The Full Breakdown of Classroom Transformations

July 4, 2022 The Teaching Files 6 Comments
Keep reading to grab the free guide for your classroom transformation.

You’ve probably read or seen the terms “classroom transformations” on social media at some point, so keep reading to get a full breakdown of classroom transformations and how they can be beneficial in your classroom. 

What is a Classroom Transformation?

So you’re probably wondering what the heck a classroom transformation is. Honestly, it’s just a day or day(s) where you transform your classroom space into something new or different while tying in your content. You can make them as “big” or “small” as you want with the decor and extras, but the goal of a transformation is to provide your students with an experience while practicing/learning content. I’m providing a free, easy-to-use, printable guide to support your first or next classroom transformation.

Why Use Classroom Transformations?

Classroom transformations, or themed activity days in the classroom, often come off as “fluff” to a lot of teachers. Let’s be real, you probably only see the cute, decorated classroom pics when you see a post about classroom transformations. There is so much more to them and their benefits are many. 

Here are a few:

  • Classroom Transformations Engage Students: At the end of the day, no matter how smart you are in your subject area, the delivery of the content matters more. Classroom transformations engage students in taking part in an experience that connects them to the skill(s) and makes meaning for them.
  • Classroom Transformations Create Student Buy-In: Creating a positive math mindset in students is a huge piece of student achievement and growth. We can have the “highest” of students in a class, but without student buy-in, our work is ineffective. Classroom transformations engage your students on a deep level, which begins to develop student buy-in. I’m talking your “most popular”, sports kid, who acts like they are too cool for school and will eventually buy into the process, dressing up as a surgeon, asking to be the head surgeon. Okay, that may be based on true events year after year, but moving on LOL.

How to Decide If Classroom Transformations Are Right For You?

At this point, you’re either thinking one of two things in your head…

  • Natalie is crazy if she thinks my students are going to willingly participate in this type of activity day.


  • Alright, you have my attention. Tell me more.

If your thoughts sound like the first sentence, keep reading because I know your students will and I am going to show you how.

If your thoughts sound like the second sentence, keep reading because you’re about to come to the dark side.

Classroom Transformations are NOT for everyone, and that is okay. Teaching is a beautiful (sometimes rocky) job because you can do what you want in your classroom (for the most part, but we’ll save that for another post). You have the power to make anything successful in your classroom.

The true, and only way to know if classroom transformations are right for you, is honestly just to try one.

It’s just like anything in life, you don’t know if you like something until you try it. 

Breaking Down A Classroom Transformation

So let’s get into the specifics of how to make a classroom transformation happen in your classroom.

Classroom transformation ideas

Big Overview of the Process

The process I use with my amazing grade/content level partner (shoutout to Katy) is made up of 4 steps. These are the main components that we follow, think about, and plan out when we are prepping a classroom transformation.

  1. Theme + Skills/Standards
  2. Activities/Tasks + Questions/Prompts
  3. Structuring the Day

These 3 steps include smaller components of classroom transformations, but the process can be simple, cheap, and low-prep with the right plan.

Classroom Transformation Themes

When picking a classroom transformation theme, there are a few things to consider.

First, are you picking a general theme or a specific theme that relates to the content? So let me break this down.

  • Operation Day can be a content-specific theme. This classroom transformation theme involves students evaluating expressions using the “order of operations”. Students dress up as surgeons and “operate” on patients by solving math problems. The play on the theme “operation day” ties into the skill/standard that is being practiced.
  • Glow Day can be a general theme. Glow day can be paired with literally any skill or standard. The theme is just a way to transform the space, while students practice the skill/standard.

Questions To Think About When Picking a Classroom Transformation Theme

  1. What are your and your student’s interests? Is there a common trend you see that you can build off of to pick your classroom transformation theme?
  2. Do you have a lot of a certain type of something already that you can use to make a classroom transformation out of?
  3. Is there a local business or company who you can use as the theme for your classroom transformation? Is that company or business willing to donate to your activity?

Classroom Transformations Costs and Supplies

Just like most teachers, you probably like to save money and are wondering how these transformations get funded. The answer varies, but ultimately relies on being resourceful.

Before getting into some ideas of how to keep costs minimal or at zero, remember that once you have the “supplies” for a transformation you will not have to ever buy them again (for most things).

