Third Grade Classroom Tour : Designed For Self-Directed Learning

Core inspiration third grade classroom tour

This year, I decided to make some modifications to my classroom decor, and I am thrilled to share this reveal with you all.

This post contains affiliate links for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Before I describe each area of my classroom and share links, a bit of background information about the process behind designing this classroom layout. I have been teaching for seven years, and have consistently used the same blues and greens throughout my classroom design. This is a huge money saver because I can spend a little extra on higher quality organization tools, and decor items that get reused year after year.

Those of you who have read my previous classroom tour posts will notice many of the bins and shelving units used in my first years of teaching are still used today, and have held up to the daily wear and tear of a typical third grade public school classroom (after seven years of use). When comparing my first tour to this one, a noticeable change is that I have a more cohesive look to my overall classroom design. Buying one or two quality pieces each year has finally added up to create a more unified look.

Here is a peek at my third grade classroom on the eve of the first day of school. To see what my classroom looks like when students are present daily, check out my Instagram stories. I have included Amazon affiliate links throughout this post to make it easier for you to shop for anything you’d like to incorporate into your own classroom design.


Math Workshop Corner

Core Inspiration math workshop storage corner.
Rubric drawers in IKEA Kallax storage system
Trofast drawers are the perfect place to share math games.
Ikea Trofast drawers with Math In Motion Game Cards inside
Rulers and timers for math stored in Ikea Trofast drawers
Math manipulates stored in cereal bowls

This is a high-traffic corner of the room where the bulk of the supplies used during Math Workshop are stored. These supplies include Math In Motion Game Cards, our math rubric drawers, and various manipulatives used for math games (place value blocks, snap cubes, timers, playing cards, dice, counters, rulers, etc).

Since we had a little extra cubby space, I also opted to store our homework drop boxes here. On top of this corner unit are a set of electric pencil sharpeners, and a timer used for various activities.

To create this corner nook, I set three pieces of Ikea furniture. One white Kallax Shelf and two Trofast Frames with green storage boxes. My amazingly handy brother designed a table-like surface to cover the gaps that resulted from arranging these three pieces in the corner. He also added backing to the Kallax Shelf so our math supplies wouldn’t fall out the back.

The walls of this corner are covered with Pacon’s Rich Blue Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper, framed by Creative Teaching Press’ Safari Leaves Border overlayed on top of their Ombre Lime Green Scallops Border.

The drawers below make it easy for students to self-assess their work when they turn it in. In third grade, we use these drawers to submit our Problem Solving Task Cards for review. To learn more about how assess students during Math Workshop, click here.

The top drawer of the unit below contains my teacher copy of everything my students have inside their desks. This is especially handy at the beginning of the year when I am modeling new routines and expectations. The lower drawers contain Math In Motion Games used for the hands-on rotation of Math Workshop.

Here is a closer look at the way math games and game supplies are stored. You can click the following links to find my favorite rulers, timers, stop watches, and durable playing card storage boxes.

Our smaller manipulatives are stored in cereal bowls, making them easy to grab and stash away each day. You can find my favorite foam dice, foam counters, and double dice with these links.


Class Couch

Consistent schedule displayed on classroom board.

Our class couch sits beneath our schedule board. This is also the whiteboard where our M.A.T.H. Workshop rotation information will displayed later in the year. I always hold off on displaying most of our anchor charts, reference posters, and tools until I introduce them to my students when learning the corresponding routines. I find displaying these resources as we learn about them, or creating them together makes it easier for my students to navigate the classroom, and use these important tools more independently.

Above the board are sign language hand signals that help students communicate the information they want to share in class. These signals are much more specific than a general raised hand, allowing me to call on students who are ready to share the most relevant information. Here is the meaning of each signal:

  • I represents “I have a question.”
  • A represents “I have an answer.”
  • C represents “I have a comment.”
  • R represents “I need to use the restroom.”

The couch itself is a Kallax shelf from Ikea. They no longer sell the five cubby unit I have, but they do have a four cubby unit. It is topped with a foam cushion designed by my mom, and four throw pillows from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Two are Jordan Turquoise Outdoor Throw Pillows, and two are Resort Peacock Outdoor Throw Pillows. I always opt for outdoor fabric because it doesn’t fade as quickly, and washes easily.

Each cubby has a plastic box drawer specifically designed for the Kallax system. Again, Ikea seems to have discontinued this, but here is something similar. Three of these drawers are filled with student headphones (brought from home), which we use with our Chromebooks. We store them in plastic zip lock bags and keep them tucked away in these drawers so our desks aren’t cluttered. The other two drawers are used for flexible storage based on random needs or projects we work on throughout the school year.

