Classroom Organization

2018-2019 Classroom Tour

Classroom tours are one of those internet things that I can get lost in for hours. Elementary, middle, high school, homeschool rooms – it doesn’t matter. I will read your classroom tour post, and I will enjoy it.

So here’s mine! Matt (my room buddy) and I are going into our second year of sharing this room together. I love this room. It’s huge, it has a wall full of windows, and we asked for (and received!) the desks you see in these photos – the kind that roll and fit together.


This is our room from the front. My desk is the one in the back right corner, and you can see Matt’s in the right foreground. One of the things I like about the way our room has turned out is how much color there is. That and those big windows really help to keep the atmosphere energetic, which I need all the help I can get with – I am naturally a pretty mellow person and it takes a lot to get me really keyed up (at least with/around students).


To the left of the main white board is this view (sorry I didn’t clean the white board in this picture). The table with the models on it actually doesn’t belong to us; our colleague moved to a smaller room this year and couldn’t move these in, so they moved to our room. Those bins under the table are some of our Latin Club supplies – mostly Breakout Edu kits.


This is our left wall from the front of the room. The posters at the top are constellations with little blurbs about their mythological origins. If you’re wondering what the tiny papers on the desks are, those are the Post-It notes I use on the first day of school to assign seats. Just number each desk with a Post-It note and then project the roster of each class in a numbered list so that when kids walk in, they just look at their name, see the number beside it, and find their seat.


Back left corner. The dining booth came to me from a friend in the building who was getting rid of it; I think it originally came from the drama program. I got it for students to use during silent reading or any other independent work time. The Pantheon frame above it is something I found at Goodwill a few years ago for just a few dollars.

This is an important area in our room, because the kids (at least in my classes, though Matt may have a different management system) can just get up (as long as I am not in the middle of saying something) and grab what they need. I like to let those issues (needing a pencil, piece of paper, whatever) take up as little class time as possible, and letting them get up as needed (again, as long as it’s not a distraction) has worked for me so far.

Re: the yellow sign. I promise I know how to spell “declension.” My students, on the other hand… 



A better view of this area. Most of these bins I got from the Dollar Tree (red marker bin, blue rag hamper, purple pencil bucket), Goodwill (pink beverage container that’s holding mini whiteboards), or the “please take this!” table in our teachers’ lounge (yellow bin holding books, red bin holding gum erasers). Most of the supplies belong either to our program or our department; I bought the highlighters (really, rounded up a bunch of extra highlighters I had collected during grad school) and the rulers (during a summer camp a few years ago). As far as pencils go, these are supplied to us, but I pretty much just try to pick up whatever kids have dropped on the floor in my room, the cafeteria, and the hall. I also use any leftover pencils that we get from GJCL Convention. Same thing with paper… I had quite a bit of notebook paper left over from college, and then I just pick up a notebook or two when the kids are doing locker cleanout at the end of the year.

The sheets under the table are our Latin Club togas – probably about 50 in all. Some of these were here before Matt and I got here, but I bought a few really cheap ones at Walmart. The rest were donated by parents and faculty.


think we are the only room at school with a door like this that connects to the room next to us. Usually there is something blocking that uncovered window on the other side. I found all these memes and images on Tumblr and Twitter, and one of my students printed some new ones out for me for my birthday this year. The poster on the left is from ACIS, the company we use to travel with students.


My desk area. A good friend of mine at work calls this “busy,” which, yeah, I can see that… but my justification is that I touch or use everything behind my desk at least once a week. (Also, if you couldn’t tell I work at a Catholic school yet, here’s your sign, or like 50 of them.)


This is my upgraded silent reading display. I have written pretty extensively about how I do silent reading given that this (and the two blue milk crates to the right) is about as much room as I can devote to a physical library. I got the shelf display on top from the Chessex booth at Dragon Con last year for free, and I bought the larger one on bottom from Amazon. I’m trying to rotate the books on display this year, but I’m starting out with the newest ones on top. I generally reserve these display shelves for books that actually have a cover, like these. If I print them myself from Google Docs and then bind them in our school library or with report covers, they get filed in those blue crates. Again, if you are wondering how I manage all this, see this post – it explains it pretty well.

On the top shelf in the clear pencil box is a set of annotation supplies for students: small sticky notes and paperclips. We will be using these this year in CP as students work on their portfolios, and I had a ton of these supplies to spare (seriously – all those sticky note pads came from my desk and I still have enough to last me at least this year).

Behind the Kleenex is a bin of about 5 or 6 Latin dictionaries.



Two closer shots of the area behind my desk. The top photo is the left side. Those blue milk crates on the bottom are where I store the rest of my silent reading library. The crates on the top are where I will be storing students’ tests this year. I don’t know why it took me this long to figure out this system. In the past I just clipped all the tests for a stage together and threw them in a drawer. Then when it came time for exams or to correct a test, I would have to search through the stack for a student’s test. So this year, no more. When we are done reviewing a test together, students will put it in their own file folder, so that when it’s time to revisit that test for whatever reason, they have easy access to their own work.