Some ways that you can get supplies for your classroom transformation:

  • Think about a local business that you may be able to tie a theme into and get donations from. You can read about an easy, cheap Starbucks day here where my classroom turned into a coffee shop for the day. You can go to a local doctor’s office or hospital and ask for donations for an Operation Day transformation. There are so many possibilities for getting donations and even funding. You never know unless you ask.
  • Raid your garage or home for extra, homeless items. You know your extra closet that houses all of your extra wrapping paper, gift bags, random toys, etc. Yeah, that place is your best friend because you probably have items that can be used in a classroom transformation. Whether it turns into a sports day or a Hawaiian party, junk is treasure in classroom transformations.
  • Dollar Tree and Amazon are your besties if you do need to buy something. Plastic table cloths are my holy grail in classroom transformations. Grab some at Dollar Tree if needed, cut them in half to make even more use of them, and be sure to store them for the next one. 

Classroom transformations can be as big or small as you want, as inexpensive as you want, and as simple as you want. Remember that this is your process, so do what’s best for your situation.

Your how to for setting up your own classroom transformation

Deciding What Content To Incorporate With A Classroom Transformation

When picking what skill or standard to tie in with your classroom transformation theme, just pick what fits. It could be any skill(s) or standard(s) that you want students to practice or review. The one thing to consider is if your students are “good enough yet” at that skill or standard.

Here’s why… You don’t want students to get too far out of their zone of proximal development during the actual day. Remember, the goal is to motivate and engage students and this would do the opposite. Pick something that your students are familiar enough with that they can be successful with 85%-90% of the problems they see. A little challenge is good, but be sure to consider where your students are with the content.

Picking the Activities and Tasks

There are a few ways to set up the activities and tasks that students will do during the classroom transformation. You can have students in partners or teams as they go through each task/activity. This totally depends on your classroom dynamics, size, and what you think will be most successful for your kids.

 Your activities and tasks themselves can be:

  • Station Style: The activities and tasks students do throughout the class can be set up in “stations”. Much like your traditional idea of stations or centers, groups move from area to area to grab the questions they will be answering and do the activity if applicable. Station style can be set up as:
    • Self-Paced: In this modality, students would move from each of your stations, or activities, as they complete the previous. This looks like students working together in their group and then moving together to the next as their entire team finishes.
    • Timed: This modality is much more like the traditional idea of stations. Each group starts at a different station and works there for x amount of minutes. In that time frame, they answer as many questions and complete as many rounds of the activity (if applicable) as possible. Then, when time is up they rotate to the next. That process repeats for as many rounds as you have time for.
  • Whole-Class Style: The activities and tasks can be done whole class as well. This modality is exactly what it sounds like; the entire class is working on the same task/questions at the same time. They can still be in their smaller group, but in this option, every one group is working on the same question and activity and switches to the next set at the same time.

When picking what activities and tasks, be sure to consider all of the options above as well as this will be what allows your classroom transformation day to flow.

Selecting Questions and Prompts

After you’ve decided on how you will run the activities and tasks in your transformation, the next step is to figure out what your actual questions/prompts will be. They can be:

  • Task Cards
  • Questions placed in folders
  • Worksheets

Depending on what your theme and activities are, there may be an option that fits better with your goal for the classroom transformation.

But also, the more simple, the better. Less prep is always the best option so if there is a set of worksheets already made up in your curriculum, think about how you can utilize those. You do not have to make things from scratch, rather repurpose questions and problems you already have and decide how you will present them.

Some other things to consider…

  • How will you up the rigor and DOK levels of some of the questions?
  • How many copies of each set will you need?
  • How easy will it be for students to check answers?

Structuring the Day

The last part of the process for us to break down is how to structure the classroom transformation from start to finish. With this, keep in mind that though these are logistical things, they are a key role in the success of a transformation day. 

