Support Instruction and Your Wallet with Budget Friendly Decor

Ah, fall. The time of year when the air is filled with the perfume of #2 pencils and the tangy smell of Expo markers. The start of a new school year is rapidly approaching and chances are, you’re starting to think about your classroom décor. Looking to mix things up this year, you scour social media curious to see what the latest trends in room arrangement are. As you scroll, you see image after image of pristine, comfortably spacious, color-coordinated classrooms. The desks all look brand new. The fabric of one room’s “coffee lounge” sofa seems impervious to havoc of the kind caused by the sticky fingers and thread-pullers who occupy your own classes. The cheerful teacher’s desk has a place for everything and everything in its place. Your search reveals a never-ending carousel of picture-perfect classroom décor. Rather than feeling inspired, you feel deflated, knowing you’ll never have the budget, the time, or the energy, to bring your room to life the way these other rock-star teachers seem to be doing. You realize you don’t need social media to help you decorate your classroom. You need a million dollars! OR, you could save your millions and turn instead to budget-friendly classroom décor ideas that will make your students, and your wallet, smile.  

Five Money-Saving Ideas  

  1. Select posters and other wall-décor that connect meaningfully to your curriculum, not your personal design tastes. In my English classroom, for example, I have a row of posters that explores the four writing personalities first explored by Betty Flowers (madman, architect, carpenter, and judge). On another wall, I have posters showcasing famous authors of diverse backgrounds. These resources, while perhaps not as beautiful as color-coded images of flowers or seascapes, not only provide decoration for my walls, but they serve a purpose of directly supporting instruction. And the best part is that posters tend to be relatively inexpensive and can easily be swapped out or rotated each year.  

If you’re a new teacher, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues if they have any old posters they no longer display (chances are, they do). This can be a great way to get started with classroom décor, allowing you to avoid bare walls without shelling out money you don’t yet have, or dedicating large quantities of time that could be better spent familiarizing yourself with the school and your course curriculum.

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  1. 2. Save money on flexible seating furniture by creating customized seating zones. Think about the types of activities your students engage in during your lessons and determine the types of seating arrangements that will work best for those activities. Then, create zones in your room using your existing furniture to facilitate their learning. For example, create 2-3 clusters of small group workstations by pushing desks together into mini pods to support collaborative learning. Dedicate a conference zone by pushing 8 – 10 desks together into a large rectangle that promotes discussions. Keep some of your desks in basic rows to allow for independent work. Goodbye universal desk formations, hello flexible seating zones—for FREE! 

If and when you are ready to experiment with the type of flexible seating that involves function-specific furniture like sofas, benches, and tables, make sure you run it by your administrator and principal first and that you know any specific rules or guidelines you must follow. For example, in my district, all seating must be able to support a specific weight to be in compliance. Some schools may not have sufficient storage space to house unwanted classroom desks, so if by moving new furniture in, you’ll need to pull old furniture out, you’ll need to make sure the school has the resources to support that. Once you have approval and know the guidelines, get to know your resale stores really well. They often have great furniture at great prices, which you’ll appreciate because it won’t take long for students to destroy whatever you bring into the room. Trust me on this. 

  1. Celebrate the changing seasons by dedicating one portion of your wall to seasonal décor. If you have the time, energy, and artistic resources to update this section of your wall each season, by all means, go for it. But that’s not really necessary. Simply ask your artistic students (chances are, you’ll have a few in your classroom each year) to design and create the seasonal display or make the rights to creating the display a challenge that teams of students can win based on academic requirements you set forth. Scared to relinquish that much control to your students but don’t have the resources to purchase a rotating collection of display items? Design seasonal in-class activities connected to your studies and use the students’ own work to create the displays.  

