To Decorate or Not Decorate...That is the Question

Secondary Classrooms: To Decorate or Not To Decorate?  Read more: www.traceeorman.com

I love looking at all the cute elementary teachers' classroom pictures. There's something so magical and inviting with all the colors, rugs, story time areas, and cute tiny tables and chairs.

Then, as students get older and the desks get taller, classrooms start to turn...well, a little bland.

What happened to the bright colors?
The rugs on the floor?
The polka dot curtains?
The decorated doors?

Are those things reserved just for the tiny tots in the primary grades? To be honest, I don't think I could picture students in chemistry class sitting around little decorated chairs doing a lab experiment, could you? And if you let high school students sit on a carpet square in the room for story time, wouldn't they just fall asleep? And wouldn't group desk formations encourage cheating?

These are all excuses we high school teachers come up with because, quite frankly, who has time for this?

There are syllabi to copy!
Lessons to plan!
Rosters to load!
Apps to be ran!

Yet, elementary teachers do many of these things and even though they may only have 30 students to our 150, they do have prep work that does not involve decorating. So perhaps high school teachers just decide that classroom aesthetics aren't that important.

But...are they?

Do you decorate your high school room? If so, how does it impact the learning environment, if at all?

I've actually given this a lot of thought because I like a colorful room. I love hanging memes, quote signs, and posters relating to the novels we read. And an English classroom wouldn't be complete without books! These things count as decoration, right?

I think having a happy-looking room will brighten the students' moods. At least I hope it does. I've never done any formal research on the topic, but would love to see a study about this for secondary classrooms.

So I'm going to share some of my classroom pictures that may not be as colorful or organized as my elementary teacher friends', but I love my classroom. :)

I have almost an entire wall in my classroom lined with bookshelves. As my classroom library grew, the wonderful custodians in my building added the short oak bookcases--one-by-one each summer. Three years ago, our new counselor redecorated one of the rooms in her office and no longer needed the tall bookshelves, so our custodians--knowing how much I could use them--surprised me by adding them to my room. (Did I say already that I have THE best custodians!?)

I also think plants make any room feel more warm and homey.

Use books & plants to brighten up your secondary classroom Read more: www.traceeorman.com

On the window by my classroom door I added the previous years' "book selfies" (this is a FREEBIE in my store). Students love to look at the books their classmates recommend each year, so I continue to add to them each year as I get new book selfies from students. I will probably have to extend the display onto the door as it grows. I love that the first thing they see walking in and walking out are books.

Book selfie display in a secondary classroom  Read more: www.traceeorman.com

Another simple tip is to add fresh flowers from your yard (or the neighbor's, if they don't mind!). Flowers make everyone feel special and students DO notice these little things. It's simple and it really does help with creating a more cheerful mood and adding a fresh scent. Just be aware of allergies--some flowers have pollen that may spark hayfever or other allergic reactions. 

Use fresh flowers to add a special touch to your secondary classroom  Read more: www.traceeorman.com

Don't neglect the ceiling; it's a way to display student work and add a 3-dimensional feature to your room without cluttering the walls or using valuable board space. Here, I displayed student collage mobiles and trading cards. Both are great back-to-school activities.

Use the ceiling to display student work. Read more: www.traceeorman.com

I usually use my whiteboards for displaying student work. One thing I learned from elementary teachers is to use bulletin-board borders on my whiteboard to separate sections. I have one section I use for making announcements and displays students who were featured in the newspaper for various achievements.

Display student work in your secondary classroom  www.traceeorman.com

Use colorful borders to create sections on your whiteboard   Read more: www.traceeorman.com

Interactive bulletin boards are also very popular with secondary students. It gives students something to read and interact with before, after, and during class if time permits. This one is a banned books display in a social studies classroom.

Banned books display in a secondary classroom www.traceeorman.com

Memes can be fun reminders of your classroom rules, policies, or just to supplement your instruction. And we all know how much middle and high school students love memes, so don't be afraid to add them to your decor.

Memes can spark student interest  Read more: www.traceeorman.com

Please share how you "decorate" your secondary room and feel free to link up a post to your blog or website. I'd love to see more examples of secondary rooms! And thanks to all the elementary teachers out there who bring color and joy into the lives of millions of school children each year.

