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



Monday, July 15, 2019

Why You Should Be Using Podcasts in Secondary ELA


If books are a uniquely portable magic, then podcasts are the wizard in your pocket. When you find interesting podcasts for teens that they want to listen to, you will open up a whole new world of literacy for secondary students. Did you know that podcast listeners are 29% more likely to have a household income of more than $75,000? And that they are more likely to have secured a four-year college degree? And that this powerful form of life-long learning is FREE and accessible on the devices our students are obsessed with? This is why you need to be using podcasts in your classroom, and this is why podcast units and pairings are such a passion for my English teacher heart.




Here's why you should be using podcasts in English class: 


1. Podcasts are a free form of complex, authentic, and diverse texts!

One reason I'm such a huge podcast proponent is because podcasts are FREE tools that give teachers and students access to diverse perspectives, voices, and content. While I'm not able to veer too far from my British Literature Curriculum, I can bring in diverse voices that pair with Shakespeare, multicultural perspectives that enrich my argumentative writing unit, and informational "texts" that enhance my lessons. With each podcast response, my students make deeper connections across multiple forms of media and perspectives. 

*Not sure where to look for rich-text podcasts? Be sure to check my podcast idea list out at the end of this post!



2. Listening is literacy and podcasts help build listening skills!


* Studies show that students generally listen two to three grade levels above what they’re able to read. Therefore, it stands to reason that listening should be a prime tool for introducing challenging language, vocabulary, and topics.

*Research also shows poor listening comprehension directly relates to students who do not develop adequate reading comprehension skills. If students have poor listening comprehension, they are poor comprehenders in all. While they might decode words on a page, they aren’t comprehending what they read nor what they hear. This increases with age. Researchers found that by eighth grade, listening comprehension and reading comprehension form a single construct.


*Listening comprehension involves the same language processes used to comprehend text except without needing to decode the page. Listening comprehension requires understanding individual words and sentences, but good comprehenders go beyond single words to construct a mental model that combines story elements, prior knowledge, and understanding. 


Citation: Hogan, Tiffany. Suzanne Adlof, and Crystle Alonzo. Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2014 Jun; 16(3): 199–207. “On the importance of listening comprehension”



3. Podcasts make perfect mentor texts!

As writing teachers, we know the importance of using mentor texts with students. Because of their entertaining nature, podcasts can serve as perfect mentor texts for a variety of writing tasks and podcast responses.

For example, if you want students to write a mini-memoir, nonfiction narrative, or any other plot-based story, have them listen to one of the Goodnight Rebel Girls episodes. These stories showcase strong women throughout history by telling their stories in a succinct and entertaining way. The podcast episodes have everything you would want in a mentor text: rich vocabulary, interesting plots, story elements, and worthy characters-- all within 15-20 min of entertainment for your ears.

Another example of a mentor-text-ready podcast would be Science VS for teaching students the thought process for using reliable sources and for using evidence to support their claims. This podcast has a lively host who takes topics like "Climate Change... the Apocalypse?" and talks through the evidence that either supports or discounts these stances. *As with any podcast that I have mentioned in this post, you will need to preview the episode before you play it in class or assign it for homework. 


4. Podcasts are high-interest for students.

Perhaps the most important reason teachers should use podcasts in their classrooms is because podcasts are a high-interest form of media for students. The best part about finding interesting podcasts is that most students haven't even been introduced to podcasts yet. This means that YOU get to be the person who ignites that spark of curiosity, wonder, and enjoyment for a new form of literacy!  There is nothing better in an English teacher's world than converting an "I hate English" student to a lover of the spoken word.

This is why podcasts are a literacy passion of mine. I have seen podcasts transform non-readers into life-long listeners, and I want every teacher to realize the incredible potential of using podcasts in their classrooms!



