Thursday, August 22, 2019

First Day of School Activities for High School and Middle School English

First Day of School Activities for English Class

Much like students who spend more hours on the hook of an essay than they do the bulk of an essay, I often found myself with a case of English teacher writing block when it came to planning my first day of school activities. Though I had ten years (x two semesters each) of first-day experience, the back-to-school butterflies fluttered just as much on year ten as they did on year one. A lot of my anxiety came from planning a first day of school that didn't match my teaching style at all. I did what I thought I was supposed to do which was read a boring PowerPoint about myself and explain all of the rules. Nothing says, "let's make learning fun!" like rules and boring teacher facts. ;) Therefore, a couple of years ago I decided to change the path of my first day of school routine, and that has made all the difference. Instead of talking at the students, I conversed with them. Instead of telling them the rules, we made them together. Instead of pointing out the supplies, I let them discover them. 

Here are my favorite first day of school activities for high school and middle school English: 

(I personally used these as first day of school stations, but if learning stations aren't your style or can't fit with your class time, you can adjust to fit your needs) 

Use rhetoric to introduce yourself



1. Introduce yourself using rhetoric- Rhetoric is something that English teachers teach regularly, yet it might not occur to you how powerful pathos, logos, and ethos can be when it comes to introducing yourself to your students on your first day. 

While we sometimes think of rhetoric as a persuasive technique for argument and sales, I believe the art of persuasion can apply to almost anything– including the influence you have in your classroom. When you really think about it, all teaching is one big persuasive speech. We convince students to learn, we open their minds to more points of view, and we prove why what we teach matters.  While all of this will take place over the course of your class, it’s important to start your journey of influence on day one. If you can tap into all three sides of the rhetorical triangle—their hearts, their minds, and their trust--on day one, then you set yourself up to make an impact this school year. 

To do this, think about ways you can show your expertise and your heart while also making a logical case for your curriculum and classroom procedures. This part of my first day agenda only takes around five to ten minutes, and it starts by greeting each student at the door with a smile and directions for sitting so that they feel comfortable and aren't left out of the "cool table." I then take attendance with a fun attendance question to lighten the mood and begin to learn names. After this, I project a single slide that tells about my heart, my qualifications, and my curriculum. I have found that the less time I spend in front of the room on the first day, the better it is for both my students and my nerves. 

You can find the exact editable PowerPoint template I use in my First Day ELA resource.


First Day of School Activities for English Class
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2. Get to know students- Now that students know you a little more, it's time to get to know your students. Since I want to keep with the ELA theme and hate traditional icebreakers, I created an ELA profile sheet that students can fill out so that you can learn more about them. I actually haven't used this sheet in a couple of years because I do something similar as an introduction to British Literature,  but thousands of other teachers use it every year and love it! You can grab your free download by signing up for my Buiding Book Love Letter. 


3. Use stations for first day of school tasks- There are always a number of housekeeping items that must be taken care of on the first day of high school. Stations are a fantastic way to create movement and natural icebreakers while also making sure each back to school task is complete. 

Here are back-to-school station ideas: 


Classroom Worry Box

1. Set up a worry or "I wish my teacher knew" box- Back to school can be an exciting but also stressful time of year for many students. To get them in the practice of acknowledging their stress and worries, set up a worry box based on this article from Harvard: Two Techniques for Reducing Stress . However, be warned. Some silly answers you make you laugh while other serious answers will make you sob. You can decide if you want this to be anonymous or not, but if they leave a very worrisome anonymous note, you will have no way to address. it.


First Day of School Activities for English Class

2. Go on a classroom scavenger hunt- While going over procedures and classroom materials is a necessary first day of school task, it doesn't have to boring! Simply turn it into a scavenger hunt instead! Students in this station walk around the room to find all of their supplies and will even complete a few subtle icebreakers along the way such as "find Mrs. Bible and tell her your favorite time of year." If you want an editable version of this scavenger hunt, you can find it in my First Day ELA Resource.


Infographic Syllabus

3. Close Read the Syllabus- Cutting my syllabus down to a one-page infographic has ensured that I relay all of the important information AND that my students actually read it. For this station, I have students read their syllabus and do prompts that it says such as "Sign up for Remind."

