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Setting Up a Self-Contained Elementary Classroom

Setting up an elementary self-contained classroom can be an overwhelming task to any teacher, but with the right preparation and organization, you’ll be able to get it done in no time.

Setting Up a Self-Contained Elementary Classroom

Learn what is absolutely necessary and where you can compromise when setting up your self-contained classroom!


Things to Think About When Setting Up the Self-Contained Elementary Classroom

Include All of the Visuals

Posters, anchor charts, word walls, procedure cards, and more all vital for the elementary self-contained classroom.

Anchor charts create an easily accessible and visible reference for instruction. They’re great to use with children who are struggling with content that they may not have yet mastered. Sometimes everyone needs visual cues!

Visuals can be used on the board as well as displayed on students’ desks so they are always in sight.

Word walls are also great for increasing vocabulary and supporting literacy skills.

Procedure cards that have been laminated for students’ reference may need to be replaced periodically due to wear and tear, but they are well worth the time to make.

If possible, PDF documents of all visuals should be downloaded onto each student’s iPad so that they can have access at home as well!

Prepare Your Classroom for Small Group Instruction

There are a number of different ways to arrange desks in the elementary self-contained classroom, but you’ll want to make sure that there is ample space for small group instruction.

Student desks should be arranged so that students can work together effectively but also have enough personal space.

Place small group tables and other furniture first and then arrange students’ desks. Make sure you leave enough space for your small group supplies!

Have Work Bins or Task Boxes Ready to Go

Individual work bins or task buckets are essential for the self-contained elementary classroom. They give students ample opportunity to practice and master basic skills.

The bins should be subject or skill-focused and align with students’ IEPs. Not only does it make them more effective, but you won’t have to go searching for materials or lesson ideas!

Use the bins during center time, for early finishers, or as a reward for behavior.

Have Classroom Procedures Established Before Day One

Procedures are the backbone of any classroom and that’s even more true in the self-contained setting.

Having a clear understanding of procedures will allow you and your students to be focused on learning at all times.

Make sure that all classrooms rules are clearly written out for both the student and teacher, but also make sure those expectations are enforced!

Some procedures you may want to have in place include: lining up, turning in papers, attendance, classroom library, handling classroom materials, and behavior communications.

Have the Schedule Posted

Students in any classroom need structure and routine, but in the special ed self-contained setting, it is even more so. Be sure to have a classroom schedule posted in a prominent location in the classroom. Include both words and images to the schedule so that it can be accessed by all students – even those who are struggling with reading.

Having an individual schedule at each student’s desk is also a great way to make sure students know what is happening when.

Leave Room for Movement

Students are going to need to move around your classroom and that has to be planned for. Make sure furniture and supplies are accessible, but also make sure that there is ample space for students to stand and move.

Having a place where students can stretch, bend, and wiggle for brain breaks is also important. That might be at their desks or in the large group area – whichever flows better with your lessons.

Consider Having Sensory and Calm Down Areas

Both sensory and calm down areas can be used to alleviate stress and anxiety in the self-contained setting. You may want to think about having these spaces throughout your classroom so they are accessible at any time for every student.

Include Alternative Seating

Alternative seating in the classroom can look like anything from a bean bag to an ottoman, but it is important. The self-contained classroom and special ed students need the opportunity to relax in different ways than just sitting at their desks. Consider including sensory chairs or pillows for those students who have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time.


Self-contained classrooms need to be equipped with the appropriate materials, furniture, and procedures so that children can work effectively in a safe environment.

The classroom should be set up based on the needs of your students and their IEPs. It’s also important for you as a teacher to have an understanding of these different types of classrooms and what can work best.

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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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