On top of that is where I keep all my “all-purpose” papers, meaning that they are not specific to any one section or class. The pull-out trays hold ZipGrade forms. The folders on top are no-name papers, test correction forms, free write forms, 6-word story templates (instructions on Keith Toda’s site), and permission slips for whatever field trip or event is coming up. Students are allowed to access most things on this left side.

On the right side (bottom photo) is strictly my area. All those spiral books are CLC resources. The file holder to the right with the manila folders is where I store anything I need to hand out in class that day; there is a folder for each class period. On the front are forms I use often: test reflection forms (for the kids) and scan/copy request forms (for me).

Below that… I really keep most things digitized, but I have found it essential to have this set of binders. The permission slips we need for GJCL Convention are enough to fill up one entire binder (as you can see). I keep original receipts, reimbursement forms, registration materials, and any other Latin Club-related permission slips in the Junior Classical League binder. The small white binder has my MVQs for Latin I and Latin II. MVQs are mini vocab quizzes: just 10-question quizzes that count for half a quiz grade. I project the quiz using Google Slides, but there’s always a kid who misses it or otherwise needs to retake it, so I have printed them all out and put them in page protectors so I can just hand “the book” as we call it to the kid and she can take the quiz without me needing to pull it up on the computer.

I need to re-label the blue binder for this year, but my “students” binder is where I keep all my signed syllabus agreements and returned student questionnaires. I also keep the carbon copy of any discipline referral slip in here as well as printed copies of important email correspondence with parents. The other two binders are master copy binders for courses I am building this year. Once I’m done with the courses, I will digitize everything.

The other stuff back here includes games like Zeus on the Loose and Verba cards, plus BINGO cards and “I Have, Who Has” cards that I’ve made. I also keep large mailing folders, my report covers for printed silent reading materials, and laminating sheets back here. I keep all of our NJCLLHS materials, including honor cords, in the double-decker plastic bin on the bottom right.


My windowsill and desk area – I promise I use every single one of those books on a regular basis. I generally try to keep a clean desk surface but it doesn’t always work that way. The purple bin that is simply overflowing with papers at the moment is what I call the paper horreum (because it is where I keep halves of paper that I have “harvested” from students). Students use those paper halves to take the MVQs mentioned above, but they also just use them for scrap paper. I use the black paper tray on the right as my one inbox for turned-in papers. I’m not organized enough to have a multi-inbox system.


Right side of the room. The podium has some extra art supplies like markers and old magazines in it. It’s also where I store the doc box that my students use to store the books that they are reading for silent reading. The bin under the shelf is yet another Latin Club supply bin. This one is for all our paper plates, napkins, and other party supplies.

And… the bed. A dear colleague in our department left our school in May to work at another school, and this bed had been in his room, so he donated it to me and Matt when he left. I scooped it up a) because it’s more flexible seating during silent reading and independent work times, b) we can use it in the videos our Latin students make and during “demonstrations” of Roman dining practices, and c) there is a not-insignificant chance that I will end up taking at least one nap on it during the course of the school year.


And last but not least, the front of the room. That thing on the board is our Mimio board tool, which turns any whiteboard into a smartboard. Please forgive the Jake Paul/Logan Paul/whichever Paul hellspawn quote that is on top of the board. It magically appeared there one day and I haven’t had the heart to take it down.

So that’s it! This room will be filled with students in exactly one week. I can’t wait!


Classroom Organization · FVR/SSR

More Apps and Websites I Love

I left off two websites from my first post on this topic in December, and I can’t believe I forgot to include them. I use both of these on at least a weekly basis.