This post is featured on the TeachersPayTeachers (TpT) Blog. You'll find many helpful articles for secondary teachers there!

Secondary teachers: Do you decorate your classrooms?   www.traceeorman.com

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  1. I am a middle school teacher (6th), but I see that even 7th and 8th grade teachers decorate less and less. I don't think there is any age where aesthetics in your surroundings are no longer important. Sure, the style of decorations may change, but there are colorful Shakespeare posters out there, too!

    When I attend a teacher workshop and it is in a decorative classroom, I find I am happier and more engaged. If the classroom is bare, the environment feels sterile to me and I just don't feel like learning.

    I remember my high school literature teacher whose room was decorated, colorful, and alive. She is one of the teachers who inspired me to teach myself.

    When teachers say high school students don't need color or decoration, I always say, "Well, I'm 44 and I need it!" ;)

    1. I agree! I need that color, too! Thanks so much for sharing, Peanut Gallery! :)

  2. SO glad that you've brought this up Tracee! I have been trying to shake the feeling that my classroom is, well - inadequate in comparison to those that I've seen on a certain site...I think you know what I'm talking about. Anyhow, my room is bland and so I did make a few small changes this summer. A fresh coat of paint has done wonders for my ugly book shelves, I'm going to dress up my homework board and make a large calendar on my side chalkboard using chalk markers (brighter than colored chalk and need water to be erased). I'm going to add a few plants to my window sill this year as well. A few small changes - but I already like how it's coming together. Oh, and I painted my bulletin board paper, whereas it's usually a solid color. I'm going to make my large bulletin board my "word wall". This way, I can just put the words on to white paper and they'll stand out against the painted blue background, and I think I'll use colored markers to differentiate for parts of speech when I write the words(red marker- nouns, green - adjectives... and so on). I'll have some pictures coming up on my blog in the next week or two. Thanks so much for this post Tracee, and I totally agree - books do make the best decorations!


    1. I think those little things truly do make a difference for secondary students. They don't want to feel like they are in an elementary room, yet they still crave a little of that aspect, I think. I think your room is great, Krystal! :) Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love that you decorated with some Hunger Games. My 7th grade daughter has read the series multiple times. I know that engages her.

    1. Definitely!! I love The Hunger Games (I have another blog devoted solely to teaching the series--it really is so effective for motivating students). Thanks so much for stopping by and posting, Holly!

  4. I agree about classroom decoration. I teach 9-12 geography, U.S. history, gov't and econ at an alternative school. My classroom is small (22x22)but I try to have it inviting and pleasant. Many of students come from horrible homes and 95% are free/reduced. When they walk in I want them to smile and say, "I like being in Mr. Turner's classroom." I don't turn the overhead lights on. I have two lamps. I have a lava lamp, a candle wax burner, some Phineas and Ferb stuff and other things. I've only been teaching three years and I'm decorating as I go through the year. But I hate, hate, hate plain classrooms. I am careful not to overdo it though and make it look like a 1st grade classroom!

    I don't have space for a classroom library. But we do have an empty room down the hall and I've asked the principal if we can turn it into a school "library/media room." So I'm trying to get donations for that and turn it into someplace all the teachers can use.

    1. I think it is wonderful what you are doing for your students, Eric! It sounds like your room is probably the one place they can feel happy. Your idea for the empty room sounds awesome. I hope it works out--you should put a request in at DonorsChoose.org for books and other supplies. I would definitely donate! :) Thanks for sharing!

    2. I am in a similar situation to you: teaching 7th grade ELA in an urban school with almost 100% free/reduced breakfast/lunch. If you are still looking for donations for your book room please contact me. My husband is a sales manager for a book publishing company and we can send our advanced readers to you.

      Also, Ikea.com has cheap ($20) metal book cases that have survived many fights in my classroom. My neighbor across the hall recommended them when I lost my original book case this year and they have been awesome.

  5. I love decorating my classroom! The brighter the colors the better. I think it is important to have a warm and inviting space where students feel comfortable.

    I recently added a few of my classroom picture to my blog. Take a look if you like :)


    1. I agree, Stephanie! Thanks so much for sharing your link! Love it!!

  6. I don't know whether we do it differently here in Australia, but I rarely teach in the same classroom for every lesson. I've taught in several different schools, and it's always been the same. I'm on the move as much as the students. It makes it hard to set up any kind of display because I'm competing for space in the room already just to store the essential equipment I need. It's quite frustrating as I'd love to decorate my classroom. It's not like I need specialist equipment, I teach English and Maths.