Other items pictured in couch area:

Supply Corner

Classroom corner with wide drawers for projects and deep drawers for extra art supplies.
The lantern allows students to share important information about what happened at recess and lunch without interrupting class time

This corner of the room has a compilation of student and teacher supplies. The bulletin board behind these drawers will be a display for the class rules we write together during the first weeks of school using the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning.

The wall in this corner is covered with Pacon’s Teal Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper, framed by Creative Teaching Press’ Safari Jumbo Leaves Border overlayed on top of their Ombre Turquoise Scallops Border. The tree decal, along with all others displayed around the room is an Alpine Pine Tree decal from Wallums.

Both drawers are part of Ikea’s Alex system. The lower set of drawers is used mainly for project based learning (PBL) storage. The width of these drawers makes it easy to store large pieces of work without pages getting folded or wrinkled.

The taller drawer unit has extra supplies, our magnetic schedule cards, and our lost and found. Any time a student finds a stray supply on the floor without an owner, they add it to our lost and found, which is found in the fourth drawer…or as we call it “drawer four”.

I have covered the top of the lower drawer unit with Brewster Peel and Stick Wallpaper to cover some scratches. In the corner is our lantern, which you can learn more about here.


Student Work Wall & Flexible GroupS space

Core inspiration classroom back left corner
A calm corner of the classroom
Carson Dells leave cutout name tags for displaying work on the wall of your classroom

My small group area is home to this year’s new classroom addition…a beautiful white table from Ikea. I wanted to change the dynamic of this space to make it more collaborative. My old kidney-shaped table felt more traditional, and I found my students looking to me as the only teacher in the room when we worked there.

As we all know, our classrooms are filled with teachers, and I want our learning spaces to reflect that idea. This oval-shaped table makes it easy for us all to sit in a more collaborative way during small group instruction. Each student uses a Marius stool from Ikea, and I sit in a chair from The Container Store (not currently available). I still like to keep my own designated chair to cut down on contact with germs as much as possible

Behind our table is our student work wall, which has the same design as the previous corner. You will notice I have only used two shades of bulletin board paper in the room to create a more calm and cohesive environment. Once again, I used Pacon’s Teal Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper, framed by Creative Teaching Press’ Safari Jumbo Leaves Border overlayed on top of their Ombre Turquoise Scallops Border. At the base of the display, I added a diecut grass border.

To the right of our small group table is a storage tower from The Container Store. This is where I store supplies for differentiated instruction. It is also a safe spot for our smaller timer and electric stapler, and a handy spot to store supplies I need close at hand.

The side of this cabinet is an eye sore, so it is covered with the same Brewster Peel and Stick Wallpaper used in the supply corner. This Dr. Seuss- inspired print from The Bears Design Etsy shop was the inspiration piece for my entire mountain classroom design this year.

Each student has a spot on the wall made with a square piece of  scrapbooking paper, and a name label written on a leaf accent


Supply Cabinet

The large supply cabinet at the back of the classroom is used for two purposes. The lower half of the cabinet is another go-to spot for students to independently gather the supplies they need throughout the day. This is where we store lap desks for flexible seating, more art supplies, privacy shields for students who like to create a more secluded work space, and various types of paper.

The upper half of the cabinet is where I store supplies that are used less frequently, and where I keep math manipulatives for upcoming units. This supply cabinet is kept tidy with y-weave storage baskets from Target, and labeled with my Editable Mountain Themed Labeling Kit.


Job Board

Core Inspiration classroom job bard with library pockets
Classroom job board with job cards

Classroom jobs are a foundational part of our self-directed learning environment. In our third grade classroom, we have over thirty jobs that students complete on a daily basis. Students apply for jobs, and get paid for the work they do each week. Their salary can be saved, or used to buy various class passes collectively created at the beginning of the school year. To learn more about our classroom economy, read this post.

Each job has a card that reminds students how to properly perform their job. Once a student is hired, the job card gets tucked in their job pocket. To create these pockets, I used Carson Dellosa Bubbly Blues Library Pockets and used my Editable Mountain Themed Labeling Kit to print mini labels with each student’s name. I laminated the pockets and the Ombre Turquoise Scallops Border because this cabinet door is opened so frequently, and I want everything to withstand the wear-and-tear of the school year.

