So you’ve been hired as an English Language Arts teacher! Now comes the hard part: Where do you begin with setting up a classroom and planning lessons? A lot of this will depend largely on how well-supported your school is and how much your new colleagues are willing to share. In my own experience, public schools tend to be underfunded (and that’s quite the understatement) so physical materials for setting up your classroom will most likely be limited to desks, a white board, and whatever technology the school offers. A big thing to keep in mind is that your students will be best served by providing engaging lessons that will stick with them throughout their academic careers and beyond. Fancy bulletin boards that look like they came straight off of Pinterest are fun, but they are far less important. Don’t put all your time and energy into having a perfectly decorated classroom on day one. Teacher hack: Your classroom will look wonderful once you get your students to create amazing pieces of work to adorn your walls (and administrators LOVE to see student work displayed.)
Start by Asking Your Colleagues
If you’re lucky, you’ll get into a school with an English department that is eager to welcome you to the team. Ask anyone teaching the same grade level as you what the curriculum looks like. Some school districts publish a strict guide for teachers to follow while others give teachers a lot of autonomy to decide what to teach, especially in the English Language Arts classroom. The teachers you’ll be working alongside will be able to give you an idea of how much will be provided by the school in terms of lesson plans and how much you’ll have to come up with on your own. Get a copy of the textbook as soon as you can. If you end up being required to follow a strict curriculum guide, you may find yourself needing to teach readings you are unfamiliar with. This happened to me at my first teaching assignment. The school had just adopted the HMH Collections textbook and we were expected to follow the district’s guide with that textbook. Unfortunately for me, my seasoned colleagues were in that same boat. There were a lot of selections that weren’t your typical English class readings. The sooner you get your textbook and reach out to your colleagues, the easier the start of your first year will be.
Sign Up for Teachers Pay Teachers
Despite the name, there are a ton of completely free resources available on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you can get a copy of your textbook, go ahead and start searching for free resources on TPT that would fit with the selections you’ll be teaching. There’s no fee create an account so there’s nothing to lose by browsing the vast library of teacher resources. Sellers on TPT are required to provide at least one original resource for free, so there’s no shortage of free resources to look through. For example, here’s a beginning of the year ice breaker game, and it’s completely free!. Don’t spend your valuable pre-planning time trying to reinvent the wheel. If you find a seller that seems to have tons of great resources that would be valuable to you, give them a follow so you’ll receive notifications of sales, product updates, and potential new free resources. What I like most about TPT is that everything is created by teachers and it shows. Common Core standards are linked to most English Language Arts materials, so you don’t have to feel so overwhelmed about hitting and documenting standards if you’re new to the classroom.
This is a really great, free program that’s user-friendly. CommonLit allows you to set up classes and assign literature readings to your students. Students are assessed at the end of each reading. Most selections have several multiple choice questions which are auto-graded and one written response to be graded by the teacher. As long as your students have access to computers, this is an excellent tool to keep handy. I personally used this for substitute plans on short notice (because you’ll find that making detailed sub plans is often more work than just coming in yourself.)
This is a great place to find informational texts to integrate into your English Language Arts classroom and it’s free to use. Newsela offers a vast library (with new texts being added all the time) of current events texts. You will be required to teach informational readings in addition to literature, so this will likely come in handy. Here’s a free Guided Reading Sheet I like to use with informational texts.
This is one of my favorites. ReadWriteThink offers high-quality free resources for a range of subjects and grade levels. Just take a look at the available printouts here and you’ll see why I love this one so much! There’s an endless amount of stuff for any grade level, so this is one you should probably bookmark. I love having some stacks of printouts ready to go for emergency sub plans. That’s something you will most likely have to prepare during your pre-planning days before students arrive. Most schools require teachers to have three to five days worth of emergency substitute plans ready to be deployed should you be out unexpectedly.
This website offers a lot of free resources for teachers. Although I personally found sifting through it to be more work for lower quality or not-so-relevant lessons, I do like to use these Everyday Edits they offer for free. These are excellent warm up activities for keeping your students’ editing skills sharp. The website is full of information so give it a look and you may find something that works perfectly for your classroom and doesn’t cost you a dime.
The Fun Stuff
Ok, I know I said decorating your classroom isn’t the important part, but how is anyone going to resist the fun of setting up the classroom you wish you had as a kid? Here are some things to check out or try if you want to find free things for classroom:
- Donorschoose.org Make requests for specific supplies your classroom needs.
- Create a classroom “Wish List” and include it on the syllabus you send home with your students. Lots of parents are eager to help teachers out with small things for the classroom like tissues, pencils, Expo markers, and lots of other stuff.
- Find your artistic students and ask them to create paintings or drawings for your room! The right students will jump at the opportunity and student artwork adds a magical touch to any classroom.
- Ask other teachers if there is any kind of junk closet full of stuff from teachers who have retired or left the school. Most schools have a place where stuff gets hoarded, so find it!
Good luck and don’t forget to enjoy those summers!