    1. It sounds like your situation is like ours at the college level. That would definitely make it challenging and I would find it frustrating, as well. Is it like that at the elementary level, as well? Thanks so much for sharing with us, Kelley!

  7. I've had more fun this summer decorating my room than preparing my curriculum. Three years ago our school remodeled. I had to move EVERYTHING out of my classroom, but the only aesthetic my classroom got was a new tiled ceiling (there were new classrooms built, but not in my wing). I felt I needed something new, too, so I painted one of my walls purple. I LOVE my purple wall! And it instantly made my room happier. This summer I've been adding a few things I found on Pinterest. And I love the Staples office supplies--I have the high heeled shoe tape dispenser and purse post-it note dispenser on my desk. Just today I bought 2 new tape dispensers for the kids to use (the cupcake and the pink pump). I also just bought some adorable Disney Designer Princess notecards that I'm so excited to frame and hang up in my classroom. It makes me happy and the kids seem to like these things, too. Oh, I have Disney roadsigns hanging in my room, too--souvenirs from Disneyland. I'm not very creative or organized or cutesy, but I do what I can.
    I teach junior high (ninth grade) math.

    1. I cannot imagine having to move everything out of my room, Leslie! lol Last year I had to take everything off my walls because they were going to paint (and then they didn't), and i still haven't put everything back up.

      I love your little extras to add color & fun to your room! Those details do make a difference, I think. Plus I love the fun desk supplies like that, too. :) And i bet those Disney roadsigns are so cute. Thanks so much for posting!

  8. Hi Tracey, At my school my classroom is known for the decoration. Although our principal and past principals are reluctant allow "decoration for the sake of decoration" and therefore I don't call it decoration. I call it "visual cues" or "visual learning aids" and "environmental print". Drop into my blog to see the set up in my classroom. I teach a literacy and numeracy program so my room has posters and anchor charts from both learning areas. I have coloured curtains in the room and quotes/ funny posters that invite my kids to have a bit of a joke and enjoy the space. It works for me and all the teachers that come to visit comment on the classroom aesthetic.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing, M! I love your visual aids and anchor charts! What a great room!

  10. Hi Tracee ... it's great that you wrote about this because I've been thinking exactly the same thing. Since I joined Pinterest I've discovered that there really isn't as much for secondary teachers on classroom organization, management, etc. I teach Biology (9th grade) and have always spent time on the way my room looks. Having 100 students a day come thru and doing labs tends to make it a bit challenging, but I love having a bright, cheery classroom and I can't imagine that it wouldn't matter to the students too. Who wants to work in a dull, sterile box, even if only for a class period? I figure since I practically live there during the school year, I want to make it homey and comfortable.

    This summer I've been totally, and I meant TOTALLY, revamping my teaching methodology. I've been so inspired by what I've found on Pinterest ... and it's made me want to make my classroom even better.

    So, yes, I think it definitely matters. But I still see so many of my colleagues' rooms that are pretty blah ... they just throw a few posters up on the wall without much thought to decor.

    I don't have any pics up yet on my blog, but I'll get some in the next few days. We still haven't started school here in NY state ... not till after Labor Day!

    Hoping you and your readers have an amazing year!


  11. I teach 7th grade English. I try to keep my room bright and organized. I've made a few changes, but this post from my blog shows how I took a scary looking room and transformed it into a place I could teach and inspires.


  12. My school is a Literacy First building, so that pretty much dictates what we can and can't display. We're required to have word walls in a dominate location and the other walls must be restricted to "walls that teach."
    As an 8th grade math teacher, I do what I can to make the walls interesting. My word wall is usually set up based on the central theme of the chapter we're studying (i.e. giant coordinate plane, large geometric figures) with the mandated 2 inch high printed words in appropriate locations. Students generally create the walls that teach using butcher paper posters they create to remember formulas, steps for solving types of problems, etc.
    I'm trying to convince the administration to allow me to hang Christmas lights (white ones) from the ceiling to utilize with the SMARTboard -the overhead lights produce a glare on it. Once those get hung up, I'll also hang up some string for additional ways to display student created displays.
    By having my kids create most of the displays, it creates a sense of ownership. The kids want to come in to see which groups' work is displayed and what things were changed.

