tackle it this year.

It turned out to be simpler than I thought it would be. Ten large sheets of laminated brown construction paper, cheap greenery from Wal-mart, lots of masking tape, and about an hour of my time was all it took. Now we’ll see how long it lasts. I can already see my boys trying to climb it before I ever have a chance to tell them not to (because, when you are an eight-year-old boy, what else could a tree possibly be for?).

On another note, let me show you a few practical little things that I used for the first time last year. Since they worked so well, I am using them again this year. It’s amazing what you can discover after years of teaching—simple little things that make you ask, “Why didn’t I try this twelve years ago?”

Lost and Found Box

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We have a school-wide lost and found box in a storage closet, but for some reason I had never thought of having a classroom lost and found until I saw the idea on a teacher blog last year. An elementary classroom generates an astonishing number of stray pencils, crayons, and other paraphernalia. These things used to clutter my desk, and it was hard to teach students not to interrupt class with, “Whose marker is this? I found it on the floor.” Now I teach them to wait until the next break or recess and then put the object in the box. Also when something is lost, we can always check the lost and found first. There’s usually a pretty good chance the lost item will be in there.

“Ketchup” Chart

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The “ketchup” chart is useful when students need to catch up on missing work. I never had a good system for this before. Then at the end of the quarter it was always a headache to chase after missing assignments that I needed to grade before I could finish doing report cards. This way whenever a student has incomplete homework, has corrections to do, or has missing assignments because of an absence, the page numbers all go on the chart immediately (written with a dry-erase marker). If a student has anything beside their name on the ketchup chart, they may not do any free time activities until that work is completed. As soon as the work is handed in, and I have checked it, they may erase the assignment.

Desk Markings

The desks in my classroom migrate everywhere if I do not have some sort of markings on the floor to show where they should be. I do not want permanent markings, however, because I want to be able to change the desk arrangement depending on the number of students I have. Before last year, I had tried all sorts of things but had not found anything that would last all year without being permanent. But I finally found the solution: A small sticker with several staples punched through it into the carpet. Stickers alone soon wear off. The staples kept the stickers there for the entire school year, but in the end it was easy to remove both the stickers and staples, and they left no lasting marks.

So I stapled my stickers to the floor today and put my desks in nice rows. Tomorrow this space will be inhabited by eighteen eager third graders. New school year, here we come!

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