If you are interested in trying these class jobs in your own classroom, you can grab my editable job cards for free here. You can use these links to find my favorite laminator and the durable laminating pouches I used for the job pockets.


Task Card Board

Math task cards are used daily during M.A.T.H. Workshop as part of the “At Your Seat” rotation. This board keeps our task cards organized and easy to access. For every math unit, I have created three types of task cards:

  • Making Meaning Tasks, which require students to apply third grade math concepts to solve complex word problems.
  • Challenge Tasks, which are designed to provide enrichment opportunities to students who have mastered the math concepts introduced during each unit. Each challenge task requires critical thinking and the ability to apply known skills to solve more advanced and complex situations.
  • Transfer Tasks, designed to assess student understanding. Each of these higher-order tasks requires students to evaluate, design, analyze, make connections, or find patterns while problem solving.
Core Inspiration Third Grade Math Workshop Task Card Board
Close up look at task card pockets

I do not display transfer tasks because I use them as formative assessments at the end of each unit. 

Each pocket is a folded piece of laminated cardstock paper which is stapled to create the perfect little pocket for these cards. The headings shown are not included with my task card collections on TPT as they were created to align with our district initiatives, and focus on using mastery levels for standards based grading.


Back Counter

Weekly work folder file bin

Beautiful classroom sink areaOur back counter is another flexible use space in the classroom. It is often a place where art supplies are arranged for student use, and where our weekly work folders are assembled by parent volunteers. 

Students also love using this space as a standing desk-style workspace. I have added a few decorative accents to the area and have continued the use of Pacon’s Teal Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper framed by Creative Teaching Press’ Ombre Lime Green Scallops Border. I don’t hang anything in the space throughout the year because many of my students benefit from the “blank visual space” to help boost their focus.

Next to the sink, I also added a mirror to brighten the space and give students a place where they can see themselves smile and check their teeth for spinach. 🙂


Classroom Library

Really Good Stuff book and magazine bins are perfect for storing picture books in your classroom library

Ikea kallax shelf with Core Inspiration colorful image-rich classroom library labels
Target RE bins with Core Inspiration colorful image-rich classroom library labels

Target RE bins with Core Inspiration colorful image-rich classroom library labels

Classroom library and read aloud chair

Our ever-growing library is stocked with fresh books that reflect the interests of my students thanks to the generous Scholastic Book Clubs points system. I have used my Editable Classroom Library Labeling Kit to fully label my library by genre & topic. My goal this year is to add leveling labels to each book for my personal reference. These are also included in the labeling kit.  

Each book is labeled with a colorful sticker label that matches the colorful label on each book bin (for nonfiction books and picture books) or shelf (for chapter books). I attach all my labels using this blue painters tape…it lasts all year long.

I have used Green Neon and Blue Neon Magazine Holders by Really Good Stuff to organize most of the books in the built-in cubbies. I love using the window sill to display my seasonal teacher favorites. Here, you can see some of my top read alouds for the back to school season

We needed more storage space for our library corner, so I use this Kallax shelf from Ikea to organize more of our chapter books by series, genre, and author.

On the library counter, I have a few bins from Target which have since been discontinued. If ever I need to replace these sturdy bins, I would opt for the same y-weave baskets I use in my back supply cabinet.

The walls in the classroom library have the same design as those on the opposite side of the front of the room to create visual harmony. Therefore, I used Pacon’s Rich Blue Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper, framed by Creative Teaching Press’ Safari Leaves Border overlayed on top of their Ombre Lime Green Scallops Border

Near the library corner is our read aloud chair, where I sit for all our classroom read alouds. Next to our chair is another display area for my seasonal read aloud favorites, and books I like to bring to students’ attention based on our current reading unit of study. Both the chair and the table are used throughout the day as flexible seating spaces. 


Group Stations

Core Inspiration station for student supplies.

For the seventh year in a row, these sturdy white Kallax Shelves are working perfectly to minimize desk clutter. Students keep their books and shared art supplies organized in this space. Below is a detailed look at what’s stored at each group station.

Book bins

Iris small open top file boxes make the perfect student book bins.

Last year I switched from cardboard book boxes, which had to be replaced each year to plastic book boxes, which still look like new in year two. These Iris Small Open Top Magazine Files are my new favorite storage tool.

Students use these book bins during reading workshop (we use the Lucy Caulkins workshop curriculum for reading and writing). They store three classroom library books in their bin and a reading toolkit, which includes post it notes, a reading notebook, and a pencil.