  • ZipBooks. In my first two years as Latin Club moderator, I used a combination of pencil-and-paper records and spreadsheets to keep track of club spending. You might not expect it, but Latin Club (what we call our JCL chapter) has a pretty decent amount of cash inflow and outflow every month. I allow students to sign up at any point in the year (although I highly encourage them to sign up by the Phase 1 deadline for GJCL), which means that if nothing else, we usually have dues to charge. But there are also field trips like Fall Forum and GJCL Convention for which we have to charge students and then send off checks, and there are pizza orders, bus reservations, T-shirt orders, NJCLHS registration, and more. I didn’t really have a great setup for keeping track of these simple debits and credits from our Latin Club account, so I did some “shopping” online for a free basic bookkeeping website. I tried out quite a few, including Wave, but I landed on ZipBooks because it is easy to use, allows for custom categories, and has a simple interface. I don’t need something complicated, and while it looks like ZipBooks could be used for business bookkeeping (especially with a premium subscription, which gives you a general ledger, 1099 summary, and a bunch of other goodies), the free version gives me everything I need: a button for deposits, a button for expenses, and a balance sheet. I highly recommend it if you want an easy-to-use site to keep track of club expenses.
  • Libib. We share classrooms at our school, which means I do not have room for an FVR library. Instead, I keep my FVR books in hanging folders in a milk crate for compact storage. But this presented me with a problem from the very beginning. I wanted students to be able to “browse” the books that are available to them, but I wanted to know who was reading what at any time. I looked at several different websites for classroom libraries, but nothing gave me exactly what I wanted… until I found Libib (pronounced luh-bib, but my kids and I call it Lil’ Bib). Here is a link to my classroom library. I want to say upfront that I pay the $5 each month for the premium version, but it has everything I dreamed of and more. I haven’t found another library site that gives you all of the following:
    • Custom entries. Most free library sites I found required you to enter an ISBN when creating a catalog entry, but because so few FVR titles exist for Latin, I do a lot of printing from sources like the Mille Noctes database.
    • Custom groupings. Other sites would group by AR level or Lexile level, but again, this is Latin, and a lot of this stuff is just printed from Google docs. I am able to create custom groups based on difficulty levels that I have created for my students. I have also been able to set up my classroom library site so that the books are displayed by difficulty group rather than by ABC order.
    • Descriptions and photos. I wanted my students to be able to see the book covers and read a summary description of each book.
    • Book status and multiple copies. My students can see how many copies of each book I have and how many copies are currently available to check out.
    • Tons of stats. I can get reports on what books a given student has checked out, reports on general lending data from my class, and more.
    • Tags. Students can view books according to their difficulty groupings, but they can also click on a list of tags I have created to find books according to their topics. When we did an FVR self-assessment last fall, most of my students reported choosing a book based on its content rather than its difficulty. I don’t mean to say that most of them are choosing books completely out of their ability range, but most of them will choose a book that’s a little bit harder if it’s interesting to them. The tag list helps with this. The tags they seem most interested in are the graphic novels/comic books tag and the scary stories tag. Finally, it’s also a great way to organize series. I use tags for the Puer Ex Seripho series, Lance Piantaggini’s Pisoverse series, the Secunda comics, the I am Reading Latin series, and more.
    • Playing librarian. I can check books in and out with my desktop or phone, and, because I am a giant nerd, I have been able to use Libib and the Avery Labels online lab to generate barcodes for all of my books (even my custom-created books) so that I can quickly scan books to check in/out. You can even make library cards for your students, and if you’re so inclined, you can set up a “kiosk option” where students use an iPad to check books out to themselves.
Classroom Management · Classroom Organization

Factions and Faction Points

I am only in my second year of teaching, so classroom management is something I am still struggling with a lot. One of the things that does help is the way our program does student grouping: factions, a name derived from the factions of Roman chariot racing. This idea is the brainchild of a dear colleague of mine. You can think of factions as an old-school Class Dojo.

Each of the three of us does factions a little differently. Here’s what I do: a few days after the start of the semester (our students switch classes at the mid-year point), once I have a little bit of a feel for student personalities and needs, I divide the kids into factions. Typically, I want these to be four to five students (remember: we have small class sizes, capped at 24 but usually closer to 18). Factions work together in class on various activities, which is their big draw for me as a teacher. They’re a great way to have students group up, and if you use heterogeneous grouping, students do a fantastic job of explaining concepts to one another.

For the kids, the big draw is the point system. Students earn points toward extra credit on their stage test, so the faction with the most points the day of the test will get the highest extra credit. Students earn faction points in a variety of ways: earning a 100 on a quiz, coming to me for help before or after school, emailing me cool Latin-related things, making Quizlets and Kahoots, answering tough questions in class, asking insightful questions, etc. It goes on and on. The main idea behind the points is that every type of student is rewarded: kids who struggle, kids who pick up Latin like it’s their first language, and everyone in between. It also rewards students, especially my freshmen, who are learning a lot of academic skills, for trying new ways of studying and being an active participant in an intellectual community.

I keep track of points by student rather than solely by faction, for two main reasons. First, if you didn’t earn any points for your faction, you can’t get any of the extra credit if your faction wins the competition. Second, if I have to move students during the course of a stage for whatever reason, the points are easily transferable between factions. It also helps me to reflect on who might be better matched together if I rearrange factions between stages.

It’s a great system for classroom management because you can also take a point away from a faction for a minor misdeed committed by a student – anything more than a point, in my opinion, becomes too much of a group punishment.

Finally, I love factions because they let you do something with all the games you play in class. They allow you to have an easy prize for any class competition: “whoever wins this one gets 3 points for their faction!”

Keeping track of the points is easy. I keep all the factions for my classes on the same Google Doc in a file called Current Factions. I created one one-row table for each period I teach with one column per faction. The students are listed together in columns according to their faction. I print this out, keep it on my clipboard I use every day, and make tally marks next to students’ names as they earn points. Here’s a screenshot of a fake class:


Let me know if you have questions about this system. It’s simple, effective, and the kids totally buy in. Win-win-win.