Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > My October Top Ten List of Classroom Ideas

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My October Top Ten List of Classroom Ideas

Class Rock

In my second top ten list of the school year, I am revealing my new class theme and taking you on a virtual tour of my 2010 classroom makeover.  As the craziness of the first month of school settles down, I like to look carefully at my teaching and determine how I can improve what I am already doing.  This post will focus on effective ways to maintain parent communication throughout the school year, use an interactive whiteboard to enhance your current lesson plans, highlight students in special ways each week, implement an effective Reader's Notebook for your Reading Workshop, raise money for your school, celebrate Halloween in a purposeful way, and more.

READ ON to check out tons of photos, download useful printables, visit cool Web sites, and watch a video tour of my "new and improved" classroom.

1. My Classroom Makeover

Going from 20 to 27 students and getting a SMART Board installed in our classroom over the summer required my teaching partner and I to rethink our classroom design.  We got rid of our huge desks and opted to use smaller tables, perfect for the constant collaboration and group work that takes place in our classroom.  Even with the extra bodies in our classroom, we wanted to make sure that we still left room for a large gathering area and other, smaller gathering areas for students to work in book clubs or cozy up for independent reading during Reading Workshop.  Creating room for 27 book boxes and reading binders, six large tables, a separate guided reading table, additional book baskets we added to our class library, and a new SMART Board required us to get rid of any furniture and other classroom materials that we did not absolutely need.  As you watch the movie, you will see how we found solutions to our problems and created a classroom fit for 27 students and two (very picky) teachers. 

Take a photo tour of my classroom for this year, and then read a great article about classroom design: "Classroom Organization: The Physical Environment." You may also use Scholastic’s "Classroom Set-Up Tool" to redesign your own classroom!


Class Rock

 2. Rock Star Theme

After doing a different theme for six years in a row, I decided this year I would finally dig into the “theme bins” in the over-crowded storage room in my basement and recycle one of my favorite themes: Rockin’ Room 13.  However, my teaching partner and I tried to update the theme and make it even better this year by going from a focus on American Idol to a theme that featured our students as rock stars.  We incorporate our theme into our classroom design, as well as our daily routines. 

Students posed for their first rock star photo on the first day of school, and their rock star posters now hang on the “concert stage” in our hallway.  As you will see in our classroom tour (posted earlier in this article), we decorate our room to complement our theme, with everything from a music note tablecloth to inflatable guitars and pianos hanging from our ceiling.  Even the names of our math groups and word study center groups relate to our rock star theme.

Rock star poster1
 Download rock star poster templates, learn more about my rock star theme (photos included!), and watch our rock star class movie.


P1120766 [Desktop Resolution] 3. (Rock) Star of the Week

I find it so important to highlight students in my class on an individual basis.  The way I do this is to have each child be our (rock) star of the week for one week of the school year. Obviously this is nothing new, as many teachers do this exact same thing.  However, I try to make the week extra special for the child by planning a different activity for the “rock star” on each day of the week.  Seeing how excited my students get for this week is a good reminder that some "fun" things can be just as worthwhile as my "curriculum."  This week certainly makes my students feel special and important.


Monday Sharing Sack: The rock star brings pictures to share and add to her Rock Star Bulletin Board (see picture).  She also brings the Rock Star Sharing Sack back to school to share three things with the class that represent her.  (Third graders still love “show and tell!”)

Tuesday — Rock Star Read-Aloud: The rock star reads aloud a favorite picture book or a short section from a favorite chapter book.  In 3rd grade, the kids often pick the chapter book option.  It is a great way to get the class interested in the book by reading an interesting part of the story.

IMG_0995 Wednesday Parent Letter: This is my favorite day!!  The parents are asked to write a letter, make a book, or even make a video that tells the class more about their child.  Most parents write a traditional letter, but some families have made very cool movies with parent interviews and photos set to music.

Thursday Lunch Buddy: This is many students’ favorite day! The rock star invites guests (usually parents) to join him in the school lunch room.  The guests can either order lunch from the cafeteria or bring lunch (often from a favorite fast food restaurant) to school to eat with the student.

Friday Rock Star Friends: The class writes short messages to the rock star on a poster board with the child’s picture in the middle. This reminds me of a tradition at weddings in which guests often sign the mat of a framed picture of the bride and groom.  Parents have told me that this poster is so special to the child, and it often hangs in the child’s bedroom at home.


 The Rock Star of the Week also writes a message at home that is published in a feature article with the child’s photo in our weekly newsletter.

ROck Star Newsletter

Read more about what Rock Star of the Week looks like in our classroom. Download a Rock Star of the Week parent letter and a sample Rock Star of the Week newsletter article.