Infographic Syllabus

If you want to be able to make your own infographic syllabus in PowerPoint, I have a handy template for you in my ELA First Day Resource. 


First Day of School Activities for English Class

4. Have students help you create the rules- When I implemented some flexible seating last year, I knew that I would need to have rules, but I wanted my students to come up with the rules. This honestly worked out better than I could imagine. I just set up a station in the living room area and let students write down the rules they thought were fair. I then went through each class and tallied the opinions. The majority won in favor of rotating days for flexible seating. Therefore, I just had to make an easy system and follow it. Since I had group tables around the room, each group had their day to use the flexible seating. Monday was table one and so forth. I was able to accomplish this because I made sure that every student had a desk. The flexible seating was extra seating. This type of rule brainstorming works with other classroom rules as well!

High school book raffle

5. Get students excited about reading- This back to school activity is my favorite because it helps build excitement around reading from day one! I implement 10 minutes of free choice reading at the start of class every single day, so naturally, I want my students to choose a book on our first day of English class. I allow students to browse my classroom library and check out a book on the spot, or they can try their luck at one of the new and exciting books that I have in the book raffle! The book raffle works like this: display your new or highly sought after books and have a cup under each book. After you talk up the books, students can come through and add their name to the cup if they want to enter for a chance at first dibs on checking it out. This would work extra well if you had one copy of the book for each class, but I didn't and it still built excitement for reading amongst all of my classes!

First Day of School Activities for English Class

6. Make classroom decor with your students- While I love creating a magical place to learn for students, I also think that it's important for each student to be represented in their classroom. For the past five years or so, I've done a dictionary get to you activity that turns into a book page banner that I leave displayed all semester long. You can look at the pictures below for an idea, and also read more about how to make this craft here: Get to know you activities for secondary ELA students 

Get to know you activity



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I hope that this blog post has given you lots of fun first-day activity ideas for high school and middle school English. Be sure to tag me on social media so that I can join in on your back-to-school excitement! 




Monday, August 19, 2019

Adventure Themed Classroom: An Eclectic Travel Classroom with Boho Vibes


There's just something so magical about looking at learning as an adventure, and that's the exact notion I wanted to highlight in this travel-themed classroom. I worked with the classroom decor that this room already had, so I was able to put together a high school adventure-themed classroom in just one day! When I saw the before pictures, I knew that I could add just a few eclectic touches to make the classroom more cohesive and homey. I played off of the "choose adventure" tapestry that was already displayed in the room by bringing out more of the mustard yellow and contrasting black. The school colors are black and gold, so that worked out beautifully. 

Classroom Before and After:





Classroom Plan and Cost: 


As I teach in my free Classroom Design Class, you should always start your classroom design with ONE element and then build from there. I based this mood board off of the "Choose Adventure" tapestry that was already in the room. You can see how all of the other elements play off of this one item. If you want to learn how to make your own classroom mood board and design plan, be sure to sign up for my free class!


It's also good to give yourself a budget and a time frame. For this makeover, I set a budget to $100, one day, and one of my resources. Here is how the $100 classroom makeover turned out.

 (These are affiliate links that help make my Classroom Design Challenge possible. I get a small percentage when you use my links at no costs to you. Thank you!)

Cost Breakdown and Links:


Gigantic Landscape Art- For my big-scale art (always best for big classroom walls), I actually used a shower curtain that costs 18.99! To make this look like art instead of a shower curtain, I hot glued two $4 light pieces of wood right on top of the fabric and then hung it with wire. 


I have used this shower curtain trick twice now, and both times it has made such a statement. I highly recommend searching Amazon to see the wide array of shower curtain options they have! Even if you don't use the wood frame, just hanging these up with command strips will create a large and uncluttered focal point in your classroom! 

Here are a few of my favorites: 

Giant Pile of Books  (a little more pricy, but all the heart eyes for this one!)



Ok, I had to stop myself because the possibilities are literally endless! Onward to the rest of the adventure-themed classroom!






