Pimp my Classroom: 8 ways to confuse the cleaner

Enlarged essay as an entrance space
I posted this image on Twitter a while ago of when I made an entrance into my classroom out of an enlarged essay. I used the slice tool on Photoshop, printed A3 in B/W and then, aided by two students, pieced it back together. It was a really cheap but effective way of setting out our project theme for an exhibition. It has generated a fair amount of interest and so, with a new term approaching and those token bits of tinsel to come down, I thought some other examples of our ‘room pimping, creative mischief’ might appeal.

Obviously there are some very distinct advantages when you teach Art & Photography, however, I am sure there is room for creative play in all subject areas. As part of our CPD briefings this term we will be considering how to develop our learning environments further. I would love to gather other examples, so please forward any ideas my way.

For now, here’s 10 playful ways we have manipulated our teaching space. Worth mentioning that all these examples have been created by working alongside students, with aiding T&L as the driving force of the ideas.

1. Make a secret cinema!

By utilising a fixed projector and sectioning the area off using exhibition boards we created a mini cinema / presentation space. Great for students to share work, provide feedback and watch selected, inspirational  YouTube presentations. The example above is only a glimpse of  the entrance but it does also show the David Hockney inspired ‘Peep-Board’ we included. This was great for catching out curious visitors!

2. Get an expert in!

dance student drawing lesson

How would an expert from another ‘domain’ interpret your teaching space? Could you let a climber loose in a geography room? This was a great lesson studying movement and mark-making with the assistance of a confident and very able Year 13 Dance student.  He was spotted practising for a forthcoming exam and so we asked if he would mind doing so in front a group. He did so brilliantly, trying out moves and talking through his ideas, intentions and errors as he went.
Now, what about an auctioneer in a maths room?

3.Personalised ‘critique’ spaces
gallery critique_boards
A really effective way of enabling a ‘group critique’. Students are given a display space each which they can customize with a self-portrait (okay, so we went a little over the top with the scale of things, but it could work equally well with noticeboards and postcard sized images).  Students then present their work, annotating alongside it, justifying and explaining their decisions using coloured pencils to comment on different areas (e.g. for photography we use different colours for Technical, Contextual, Visual or Conceptual Values). Students then rotate, adding thoughts, feedback and suggestions for improvements. It is an easily transferable idea for other subjects where peer feedback might be valued.

4. The Expert’s Bedroom (if you do one thing, do this, it’s brilliant!)

This is a favourite project that had real impact.  It was also hilarious. And rather worryingly, I still do not know who the man in the image is! It is probably worthy of a longer post at some point but here’s the gist of it…
Year 12 students were exploring how to develop expertise in Art. We had been looking at timelines for drawing development and decided it would be fun to make a physical interpretation considering this: What would the childhood bedroom of an expert in our subject look like?
We constructed a bedroom space, bed and all, with the walls becoming a timeline that showed progression through each stage of drawing development. The funniest bit was building it at the entrance to the classroom, and then converting a wardrobe into a new secret entrance! Some new visitors left completely perplexed; they had stepped into a child’s bedroom when expecting a classroom, not realising the teaching space beyond. A perfect hideaway if OFSTED had called!

5. Celebrating best practice

expert students
How do you celebrate those students who really excel in your subject? This was another simple but effective David Hockney inspired approach to celebrating success. We wanted to put a face to examples of great work from each year group, so we paired students up and challenged them to create life size versions of themselves presenting something they were particularly proud of. By placing them in chronological order, Year 7 to Year 13, it also provided a great insight into students’ creative development.

 6. Subject Banquet or Tea Party


This was something that worked great for our Year 6 Transfer Day but can also be a great introduction for new 6th formers or a new project. We set up a large banquet style table and used cake stands to set out a range of tools for mark-making. Once again this particularly suited Art as Year 6′s happily printed away using custard creams! However, the seed of the idea has further potential. Cake stands with maths challenges on which you have to select, or questions to respond to. These could even be tucked inside Christmas crackers…using a large paper tablecloth has lots of potential for collaborative work as students circle around…

7. Abandoned Room


This was a 6th form student led project which certainly pushed some boundaries, however, once set up it made such a great teaching space for weeks for a wide range of classes, provoking some very rich discussions and responses. 6 students wanted to convert the classroom into an installation space, creating the feel of an abandoned building within which visitors could peer through openings (yes, including a toilet seat) and view a variety of films and imagery they had created. It was a mad idea to which I probably should have said no, but I trusted them (whilst challenging their motivations to ensure it was robust, justifiable and not a whim) and they did not disappoint. Not for the feint-hearted! And yes, they even cleared up properly.