4. Maintaining Positive (and Frequent) Communication With Parents

September 13-First DayWeekly Newsletter: While many teachers have done away with the weekly newsletter, I still find it to be a very useful way to provide parents with timely information and to highlight the cool things we are doing in class.  The parents love to see pictures of their children in the newsletter, and it is a constant reminder of the many things we do each week in Rockin’ Room 13. The newsletter can be saved as a PDF file and emailed to parents, and I also post in on our classroom Web site so that it can be accessed if a parent loses it or is out of town on a day we send it home. Download my weekly newsletter templates.

Class Web Site: My class Web site is my best way to provide parents with a window into our classroom.  It does not take the place of my newsletter because I know that parents do not check it on a regular basis.  However, I can post many more pictures on my class Web site than I can in a newsletter, and parents can then save the photo files on their home computers.  The Web site also allows parents to watch our class movies, quickly access our daily schedule, check field trip dates, download spelling lists and activities, and read tons of information that helps them to better understand the curriculum in our classroom.

There are many software programs you can purchase to create your own class Web site, but Scholastic's Homepage Builder is free and easy!  Edline is another option for easily building your own class Web page. Many teachers in our district use Edline to post homework information every evening and even upload some homework assignments, photos, study guides, PPT presentations, etc.

Website horizontal

Visit my class Web site, updated for the 2010–2011 school year.


Facebook-iconClass Facebook Page: This is not something that I am currently doing in my classroom, but my interest was certainly piqued when Megan Power, my fellow Top Teaching Colleague, posted this idea on her blog. (Read more about this innovative option for parent communication.)


 5. Mountain Math: Our Daily Math Board Goes Digital!


Digital Math 


Math on waterWhen I wrote a post last year about Math Workshop, many teachers were interested in our daily math board.  The board (on the right in the pictures above) is a math board filled with concepts that come straight from our Everyday Mathematics curriculum.  These include things like frames and arrows, number grids, "What's My Rule?" charts, number story diagrams, place value charts, name collection boxes, etc. (We enlarged things from the Math Masters book.)  We also use clocks, magnetic money, magnetic geometric shapes, fraction pieces, etc.  We use this board daily to review concepts the students are learning during Math Workshop. You can read more about how this works in our classroom by reading my Math Workshop post, but, in short, a student teaches the class a short math review lesson that includes three to five skills that have been taught during the current unit or previous units.   

P1120706As great as the daily math board was working, there were some drawbacks.  The cards (even though they were laminated on card stock) had to be replaced often due to lots of use, the cards (held to the board with magnets) were always falling down and being moved around, and the board took up valuable wall space in our classroom. That is why I was so excited to find Mountain Math, an interactive whiteboard tool that works essentially just like our daily math board.  (It was actually recommended to me by a reader on my Top Teaching blog last year!) As you can see in the photo to the right, the interactive Mountain Math board has a variety of grade-level appropriate skills.  In our classroom, the daily “mathematician” picks four skills to teach each day.  The student uses the Mountain Math recording sheet (included with the program)  to solve the problems he plans to teach that day by accessing the Mountain Math board on our classroom computer in the morning.  He then teaches the lesson on our SMART Board before Math Workshop each day.  There are 24 problems on each Mountain Math board, and there are 34 boards for each grade level.  That means one board lasts for about a week.

The only downfall is that it is not free.  It is an online subscription that costs $50 per school year.  We are lucky to have a very generous P.T.O. who is paying for it for us this year.  We also find that we still need to create some of our own SMART Board slides to teach some Everyday Math concepts that are not included on the Mountain Math board. Check out Mountain Math online and even download a free demo!

6. Using a Reader’s Notebook to Enhance Student Performance in Reading Workshop

Readers notebook  One of my most popular posts last year was my post about the Reader’s Notebook we use in our classroom.  Since many of you are likely in the midst of launching Reading Workshops in your own classrooms, I wanted to highlight this post again. I find that my students have really come to rely on this notebook as a place to keep track of the books they read, set reading goals, respond to their reading, and store important information they are given during mini-lessons.  I also rely heavily on the notebook to assess my readers and keep track of what they are doing when I am not reading with them.  My teaching partner and I are now using ideas from The CAFÉ Book as we try to incorporate some of the CAFÉ assessment tools into the “Reading Goals” section of our current Reader’s Notebook.  We do not use a “Daily 5” approach in our classroom, but we are fans of the CAFÉ Menu where students are taught to set individual goals for each of the four CAFÉ categories: comprehension, accuracy, fluency, & expanding vocabulary. 


