Starting a New Classroom: Where to Begin

  • Situation

    I am a new Special Education Elementary Teacher who is responsible for starting up a new support classroom for students with significant learning needs. My students spend a great deal of their day with me in the classroom and only leave for specials. There is so much to do to pull together this class. I have so many ideas of how I want it to be to best support my students however I am feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Please advise…..

  • Summary

    It is not uncommon for teachers (new or seasoned) to feel overwhelmed with all the tasks needed to start a new classroom. Consider using the Watson Classroom Planning Checklist (see resources below). This checklist prioritizes the minimum that should occur in a start up classroom. It includes the following 5 sections:

    1) IEP At a Glance

    2) Independent Work Stations

    3) Centers

    4) Schedules

    5) Data collection

  • Definition

    The Watson Classroom Planning Checklist helps teachers prioritize the tasks that ought to happen when developing a new classroom.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17
    • Planning Effort: High
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Classroom resources and materials

    Student IEPs

  • Process

    1.  Develop an IEP AT A GLANCE for each of your students.

    • This should be limited to 1 page and include the following sections: 1) bulleted goals, 2) strengths,  3) motivators, and 4) specially designed instruction.
    • These documents should be posted for classroom staff to have quick access to along with student data sheets. This document can also be shared with inclusion and specials teachers.
    • The document is utilized to create the classroom including centers and independent work jobs.
    • See Documents and Related Resources for related situation on this site.

    2.  Develop  independent work stations for each of your students.

    • Work stations are organized with some symbol the student can access to denote beginning and end.
    • A picture or written cue or object is provided at the end of the visual system to denote what happens when the work is completed.
    • Visual organization for each station is provided (bins, shelving, etc. )
    • An organizational system for independent work storage has been developed.
    • See Documents and Related Resources for link to a related situation on this site.

    3.  Develop learning centers.

    • A minimum of 5 centers from a possible 9 should be available.  Possibilities include Language Master, Listening Center, Writing Center, Manipulative center, Sensory Area, Quiet/Leisure area (books, magazines, CD player), Art area, Leisure for older students with games, books, magazines, CD’s, academic centers, work task centers.
    • Clearly label center areas with visual supports as needed.
    • Choose materials based on information about the student from IEP at a Glance.

    4.  Develop Schedules (Schedules are a very important task to accomplish at the start of school as students begin to recognize and take comfort in the routines and activities in their environment.)

    • Develop a  visual schedule of the general day and post were it is visible and can be accessed.
    • Develop  an individual schedule appropriate to each student that can be accessed daily.
    • Develop a schedule for paraprofessionals and other support staff and post.
    • If Velcro pictures are used as schedules, develop an organized storage system.

    5.  Develop Data system(s).

    • Develop a system ( i.e., clipboard, notebook, or other organized system)  for each student.
    • Develop data sheets that are prepared and ready to use for each GOAL/objective/benchmark on the IEP.
  • Documents and Related Resources

    Matching Work Systems (related situation on this site)


    IEP At a Glance (related situation on this site)


    Setting up a Structured Classroom (Watson Institute Resource)


    Special Education Internet Resources


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.