Tidy up toolS

Tidy up tools bin.

At the end of the day, many of our class jobs require dusting to cut back on allergens in the room. We store these Fuzzy Wuzzy Microfiber Mitts around the room inside Green Neon Magazine Holders by Really Good Stuff to make cleaning quick and easy.

Shared supply boxes

Groups can share classroom supplies using Iris pencil boxes.

Reducing desk clutter helps my students make more efficient transitions throughout the day, so we store our frequently used art supplies (markers, colored pencils, crayons, and scissors) in these Iris Pencil Boxes.


Carpet Area

Bamboo teaching easel with RESPECT classroom management poster on display.

At the front of our classroom is our carpet area. This is yet another flexible space throughout the day. In the morning, we gather here for morning meetings. At the beginning of M.A.T.H. Workshop, reading workshop, and writing workshop, students get a close seat where they can focus for our mini lessons. During self-directed learning times throughout the day, students use this space to apply their learning in a flexible seating style.

Our Bamboo Teaching Easel by Copernicus is often found in this space with the latest anchor charts from our mini lessons. It is easy to wheel back and forth between our mini lesson space to our small group collaboration area at the back of the room.


Teacher Cabinet

Teacher classroom cabinet organization
Teacher classroom cabinet organization
Teacher classroom cabinet organization
Teacher classroom cabinet organization
Teacher classroom cabinet organization
Teacher classroom cabinet organization

The final space I’d like to share with you is my teacher cabinet. This is where I store most of what I need to stay organized for instruction throughout the week. Most of the bins in this cabinet are labeled using my Editable Mountain Themed Labeling Kit, with the exception of the labels on the math unit enrichment bins, which are a part of my Third Grade Math Enrichment Year Long Bundle.

On the top shelf are my monthly bins where I store seasonal project samples, and pre-prepped resources used throughout the year.

On the second shelf are all my math unit enrichment resources. Each bin includes Math In Motion Games, Problem Solving Task Cards, and Project Based Learning Guides for each math unit. These second and third grade resources are available for purchase in my TPT store, but can also be purchased as a year-long bundle for 20% off the regular price.

The third shelf is where I organize my needs for the current week and month. My weekly activities are stored in these magazine files. I also store the current monthly bin on this shelf for easy access.

On the fourth shelf, I have two drawer units. One is where I tuck papers for filing, copying, and grading. The other is where I store ideas for upcoming math, reading, and writing units. Having a drawer for each of these reduces paper clutter and visual noise around the classroom.

The bottom shelf, has a large bin for completely random odds and ends and our prize box, which is used as part of our classroom economy. I don’t spend money on prizes…instead I add books sent by Scholastic Book Clubs and any random swag I get at trainings and conferences.


Interested In Seeing More?

If you are interested in seeing how my classroom space is utilized throughout the school year, be sure to follow me on Instagram for frequent Instagram stories

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87 Responses

  1. How do you pay for all of this? It is stunning, but seriously, my salary doesn’t begin to aford me this type of decor.

    1. Hi Lynnette, it has taken several years to build this collection of furniture. I buy one item each year and teach my students how to take really really good care of it so it lasts for years to come. 🙂 They take a lot of pride in having a learning environment that they know is special and are so careful with everything.
      Warmly,
      Laura

      1. I’m really looking forward to these labels for next years class if they become available! 🙂 Everything is so beautiful!

          1. Hi, Laura! I’m also very interested in the circle forest labels. Any chance they are available yet? Also, I’m wondering where you get the wood for the mountains? Any idea how thin it is? Thanks a bunch!
            Love, love, love your room!

          2. Hi Angela,
            I recently uploaded the forest/mountain labels this week. 🙂 You can find them here. The wood is called hardboard. I used the 1/8 inch thick sheets.
            Warmly,
            Laura

  2. I would love to be a student in this classroom. As a child in the ’50s, I longed for “art’ and something pretty to look at. All I recall are the mandatory cursive script across the top of the chalkboard and a picture of George Washington. I once used red and pink construction paper together to make a May basket, and admired my combination only to be told by Miss S. that it was a mis-match and I had to do it over with more matching colors. I think this classroom speaks so highly of your ability to convey value and self-respect to students. I admire your ability to help them care for nice things you have provided — that in itself is going to serve them well in the future. They feel worthwhile and valued to be in such a fabulous environment. Sure, I learned a lot in grade school and many things were great — but this is better. This is so encouraging to me to hear and read about, now many years after my retirement as an educator! Thank you for doing this and posting.