7. Great Web Sites for SMART Board Resources

Smartboard1Now that I have a SMART Board installed in my classroom, I literally cannot imagine teaching without it!  I use it for nearly every lesson I teach, making the content more engaging and interactive.  While the SMART Exchange is probably the most popular place to find templates and pre-made notebook lessons, I have listed below some additional Web sites that provide some very useful (and free) SMART Board resources.

Harvey's Homepage: This Web site has very cool SMART Notebook lessons for a variety of math concepts.

Mrs. Meacham's Classroom: This teacher posts tons of SMART Notebook lessons for word study, as well as math.  The rest of her class Web site is awesome as well.

Crickweb: This Web site has SMART Notebook lessons geared toward the primary grades. It includes games, activities, and lessons for all subject areas.


 8. Plan a Jog-a-Thon to Raise Money for Your School!

JogWith school budgets being cut across the country, teachers are finding it hard to make ends meet in their classrooms. Decreased supply budgets are forcing teachers to dip into their own pockets, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide for our students.  Just when the need for more books and greater technology is increasing, the money districts have to purchase these items is nowhere to be found.  That is why so many school are turning to grant writing and P.T.O. fundraisers. I am so lucky to be at a school where our P.T.O. works incredibly hard to raise money to fulfill classroom wish lists. Our biggest fundraiser for the past two years has been our school jog-a-thon.  We have raised close to $20,000 at our school, and other schools in our district have raised $30,000. All classrooms in our building now have SMART Boards, thanks to the money raised at last year’s jog-a-thon.  So, how does it work?

1.  Our P.T.O. plans a kick-off assembly where they motivate students to collect pledges.  Donors can pledge a certain amount per lap or give a flat donation.  Each student is encouraged to raise $65.

2. The jog-a-thon takes place in the fall.  Each grade level runs for 30 minutes around our bus loop. Students have a card pinned on their back, and parent volunteers mark a tally on their card each time they complete a lap.

3. A DJ runs the outdoor event.  He plays popular music to get the students motivated and keeps them pumped up throughout the event.  Parents can even pay $2 to give their child a special “shout out” from the DJ while they are running!

4. Local businesses donate prizes for students who earn the most money, run the most laps, collect the most pledges, etc. Prizes include things like skating parties at the local skating rink, laser tag outings, ice cream parties, etc.  The class who earns the most money gets a trophy to keep for the year and a pizza party.


9. Live Global Webcast With Taylor Swift!

Taylor SwiftOn Wednesday, October 27th, popular country/pop artist Taylor Swift will participate in a live interview about reading, take questions from students, and end with a live performance! Celebrities are certainly very influential in today's society, and it is refreshing to see a young star support reading in such an exciting way.

Learn more about the event and register your class today.

10. Creative (and Purposeful) Halloween Parades

While Halloween is a fun and exciting time of year, it is hard to make this holiday relevant to the curriculum.  Some schools do not even celebrate the holiday and have opted not to allow students to wear costumes to school.  The following ideas are alternatives to a traditional Halloween school celebration/parade.

Halloween Vocabulary Parade: The awesome Angela Bunyi posted this very cool idea. Based loosely on the book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier, students dress up like a vocabulary word and take part in a parade with their class or school. READ MORE about this creative idea!

Vocab parade

Book Character Halloween Parade: This idea is self-explanatory.  Students pick a favorite book character and dress like that character for Halloween.  Students carry their chosen book in the school parade.

Dr seuss


Be sure to check back next month for my November Top Ten List where I will give a detailed overview of the Word Study program in my classroom!




  • #1 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 02:44 PM

    Courtney (comment #55),

    You asked about the wire racks that I use for double-copy books in my classroom. I purchased it years ago at Calloway House online. When I checked the website, that specfic book rack doesn't seem to be available any longer. However, they do have some nice book racks. Here is a link to the website:

    I wish I could have been of more help!


  • #2 Coutney Davis

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 09:55 AM


    I LOVE your website and all of the resources/ideas you share with other teachers! I was looking at your new classroom set-up to get some ideas for next year (as I'm moving up from 1st to 3rd) and really like the idea of keeping your double-copy books for reading partnerships separate from all of the other books bins! Any chance you remember where the tall white magazine shelf you use is from? I have been looking for something like it and can't seem to find what I'm looking for.

  • #3 treadmill traci

    Monday, May 02, 2011 at 05:14 PM

    Really love the rockstar theme idea. Will be sure to share this with friends.