  13. This year, I moved classrooms for the 2nd year in a row. I also changed from 4th to 6th grade, so I did change a little bit about the way I decorate. I went with a polka dot theme and even put polka dot vinyl wall stickers up in a sort of 'wave' around the room to break up the tall white box. My bulletin boards have polka dot fabric on them. I have new book baskets in the library that are the exact same lime green and turquoise blue as the wall polka dots. I even used polka dot contact paper to cover the tops of my low file cabinets and a scratched up bookcase. My desk, file cabinets, and a strage bench are all painted a vibrant blue. I want to create a homey space for my students. Also, if I show pride in my classroom, and encourage them to help keep it nice, they are more likely to treat the things in our room with respect.

    1. See, those are my 4th grade classroom colors :D It's a refreshing, sophisticated color scheme, I think.

  14. 2nd grade and I decorate like a BOSS!

  15. We definitely need to see more secondary classrooms around!! I don't decorate as much as elementary teachers do, but I like my room to be bright. I always decorate with books. I have inspirational posters up, and I also love putting my favorite quotes around the room. I have a Hunger Games poster as well, of course :)

  16. It's really nice to hear a secondary school teacher's perspective on classroom decor! Coincidentally, yesterday 2 of my former 4th grades came by to visit after school. They told me how nervous they were but now excited they are now to be at the middle school for 6th grade. They said they love their teachers and "they are very funny and welcoming, but the classrooms aren't! They're just white boxes with tan floors."

    My first thought was the same, "I guess they have more correcting and more complex material to pour over." And of course, you don't want your room to look "baby-ish" to the kids. But I thought it was a shame that they felt there was so little in the way of decor that the room felt unwelcome. As adults, we decorate our homes, why not the classroom? Don't YOU (the royal you) want to feel comfortable in the room you spend most of your waking hours? I hope as the year goes on and those girls get more familiar with their surroundings, they feel more comfortable. Maybe it felt too foreign to them this early in the year. But in any case, interesting blog topic :)

  17. I really enjoyed this post and browsing all the comments and links! I teach high school Spanish, so I can get away with some of the cutesy decorations because I teach colors, seasons, etc. I'm starting my 4th year teaching and I keep adding more things to make the room my own. This year I focused on the corner where my desk is. I didn't like the dull and dark corner, so I made and hung some giant tissue paper pom poms that are in many elementary classrooms. I make a lot of my own posters by getting oversized prints done at OfficeMax. A candle warmer with a good scent makes the room inviting. I save ideas on pinterest to inspire me to add more pizzazz to my room. Usually it's ideas from an elementary classroom, but I try to find a way to adapt it for my classes!

  18. Great topic, thank you. I have always been an advocate for decorating my classroom (I teach Grades 7-12 in Australia) and just love the way my room looks and changes with units. The kids always comment on it and I also find they respect the space much more when they know I care about how it looks. The visual stimulus is very powerful and kids remember things they see around the room, I also couldn't imagine spending 5 hours a day in a plain boring room! Thanks again.

  19. I am a psychologist thinking about getting my master's in education and teaching instsead. I don't know of any specific research regarding secondary students and room decorations, but I do know that research tell sus the more senses that we stimulate the better we retain information. It doesn't have to be a stimulus that is relevant to the material either. You will learn your vocab words if you recite them outloud walk up and down the hallways than you did if you reciting them sitting in your chair.

    Adding a visual is always necessary for any learner, but in my opinion I would think for secondary students it would be especially crucial. What they need to know and what is expected of them should never be a secret. That information should be readily available around the room, from their peers, and from their adults.

    I also remember going through middle/high school thinking about how little effort was put into the space we spent our day in. I was offended by it.

    I think you are all on the right track and sound like considerate and insightful teachers! Thanks for all the great ideas for when I switch careers!

    1. Redo! haha "You will learn your vocab words better if you recite them outloud walking up and down the hallway than you would if you recited them sitting your chair."

  20. I am a fan of a decorated room, no matter how old the students. I usually go with a theme (cupcakes in years prior; birds on a wire this year). I like to incorporate the them of my room into my first unit as well so students get a feeling for how I think, work, and comprehend the world.
    My struggle is with desk placement. I have 36 desks and don't like students to feel free to talk at any time.