    1. Thank you Mary! They are thin pieces of wood that I draw triangles on, cut them with a circular saw, are painted with semi-goss paint. They are attached to the bulletin board with small nails and to the wall with command strips so the paint isn’t damaged when I eventually take them down one day.
      Warmly,
      Laura

      1. Hey! I love your room and the mountains! What nails did you use and wood and where did you get them? Thanks!
        Angela

  3. Where do you get all of your plants? I have been looking to add some greenery to my classroom but I kill everything!

    1. Hi Megan, most of my plants are fake, and I get them from Ikea. I have one living plant (the one by the read aloud chair) and I always go for plants with wide leaves because they survive much longer. 🙂
      Warmly,
      Laura

  4. Laura~
    Your classroom not only exemplifies a positive energy, but it also demonstrates such a clear purpose for learning.
    Thank you for sharing your hard work! It’s truly awesome!
    Warm Regards,
    Jen

  5. I am in LOVE with your room!! I love the organization and the flow! I came into a VERY unorganized and scattered room. Do you have any suggestions on how to create organization and flow?

    1. Thank you Breetta! My suggestions are to start with eliminating anything that doesn’t add to the productivity and success of students. If you have items or resources in your room/cabinets that you haven’t used in the past two years, you probably need to donate to someone who will use them. Also try tucking away your teacher materials as much as possible – for the most part, our TEs and planning materials only need to be out when we are planning and shouldn’t clutter your students’ space. Once you have the students’ essentials, think about the flow of each part of your day. Are the materials students will need easy for them to access without traffic jams or the need for an adult? After you have your students’ materials in place, you can add decorative touches…but keep in mind, over-decorated walls are a huge distraction for most learners. Think of ways to make you space feel inviting but also leave “blank space” where learners can find a place to think clearly.
      I hope this is helpful.
      Warmly,
      Laura

      1. Thank you so much!! one other question I wanted to ask was, how do you prepare for a sub? do you have a certain binder or sub paper that you use?

        1. You’re welcome! 🙂 When prepping for a sub, I have a sub plan template I use. Due to the fact that I mostly use the workshop approach to teaching throughout the day, my students are able to keep things running smoothly while I’m out while the sub keeps them safe and answers any questions they may have. I am happy to share my sub planning routine on Instagram stories if that is helpful. Let me know if you are interested in that.
          Warmly,
          Laura

          1. I would love to see your sub prepping on Instagram. Right when I saw this post I followed you. I watch your stories regularly to get ideas! Thank you so much!

  6. Hi Laura,
    I’m a teacher in Massachusetts. I have been teaching for 26 years (23 of them in 4th grade) and have hit a wall until now. I will be teaching 2nd grade next year because I felt I needed a change. I started researching things about teaching 2nd grade online and came across your blog and resources on TpT. I want you to know that you have inspired me to continue on with a fresh new look to the future of my career and the education of my students. I am so energized to begin a new chapter of my teaching now. This is just what I needed for my soul. You are very talented in what you do! Thank you for your wonderful ideas and inspiration!
    On a side note: I’m purchasing your classroom labels but they get printed on copy paper. How do you get your labels to look so flat and sturdy? Do you attach them to a sturdier material first? An adhesive surface perhaps? Please advise. 🙂

    1. Hi Pam,
      Thank you for taking time to share your words of gratitude. I am so happy to hear you have found inspiration. 🙂 When I print labels, I print on cardstock and then laminate them. 🙂 Hope this helps as you label your second grade room!
      Warmly,
      Laura

  7. I LOVE the personalized labels on the student book bins with the pine trees. Are these sold in your store? I am having trouble finding them.

  8. Your classroom is beautiful! I’m wondering about your monthly bins. Are they made for hanging files? If not, how do you store your materials in them?
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you Jenna. The monthly bins have hanging files in them with art project and PBL samples. Most of my samples have to be folded to fit in the bins because projects are typically done on larger paper…but saving them from year to year saves me time. 🙂
      Warmly,
      Laura

  9. Thank you Laura! I am moving to fourth grade with my current students, and wanted a change for everyone. We are going to have a great year next year with all these wonderful organizational ideas and soft calm colors.
    Brenda

  10. I love your decor! It has totally inspired me to change my classroom theme. Where did you get the trees? I love that they are separated and I’m trying to do something like that for my birthday wall.

  11. Laura, I really like your sign language signals for questions, etc. Can you tell me where you got the drawings for each sign? Did you draw them yourself?