  • #4 Yanique Michaud

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    It is funny...I did an 80's them this year since I was born in 1981...My bulletin board on the outside of the classroom said, "Think Big In The Third Grade". I had pictures of big hair bands all over the board. Then, I let my kids dress up as 80's rockstars for Open House, and we took pictures. PARENTS LOVED IT...Kids love it because much of the style is coming back. My prize box had leg and hand warmers. Oriental Trading has a bunch of 80's things. I made a nuch of posters of 80's things (cartoons like Jem, rockstars, toys, etc). These pictures work as writing prompts for many of the kids. They think I was insane to love some of the things I did.

    On my wall with the eseential questions, I have a poster that says, "WHACHU LEARNIN BOUT WILLIS".
    I had to show a clip of the show for them to get it.


  • #5 Yanique Michaud

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    I got rid of desks three years ago. I found that it not only freed up space, but it eliminated "organization" issues for many of my students. I now have a hanging pocet chart in which children keep unfinished work. This way, instead of spending time searching for missing work, I can quickly see who has turned in their work. The chart is also useful when students are absent. Worksheets are put in their pocket, so when they return, they know exactly what needs to be done. I considred the cloth organizers for the back of the chair, but I had nightmares bout chairs tipping over and things falling out. All their textbooks are kept on bookcases in the front of the room. I don't use them much because I prefer the ActiveBoard.
    If you do move to tables, test seperators would probably be necessary, especially for when standardized testing comes around. This is important because you are no longer able to pull the desks apart.
    I love your classroom, Beth, and many of the things you do in it.

    Keep up the good work.

  • #6 Bobbi

    Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 09:26 AM

    Hi Julie,
    Thanks for all that you do. Could you tell me what Talking Back to Books is?

  • #7 Beth Newingham

    Friday, December 03, 2010 at 08:29 AM

    Brigette (comment #48),

    I will try to post the Theme Poster Print Shop file you asked about on my website this weekend!


  • #8 Beth Newingham

    Friday, December 03, 2010 at 08:27 AM

    Gina (comment #47),

    I agree with you that just meeting with students in guided reading groups at the same level is not enough! While I have always done a mix of group meetings and individual conferences, I love that the CAFE strategies allow me to pinpoint specific goals for each reader. I also find that the group strategy lessons are very effective when students share a common goal (regardless of their reading level).

    Thanks for your comments! I'm jealous you were trained by "the sisters" themselves. Thanks for the book recommendation. I will have to check it out!


  • #9 Brigette

    Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 01:50 PM

    I love your website! It has helped me so much as a new teacher. I have been work with my class on themes of books and we came up with some great new themes. I wanted the same format as the ones you had as examples. Do you have the Print Shop Zip file on your website to modify them? Thanks again!

  • #10 Gina Coniglio

    Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 09:50 AM

    Dear Beth,
    I'm so glad you are talking about The CAFE. I have been reading and implementing your Reader's Notebook with the CAFE strategies over the last 2 years. It is awesome! Everything just flows together. I just attended a training with The Sisters and learned so much from them, especially about conferencing. The biggest AH HA that I had was when they talked about grouping kids for reading. We have to remember that even if we try to put kids into "groups" they really aren't all on the same level. Every student has different needs. For this reason, the individual conferences work the best. You meet with each student and can learn so much about them as readers! I look forward to my reading time! Along with CAFE I recommend The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It just ties it all together!

  • #11 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010 at 08:53 PM

    Danielle (comment #45),

    I will try to answer all of your questions.

    First, you asked what the IDR tasks are. On most days the IDR is a short reading response task directly related to the mini-lesson. Students do their IDR task on an IDR Response Sheet (referred to in the reader's notebook post), or they may use the Talking Back to Books handout (referred to in post) to write their thinking on sticky notes.

    For example, my students study the main characters in the texts they are reading in great depth in our fiction genre study. On the day that I teach a lesson about inferring character traits based on a character's actions, my readers' IDR task that day is to find an important action in their story and then write on a sticky note a character trait that can be inferred from that specific action.

    I am careful to make sure that the IDR task is not a lengthy one everyday. I want my students engaged in their texts as much as possible and do not want to make my tasks so long that they do not spend time truly reading.

    You were also concerned about your students' tendency to record a bunch of books but not be able to discuss them. While there are certainly students who will record books in their book log that they did not truly "read," I try to meet with my readers in as many different situations as possible so that no reader can slip through the cracks. Conferring is only one way to discuss with students the books that they are reading. Guided reading, book clubs, and strategy groups are also occurring regularly in my classroom. Since I meet with my readers while they are reading both their self-selected texts and also while they are reading teacher-chosen books in guided reading groups, I find that it becomes very clear which student are truly comprehending the texts and which students are "pretending to read." It is also important that students are reading books at their "just right" level. I find that it is common for students to be unable to comfortably discuss a book when they are reading a book that is too challenging for them. I have spent a great deal of time leveling my classroom library so that it is easier for me to make sure my students are in "just right" texts. You can read more about "just right" texts and how I use my classroom library to empower my students as readers in my classroom library post:

    Hopefully my suggestions are helpful!