  21. Thank you! I have always said that I must be half elementary teacher because I, too, like the bright colors and atmosphere of the elementary rooms. I have painted a checkerboard border on my walls, added wall hangings that would typically be found in a home, put curtains on my windows, and placed personal items around the room. I have added a "holiday" Christmas tree that is decorated with a theme every month--apples for Sept, Halloween for Oct, fall/Thanksgiving for Nov, etc... It frees up a bulletin board while still providing some color and decoration to the room. I also have two areas that are reserved for student work such as posters or projects that they display. High school students are usually just as eager to have their work seen by their peers as elementary students are. Students often comment on how home-y and comfortable my room is. I feel that they will respond in a more creative and favorable way to a fun, inviting classroom instead of the boring, "institutionalized" one they usually are in. Thanks again for the great ideas. I'll be watching for more in the future! ~Anita L.

  22. I teach kindergarten, so of course I am coming from a different angle. However, I have studied the Reggio Emilia philosophy from Italy, and there is a strong belief that the environment is the third teacher. The environment not only impacts the flow and success organizationally of the classroom, but it can also inspire. There are some pretty inspiring educators that work on design of schools and classrooms in really intriguing ways. I am sure that secondary students could be very moved and inspired, or turned off, by classroom design. So good for you for creating an environment that inspires readers!

    Teaching Ace Blog

    1. I also love the Reggio approach to classroom environment. The movement in rural Saskatchewan and in the Reggio approach is to move away from the primary colours and overwhelming sensory overload and work with natural materials and a "homey" atmosphere instead. I'm just in the process of revamping my boring beige box of a classroom to include warm smoky green walls and a cursive alphabet burnt into strips of weathered barn board. Plants, lamps, and fabrics will also play a major role. So exciting to find some change for my 9-12 English language arts classroom!

  23. Thank you so much for reaffirming what I have done for years. I'm switching jobs in a few weeks and realized how much STUFF I have. Let me tell you, after taking down my curtains, it just doesn't feel like my classroom any more. I'm looking forward to decorating my next classroom, maybe it's a bit like a new home! :)

  24. Thanks - I was beginning to feel like I might be the only high school teacher who decorates. I am a science teacher with three bulletin boards - one is decorated with current science news and science inspirational poster, the second with a "no bullying" Bulldog poster and newspaper articles about our students, and the third I change seasonally. I use bright colors, have a side chalkboard with laminated subject headers under which I put the week's homework for each class, have plants, window clings for the seasons, etc. It only takes about 30 minutes per month to change things up and I have had MANY students comment positively about the cheerful atmosphere. Environment is important and I think elementary teachers know how to make their classroom welcoming - it is time for we high school teachers to do the same.

  25. I'm in my 4th year of substitute teaching... everything from K through 12... so I see lots of different styles (or no style). When I'm ready to settle down, I want to teach middle school math (that's where I did all of my student teaching). In the meantime, I keep a lot of notes on ideas for my future classroom, and I'm a BIG fan of the decorated secondary classroom. Sure, as said, you wouldn't do it up like elementary... but SOMETHING.

    Here's a tip for inspiration: search Pinterest for "teen rooms." Looking at 'dream' bedrooms loved by teens can be a great way to get inspiration for decorating a classroom. Obviously you're not going to decoration LIKE a bedroom, but you can take from those projects ideas on color, style, and age-appropriate eye-catchers.

    I live and teach in a low income area, and far too many of my students come from really tough home situations. I hope to make a classroom where any of my students, even if it is for only 48 minutes, feels like they've landed in a warm, soft, safe place to be and learn. It might be the only chance they get to feel that in a day.

  26. I decorate my classroom minimally for several reasons. 1) Lack of funds...sad, but true :( and 2) I believe a TON of color can overstimulate kids and be distracting (I know they are to me, personally). This next year, I am going to decorate in more neutral, homey colors, as a previous poster mentioned :) I want the space to be inviting, comfortable, and decorated without being overstimulating :)

  27. Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting?I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work. home decorate

  28. make sure you select one which can be detached. The reason being, when your kids are old enough and have their individual rooms, you can dismantle them and put them in their rooms. l shaped triple bunk bed


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