Macrame Hanging Photo Display- These cute and highly-rated photo display hangers were so good that I bought three of them. Displaying things in a set of 3 is a common design tip, and when you are trying to make large classroom walls look better, it's a great way to fill up space without causing too much visual clutter which studies have shown can distract learners. Though these are designed for displaying photos, I thought they would be a great way to promote reading. I printed tiny book covers and clipped them on like photos (the hangers come with clips). I think it would be amazing to have students fill up these three displays as they read books throughout the year. They can add a book cover every time they finish! (3x 11.99= 35.97)


Large Classroom Rug-  Another large-scale yet cheap classroom hack I have is to use outdoor RV rugs instead of more costly rugs. Not only are the washable, pretty, large, and handy to designate a space, but they are also inexpensive. This 6x9 rug only cost $29.42!  Here's a link to multiple sizes and colors for around $25! 



Macrame Plant Holders- I have never been much of a plant lady, but after realizing the power of plants in the nature-themed classroom I did, I will never NOT be able to use plants in a classroom again. They just add so, so much and there's plenty of research that backs up the mental health benefits of indoor plants. (25.99 for 5, but I only used 3, so that's $15) 


Other Accessories- If you have done the math, I'm at $99.38. In full transparency, I did go over my $100 budget, but it was all on accessories that aren't technically needed to create what you've seen so far. However, these accessories do go a very long way in making the room feel calm and cozy, so here is what I purchased past my $100 budget. 

1. A $5 lamp from Goodwill (lamps are SO easy to thrift!) 
2. Mustard yellow flower pillows because I wanted to bring that yellow lead color to this high school reading nook (18.33)
3. I found these two black plant holders on clearance at Big Lots, and I just couldn't pass them up. They were $10 each. She already had the plants, and the bottom can be used for storage! 






Also, some eagle eyes may notice that there are no pictures of the wood background or the mustard yellow tapestry within the room. I did in fact order these things, but I sent them back because once I added my key elements, I felt like less was more. This room is clean and clutter-free with a fresh paint color, so I didn't want to create unnecessary visual clutter. However, I'm going to link these items below in case you have an ugly wall you need to cover! 

Mustard Yello Tapestry  (This photo from Amazon shows you the exact way I did my shower curtain except the shower curtain is much larger). 



Better Than Paper Bulletin Board or Wall Paper - I am DIGGING this paper especially for a boho classroom vibe, but it just didn't work out this time. Come back next year to see if I find a place to use it. :) 

Also, I know people will ask about where they can get the "Choose Adventure" tapestry. Unfortunately, I can't find this on Amazon. I think it was originally sold at Walmart. However, there are thousands of similar replacements on Amazon if you search "map tapestry" or "adventure tapestry."

Lastly, I used my Water Color World Classroom Decor Bundle to create this adventure-themed classroom. 


 The posters you see on both sides of the shower curtain art are posters in my pack that I had printed as colored engineering prints from Staples. They were around $5 each to print. I simply load the JPEG file into the online engineering print portal, and click "pay at store." Some printers will not print posters in this manner for you. If they don't, they will call you and say "sorry we can't do this" and then give you a more expensive option. If you don't like feeling like a rebel, don't try this trick. ;)

*Also note beautiful poetry posters that were already displayed on the sidewall above. They are from the extremely talented Stacey Loyd.  



I also sprinkled in regular 8.5 x 11 posters that are in my pack. I just printed these straight from my printer at home. 




However, the real eye-catcher is the "Be the Light in the World" display right above the teacher's desk. The teacher actually already had this display set up before I arrived which I found so flattering. This light set is also in my Watercolor World Classroom Design Pack


This sign not only fits this teacher, but also embodies everything she is trying to do in her secondary English classroom. She is full of passion, and I can't wait to see her efforts flourish in this room!

If you want help creating a cohesive classroom environment like this one, be sure to join my free Classroom Design Challenge!