My first year teaching, my students could choose to read Frankenstein or Dracula. One of their formative assignments challenged them to conduct literary analysis tasks on paper shaped like elements from their books (for example, the monster’s head for Frankenstein or bat cutouts for Dracula). While many kids used the provided templates, others went above-and-beyond. One designed a full-color monster-shaped flip book. Another created aged letters that he decorated with “blood” and burn marks. Another made tombstone art. By the end of the week, I had a collection of academic work that, when placed together, created a haunted tableau. I’ve used their work, artistically posted on a bulletin board and overlayed with a jagged piece of gauzy fabric I picked up on clearance after Halloween, every October. And every October, when my current batch of students sees the display, they ooh and ahh over it.

Save Time AND Money!

Getting back-to-school ready doesn't have to cost a lot of time. This school year, ditch the writing formulas and bring some Artfulness into your classroom. With twenty core-aligned writing lessons designed to move students towards meaningful, authentic writing, lesson planning, like your decor, can be a breeze this year!

Image of "Artfulness" Book Cover


  1. Make your class culturally responsive by tapping into your students’ funds of knowledge to decorate a section of your room each year. Dedicate one portion of your wall space to student-sourced items and rotate the collection out each month. Ask them to bring in a range of materials that can be hung on a wall such as pictures, fabrics, or drawings. Tell them that the items they bring in must reflect something meaningful to them (think of it as a display-board show-and-tell). Then, design activities each month that pull from that rotating display space. In a history class, ask students toconnect an image in a photograph with a specific time period in history. In a science class, ask them to research the techniques that go into dying fabrics. By connecting your curriculum to the items students bring in, you’re allowing them to see the important role that elements from their own real lives play in the world around them. 

Inspired by and adapted from a writing strategy shared by Felicia Rose Chavez in her book, The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, you don’t have to rely exclusively on your students to employ this technique. For example, this year, I’m collaborating with my school’s various cultural clubs to have them bring in items related to their cultures during the corresponding “heritage” months. In September, my school’s Latin American Student Association will create a display to honor Hispanic Heritage Month. As part of their efforts, spokespeople from their club will be speaking to my classes about the various items on display and the writing traditions of Latin American authors, showcasing their culture in a way that directly reflects our classroom curriculum and allows students to see themselves in their learning. 

  1. Create a “Notable Quotable” wall in your classroom that highlights your students’ work. You can make this space as small or as large as you want by taping off the dedicated section of your wall. I’ve found that decorative duct tape works best as it adheres to cinder block better than decorative masking tape (which tends to peel very quickly) yet is still easy to remove at the end of the year. (Do be sure to check with your school about guidelines for decorations, first.)Although the Notable Quotable wall will start off very barren, the space will fill up quickly with excerpts and snippets of student work—a lovely phrase here, an insightful observation there. Post their work on decorative note cards, being sure to give credit to each quoted student by writing their name below their work. Then, sit back and watch as students regularly check out the wall to spot new additions, call over their friends to share their recognition, or snap photos of their post to show their families. Students take pride in seeing their work on display and some will even produce better work in the hope that something of theirs gets posted by the end of the year. And, other than the cost of some decorative tape and notecards, the display wall will cost you nothing! 

I love this strategy not because of its budget-friendly nature, but because of the impact it has on student learning. What began quite accidentally in my own class two years ago has morphed into an ever-growing showcase of student work. The first time I saw a student snap a picture of her work to show her parents, I realized how important it was to give students a way to leave their mark—quite literally—in the room. Not only is this a great way to display student work, it’s also a great strategy for sourcing class examples. Why borrow a line from a great book to showcase asyndeton if a student successfully employed the technique in their own original writing? I jot down a reminder note on the back of each notecard highlighting what made their quote so powerful: a great example of irony, a unique analytical insight, and use the student samples as whole-class examples during classroom instruction. 

About the Author

Andrea Yarbough is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes. Trusted by major organizations with curriculum design and professional workshops, she has extensive experience developing meaningful, effective instruction for students and teachers, resulting in better outcomes with less work. 

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