  • #12 Danielle

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010 at 01:20 PM

    Hi Beth!

    Thanks so much for posting those links to my previous post. While they helped, I now have a few other questions! Sorry!

    Your IDR tasks: what are they? I saw "Readers Responses" - are they like reading letters or do they pick one topic and write longer about it? Have you found some way of making reading enjoyable for students while still monitoring them to make sure they are using comprehension strategies and that they are interacting and thinking about what they are reading? I use post-its, but I feel like there is a piece missing - an actual assessment piece of the book they read and what they were thinking about as they read, or a summary, or book review, or SOMETHING to show me that they did indeed read the book, and not just read it while I was conferencing with them. My district wants my kids to read 25 books by the end of 3rd grade. Do I just assume that they're going to do that and not keep track of them? I feel like when I do that, kids are saying that they're reading a bunch of books, but when I ask them about the books, they can't discuss them because "They forgot." Very frustrated with this...I guess part of the "problem" is that we can be wide open about it!



  • #13 Beth Newingham

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 09:26 PM


    I think you will find thorough answers to the questions you asked in one of my three previous posts on reading workshop. The links to those posts are listed below:

    Reading Workshop: What it Looks Like in My Classroom:

    The Reader's Notebook:

    Assessment in My Reading Workshop:

    I hope you will find what you are lookig for in one of these posts. Let me know if you still have questions after reading them!


  • #14 Danielle

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 01:58 PM

    Hi Beth!

    I'm having a problem with an aspect of Readers Workshop and was hoping you could help! While I confer with students and know what they are doing/reading/thinking, I'm having a hard time reconciling this with what my school calls "Book Responses". What do you do in terms of having students reflect on the book they just read? Do they do a summary of the book? A book review? Anything written??

    Help help help!! :)

    Thanks Beth! You're amazing!!! Could you do a top 10 on Readers Workshop??

    Danielle (a new 3rd grade teacher)

  • #15 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 02:27 PM

    Pamela (comment #41),

    You seem to be having trouble downloading a zip file. Are you trying to download it from my website or from my November Word Study Post? Here are some suggestions:

    1. Make sure you have WinZip installed on your computer. You will need to have this program in order to open a zip file. Here is a link to download WinZip:

    2. Try to right click (instead of left-clicking) on the download link and choose "Save target as." Then choose a location to save the zip file. Close Internet Explorer and try to open the file.

    I hope one of these solutions works!


  • #16 Pamela

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:45 AM


    I am having trouble downloading your zip file. Can you tell me how to get it downloaded?

  • #17 Beth Newingham

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 08:44 PM

    Rae (comment #38),

    You asked about my book nook rotation chart. The book nooks are changed everyday. After reading workshop each day, a student moves each clip down one spot so that each student will read in a different book nook the following day. (Moving the clips is an assigned daily job on our job chart.) Students check their place on the chart first thing in the morning when they arrive so that they can go immediately to their book nook following the reading mini-lesson.

    You also asked what "free choice" meant on the chart. Free choice just means that the student can read anywhere in the classroom, but he or she cannot use a special book nook (couch, dish chair, beanbag, etc.) that has been assigned to another student that day.

    I hope I've answered your question! Let me know if this makes sense.


  • #18 Beth Newingham

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 08:37 PM

    Sonia (coment #35),

    How cool to get a comment from a reader in Brazil!!

    Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you are having a great school year!


  • #19 Rae

    Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    Hi Beth,

    What a wonderful resource you've created...thank you! I have a question about your Book Nook system featured in a picture on your class tour. It seems like a great way to manage equal distribution re: usage of pillows, couches, bean bags, etc. How often do you change where each student is assigned to sit, and what exactly is free choice on this chart?

  • #20 Beth Newingham

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    Danielle (comment #34),

    You asked for more information about our school jog-a-thon. The entire event is organized by a parent committee made up of P.T.O.members. They are amazing, and the jog-a-thon now runs like a well-oiled machine! I only see the final product when I jog with my students on the day of the event, but I know that there is a great deal of planning that goes into the event. The parents would be the best people to contact to to gather more information about the event! I would suggest having a parent from your P.T.O. contact our P.T.O. to talk about the specifics. You can find a link to our P.T.O. by visiting our school's homepage:

    Good luck!


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