5. Podcasts make ideal informational text pairings!

As my readers and followers already know, I truly enjoy finding intriguing and unexpected informational text pairings that help students look at literature-- and therefore the world--in a deeper way. Podcasts provide incredible opportunities to pair interesting informational text with themes found in your curriculum. You can find an entire blog post I wrote dedicated to podcast and literature pairings here: Podcast Pairings for the ELA Classroom

Read all the way to the bottom to get this printable podcast recommendation list! 

Now that you have the why, I want to give some podcast recommendation ideas for your secondary English classes.  I don't listen to podcasts to find literature lessons; I let the literature lessons find me. However, I've listened to so many podcasts that I have a pretty good idea of where to send you so that you can find some winners for your ELA lesson plans.

Podcast Episode Recommendations for English Language Arts: 

*Remember: PLEASE preview each of these episodes to ensure the content is acceptable for your classroom. 


Science vs is an interesting and fast-paced podcast that teaches the listener how to investigate topics using reliable data from science. The host is funny and the topics are relevant for today's students! As with all of the podcasts below, transcripts are available on their web-based platform.





Hidden Brain is a podcast that I listen to each and every week. It is FASCINATING, and the writing is everything an English teacher dreams of.  For example, in The Sorting Hat episode, Shankar Vedantam (the host) begins by playing a snippet form Harry Potter then transitions into the controversial topic of personality tests. After giving first-hand accounts, research and his own experience with being branded by a personality, he circles back to Harry Potter to close it out. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Also, while I'm here, I will go ahead and do a deep dive into how I plan lessons using podcasts. When I heard this episode, I immediately thought of a character sorting strategy that my coworker uses. Here is the strategy:

Follow me on Instagram @BuildingBookLove for more ELA Strategy Ideas!

This made me think of the idea of having students sort each other and the characters they are currently reading as a hook, listen to the podcast through the lens of an employer or teacher researching the best practices for grouping, then close with a discussion or persuasive essay on whether personality tests are harmful or helpful. 

I hope this little look inside how my mind thinks of podcast lesson plans was helpful! Now on to more recommendations so that you too can create your own podcast activities! 





I always recommend Criminal for those who can't teach Serial because of the content. If you are looking for podcasts like Serial, Criminal is a great one to try!  Criminal isn't a long-form podcast like Serial, but the episodes have the same high-interest factor and lend well to persuasive writing.





Smash Boom Best is another persuasive/ debate podcast and the topics work really well with younger students. If you teach 5th-8th, this is a great podcast to try out!





Historically Black doesn't have a lot of episodes, but the ones they do have are must-listens. These episodes work well with giving context and diverse voices. The Harlem episode would make a fantastic pairing to help disrupt The Great Gatsby. #disrupttexts 





Goodnight Rebel Girls is absolutely a DELIGHT to listen to. The episodes are short and full of entertaining sounds and storylines. These episodes are wonderful mentor texts for literary nonfiction and narrative writing.





This is Love is by the same group as Criminal, and the reporting, author's craft, and production are the same exceptional quality. While Criminal focuses more on crimes and moral dilemmas, This is Love focuses on the human condition and metaphors that relate to love. Start with "Ugly Club" and become forever hooked.



Though I've given you a great list of podcasts to listen to, I would love for you to explore the episodes under each category on your own so that you can find the episodes that speak to you and your students. Please tag me on any social media @BuildingBookLove if this post inspired you to start using podcasts in your classroom! 



If you are worried about students remaining engaged throughout an entire podcast episode, I highly recommend trying podcast listening worksheets and podcast listening coloring notes. I'm always amazed at how focused my students are when they listen, doodle, and learn!

Want to hear me speak on this topic? Join me for an online technology conference that will be held July 22, 2019- July 24, 2019 (replays for up to one year). I will be live on July 23, 2019 from 3:30-3:50 EST answering all of your podcast in the classroom questions.  Register here: Teach with Tech

Below is a PDF full of podcast ideas for you! I put ELA Common Core Standards under each category to help you think about which standards you can reach by using podcasts in the classroom. Simply sign up for my Building Book Love Letter, and I will email you the printable along with other helpful English teacher inspiration!