8. Project themed spaces

gypsy caravanCircus themed space

punch and judyGiant Punch & Judy Show Tent

This is something we have always enjoyed doing to celebrate the completion of an art project – Creating a group installation space. By incorporating sound, film, smell, or even changing the texture under foot, we have converted teaching spaces into stimulating exhibitions to then teach other classes within. It is always a massive group effort, however each year a group of students emerge, willing to go the extra step in lunchtimes or after school to create something memorable. It is always a great excuse for collaborative, creative mischief.

With all of these ambitious ideas there are inevitable disruptions and challenges. Key questions that we return to before embarking…
What will be the cost in time, energy and money? How does this relate to the potential benefits – in terms of number of students that will be involved or impacted upon? Do all, or most, year groups have the potential to benefit? How might other subject areas be able to utilise the space once it is adapted? Is this creatively challenging enough? Does it demonstrate staff as creative risk-takers?  Can we learn something new by doing this?

Yet mostly I wonder if the cleaners are going to kill me. Thankfully they are very forgiving. It would be really great to do a follow up post on other subject areas. Please forward any thoughts or ideas!

26 thoughts on “Pimp my Classroom: 8 ways to confuse the cleaner

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Thanks for the kind feedback, yes, the bedroom was something else! The concept of subject timelines is something that really interests me and will hopefully post about this soon.

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Thanks for your kind feedback. Go for it – and let us know how you get on!

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Go for it! Let us know how you get on. Is your subject art? If so I have some useful timeline resources I can share.

  1. Absolutely fantastic… You have restored some sparkle to my jaded, ever greying view of the state of creative education. Having spent the last 10 years being taken to empty, sterile, bleached out whiteboard, “state of the art” learning environments, that feel more like isolation labs than playgrounds for the imagination, it is so refreshing to see such exciting examples of art in action and kids in control. You have some really lucky pupils, I hope they know.

    A practical question… Some of your environments look like you could continue to work in them but many don’t. Do you have a spare space for big 3D environments, or is this stuff for the summer term when exam groups vacate the department, how do you work round these spacial spaces with other groups?

    Can I come and play next time you are in the midst of a transformation?

    Happy new year.

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Tony, your feedback and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated. We do not have particularly big spaces, at least for art rooms, and yes, some of the examples are summer term, exhibition time set-ups. However, continuing to teach classes in the space is always a major factor. It’s the best bit! It often means working on the floor but no different to gallery workshop approach. What is really great is when other subjects come and take classes in the space, we try to encourage this and look for common themes. Our subject blog might be of interest: http://st-peters.bournemouth.sch.uk/photo there are a couple of exciting ideas in the pipeline so will post about these later in the year. Visitors welcome!

  2. Martin Ridley on

    Ok, you’ve got me… Will definitely look for opportunities to try out these inspiring ideas. Watch my space!
    Great post.

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Thanks Martin, look forward to seeing what you come up with! Would be good to document it in stages of development – Geography are building up some great contributions on this site.

  3. Gem Spooner on

    These spaces look brilliant when listed like this! I will be doing more of this in the Kelly Art & Photography Department this year!

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Good to hear you still have all your creative energy ready to roll! This has got to be the year when we come down and visit too. Thanks, as always, for your enthusiasm. Best wishes for 2014 and hope to speak soon

  4. You have just made my to do’ list even longer! Though I suspect some of these ideas will be at the top of the list rather soon! Exciting and inspiring stuff.

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Thanks for positive feedback…and sorry for adding to the list! If you can embed an idea into lessons then it’s great to work collaboratively whilst also delegating to students.

  5. Tony McC on

    Hello Chris. Just browsing and I’ve hit a seam of gold…….Wonderfully creative thoughts and execution. Brilliant or should I say ‘outstanding’….

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Very kind Tony and great to hear from you here, high praise and very much appreciated. Best Regards

  6. Paul Kenchington on

    I love all of these ideas! Using the classroom as a teaching tool and not just as a room you teach in adds to the learning experience. I now try to see the four walls as a canvass for learning and have already begun to make some changes in my main teaching lab. Thank you and good job on such an inspirational web site!

    • Progress@stplearning on

      Thanks Paul, would be great to see some examples from other subject areas here too. If you are interested in sharing some of your developments in a new post then let me know

  7. Anne on

    I particularly enjoyed this posting. It has scope in so many subject areas. Love the idea of the secret cinema – something that I feel could be used in Maths at all key stages for instance short film clips of Year 11 students problem solving, tackling GCSE questions etc. The possibilities are endless! Thanks for the hook!