Thursday, July 25, 2019

Nature Themed Classroom Decor: A Calming and Plant Filled Classroom


My first ever high school classroom was nature-themed, and I'm now I'm bringing it back for a middle school teacher in my area! While I don't have any pictures from that teaching era, I can paint you a picture of what I looked like: I printed some of my favorite hiking pictures to display around the room, hung a giant stick with twinkle lights from the ceiling, and incorporated plants wherever I could! Using a nature theme is great for classroom decor on a budget because you can go on a nature scavenger hunt and find all kinds of free elements to use in your woodland classroom! As for the classroom makeover that I'm working on now, I have a slightly larger budget than I used back when I was a new teacher (basically zero), but I still want to keep this project within a realistic cost so that other teachers can create this beautiful and budget-friendly design in their own classrooms!



Classroom Before and After: 














Classroom Plan and Cost: 


To challenge myself to think creatively and to make this a realistic classroom makeover, I stuck to these guidelines: 




3 Days: 

I normally spend around a week prepping my room, but I've noticed that teachers with families or other responsibilities don't have nearly that much time to devote to prepping their classrooms. I live for this stuff so I take great joy spending more time, but I wanted to limit myself to make this doable for other teachers. (Plus I may or may not actually be doing two rooms in addition to this one this year LOL). 

3 Hundred Dollars: 

I did a scale poll on Instagram and the results showed that a realistic yet reasonable price range for classroom decor is around $300. That's where I got this number. If you don't have three hundred dollars to design your classroom, don't feel bad!!! You can still create a beautiful space on a much smaller budget. If fact, the feedback that made me the proudest from last year's Classroom Design Challenge was teachers leaving comments that my challenge actually saved them money compared to other years!

"I loved your step by step guide to transforming the classroom. More often than not, our classrooms resemble prisons, not 21st-century learning environments. I loved the tips you were able to provide that allowed teacher's advice on how to transform our classrooms on a budget! I’ve learned a lot from you and the links you’ve provided to help me redesign my classroom. Particularly the floor planner program and how to remove a background from an image. Thanks so much for doing this!" -@britteaches 

"This was such an awesome challenge that you put together because not only was it fun but it also allowed me to make an intentional plan for my classroom so that it was cohesive and saved me a ton of money." @mrcspillsthetea

Here is my classroom setup cost: 
(These are affiliate links that help make my Classroom Design Challenge possible. I get a small percentage when you use my links at no costs to you. Thank you!)



1. Birch Tree Wallpaper 23.98 x 2 (47.96)- If you have cinder block walls, you can either use peel and stick or plain paper attached with hot glue, both work beautifully. You could also use wrapping paper for your classroom walls and use staples (sheetrock) or hot glue (cinder block) to adhere to it! For example, here's a 64 sq ft roll of Birch wrapping paper for 11.99! The peel and stick I linked above covers 31 sq ft at 23.98 and the plain roll covers 57 sq ft at 32.99. If you have help, the peel and stick works best, but if you are working solo, the plain paper with hot glue is easier to manage. No matter which you go with, don't make the same mistake I did. BUY THE SAME KIND. My peel and stick roll has a different appearance from my plain roll. Hopefully, it's not too noticeable, but please save yourself the irritation and buy either all peel and stick or all plain.


2. Famous Wooden Classroom Wall 20.57 - I try not to use expected things when I can help it, but I just couldn't pass up the Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper that looks so homey and woodland! I used it as a background for my Nature Themed Literary Device Posters . I had a lot of this paper left over, so I used it as a backing on the bookshelves as well!


3. Forest Artwork 18.99- As for my big-scale art (always best for big classroom walls), I actually used a shower curtain that costs 18.99! To make this look like art instead of a shower curtain, I hot glued two $4 light pieces of wood right on top of the fabric and then hung it with wire. If you want a video of this, you can find it under my Instagram Story Highlight titled "Nature Theme" @BuildingBookLove


4. Reading Tent 27.99- Since this classroom is going to be for sixth graders, I thought it would be fun to incorporate a reading tent. There's just something so magical about a little tent with string lights. I adore how it turned out!


5. Stump Flexible Seating Cushions 14.99 x 4 (59.96)-  These stump floor pillows are a cute and functional form of flexible seating. I love that the covers can be taken off and washed if they get dirty. You also can't beat the price!


As for the other flexible seating options, I found two clearanced chairs from Walmart ($5 each = $10) and then used items that this teacher had collected from yard sales. See the black chairs pictured below. One big tip I have for new teachers who are setting up their classrooms for the first time is to collect neutral items. I simply added teal pillows to these black chairs and it tied them into her new theme.



6. Lamps (free)- I already have lamps that I'm bringing from my barn storage. If I didn't have these, I would use thrift store lamps. I never buy new lamps for my classroom because they are one of the easiest things in the world to thrift! You can spray paint them to match your theme and not worry about if they get broken or not!

7. Macrame Plant Hangers 25.99- This classroom has a long wall full of windows, so I just knew that I wanted to incorporate plants into this design! Though I've never been much of a plant lady, I must admit that the moment I brought these plants into the classroom, it went from feeling to a cinder block cell to welcoming learning space. Here's an informative article on the benefits of using plants in the classroom, and here's a practical article which plants grow bests in dark classrooms



8. Magic Crystals That Create Rainbows in the Sunlight 9.99- After reading my new favorite nonfiction book Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, I've been on a mission to create a sense of wonder and magic within my spaces. These little crystals will hang in front of a window and will not only look pretty, but will also give rainbows at unexpected times throughout the school day!



The number one question I get asked is how I hang items such as the plants. The answer is these GENIUS track ceiling hooks from Amazon.  HOWEVER, before you purchase these, you must check your state's fire codes and your school's rules. Some states and schools will not allow you to hang items from the ceiling. Also, this is a very large pack and you won't need nearly this many hooks, so possibly go in halfsies with a friend or ask your school to stock them.



9. Wood Tone Star Light Projector 19.19- Likewise, I couldn't do this classroom makeover without incorporating my favorite classroom transformation tool ever! Turing my starlight projector on at strategic times such as an introduction to Macbeth or a forest scene in Lord of the Flies helps set the mood and change the whole look of my classroom in under a minute! If you don't want to spend $25 on one of these, you could achieve a similar feel for free by using ambient sounds. My favorite nature sounds video right now is Harry Potter Inspired Ambience - Firenze's Divination Classroom - Woodland and Stars in castle


If you are keeping tabs, I'm at 240.64. That means I had 59.36 left in thrifting and plant buying money. I'm happy to say that I met my goal! The plants I found were $4 each at Walmart and I spent around $20 on pillows. If you see anything else in this post that I didn't include in my budget, that means that it was something I found in her storage closet. It's always best to reuse what you can!

3 Resources 

1. Nature Posters and Labels-  For this nature-themed classroom makeover, I used three of my resources. The most important resource I used in regards to the look of the room is my Nature-themed Classroom Decor Bundle. 



I include lots of editable elements into this bundle, so this teacher has been going wild creating her own matching labels. :) 



2. Classroom De-stressing Station- The other most important resource I used in regards to calm classroom feel I was going for is this destressing station I made. I am in love with the concept of this table. I think that it will be a perfect place for students reconnect with nature and destress with rock stacking, zen gardening, and nature journaling.



The mini Zen gardens were fun, cheap, and easy to make! I found the containers, rocks, and forks a the Dollar Tree and the sand at Walmart. The sand I got was pretty rocky, so I suggest using smoother sand if you can find it. White fine sand would be so pretty! I might also suggest not using the red forks that come in the pack because red can be an anger-triggering color which is the opposite of what you are trying to create.

If you want to add this supportive mental health resource to your own classroom, you can grab your free download here:



3. Literary Classroom Yoga- Lastly, I included one of my favorite and best-selling resources,  Literary Yoga for the classroom. Movement in the classroom is so important to me that I keep this classroom yoga resource on display year-round.



This lesson matches yoga poses to literary elements so that you can add movement and promote critical thinking in your English class. Research shows that sitting for long periods of time is horrible for both our brains and bodies. While we know that movement in the classroom is important, due to the nature of English classes, ELA students often find themselves needing to sit to read or write for long periods of time. Therefore, finding ways to add movement in your English literature class can be a challenge. This literary yoga resource is the perfect solution for adding movement in the English classroom.

I hope that this classroom decor post has inpired you to create a classroom that makes you and your students happy!  If you would like help with designing your own classroom, I hope that you will sign up for my FREE classroom design course.

Much peace and love,
Ashley Bible at Building Book Love