How to set up an easy, cheap classroom transformation

Here Are Important Things To Think Through And Plan For

  1. When will you set-up the actual transformation?
    1. Think about what time you have to allocate for the actual classroom transformation set-up. Depending on what you are doing, on average set-up takes me about an hour for simple transformations and closer to 2 hours for more “complex” ones. Having your questions and decor items (if any) prepped and ready in advance always speeds this part up. One of the best tools I can suggest (if possible) is to use former students to help you set-up. Typically, set-up happens the day before for me and I ask a few students to help out. They are always more than willing and help the process speed up tremendously. Even if it is just them moving your desks and chairs for you, it will save you time!
  2. How will you start class and get them in groups or appropriate seats?
    1. Depending on what modality you chose for your activities/tasks, this will vary however have a plan for how students will know where to go when they get to your classroom. Remember, students will be excited because your classroom looks different so allowing them to be excited is okay but keeping them focused on the goal of the transformation is important.
    2. Examples: Line students up outside in their groups before they enter, hand them a colored bracelet (or item) as they walk in and that is the work station they report to.
  3. Will you assign team roles?
    1. Giving a job or role to each student within groups is a great strategy for keeping students on task throughout the day. Depending on what topics your classroom transformation is covering, these roles can be different. Remember to assign these as they walk in or immediately when starting the class.
    2. Example Roles: Captain, Answer Key Checker, Calculator, Station Resetter 
  4. How will you deliver the expectations and directions?
    1. Explicit modeling and directions are a vital piece to having a smooth day. Think about how you model your expectations and routines the first weeks of school. That is what this should look like when you are delivering the expectations and process for your classroom transformation to students.
    2. Examples: Model a station activity from start to finish, Model what transitions should look like, etc.
  5. How will students check answers?
    1. This part of the day should not depend on you. It is not wise to have students come to you each time to check their answers because you will be overwhelmed and inaccessible to support students throughout the time frame. Rather, pick a system that is easy for students to do on their own so that they are able to get immediate feedback.
    2. Examples: Students scan a QR code with the answers to each station after their group is done, groups look inside an envelope with the answers after they finish the task, etc. (I recommend giving this job to one student so that there are not multiple students up and moving out of their seats constantly).
  6. How will you “play the part” to build buy-in and engagement?
    1. This is a big part of putting on a classroom transformation. You are the person who sets the tone for the day. Play it up, whatever that looks like for you. Maybe you can dress up to match the theme with your students. Maybe you have music blasting while they work. No matter what you decide, remember that your enthusiasm, commitment, and mood is what students will follow.
  7. How will you reset your space?
    1. If you teach secondary like me, then this is a must to think about prior to the day. 3-5 minutes during a passing period is not enough time for you as the teacher to do it all. Rather, think about how you can leave 5-10 minutes at the end of your time with a class to have them help you reset everything for the next class. If you are an elementary teacher, this may not apply to you, however utilize your kids for clean-up. No matter what grade level you teach, make use of your kids and let them help you fold table cloths at the end of the day, take down posters, etc. After a long, action packed day, the last thing you want to do is spend another hour resetting your classroom back to normal. Think about what this will look like for you to prevent that form happening. 
Easy classroom transformation ideas

Frequently Asked Questions About Classroom Transformations

 Anytime I post about a classroom transformation on social media, I always get the same questions time after time. Here are some answers to those FAQ’s.

  • Where do I start with classroom transformations?
    • In all honesty, starting with the 3 steps broken down in this post is the easiest. It will be trial and error, but once you get one under your belt, you’ have somewhere to work from. Remember: Theme + Skils/Standards, Activities/Tasks + Questions/Prompts, Structuring the Day.
    • Use my free guide to get started!
  • How can classroom transformations become a quick and easy process?
  • When is the best time during the unit to do a classroom transformation?
    • You can do a transformation at any point in your unit and year. It really depends on the purpose you have for it. No matter when you use it, the big question to remember is “Are my students strong enough at the skill/topic that they can be successful with 85%-90% of the questions?”. 
    • Some ideas for when to do them are:
      • To give more practice on one or a few skills after an instructional lesson.
      • To allow practice after an entire unit.
      • To review your entire year’s learning.
      • On a test day to spice up the mood.
  • How do you keep students on task during a classroom transformation?
    • Structure everything. Just like the break down in this post, think through and have a plan for every aspect of your transformation. The more structured the day is, the more successful it will be.
  • What do you do if your students are not behaving during a classroom transformation?
    • Just like anything else in my classroom, I give my expectations and if they are not met, I have a plan b. Often times, at the start of the class period, I start with, “We can do this (the activities) or if multiple people are not following the expectations, we will do ____.” I make the second option sound very boring and often describe a plain worksheet. Remember, it’s okay to stop your class, remind them of what it should sound and look like throughout. If needed, stop and change gears if they can’t handle it. Being clear when you set the expectations at the start of the class period is going to be key.

Classroom Transformations Are Doable

If you made it to the end of this blog post, your brain is probably overflowing with ideas for themes, activities, and everything in between. Remember, a classroom transformation can look however you want it to. It always seems like it takes a lot of work, but the work you’re doing is what you would have put towards something else and the benefits will be multiplied when your students display how high their level of engagement is. Don’t forget to grab my Free Classroom Transformations Getting Started Guide to get you started with your classroom transformation. I hope this breakdown of classroom transformations was helpful!

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  • Sherri July 6, 2022 at 7:09 am

    Just one question, how do you rotate your stations? Some groups may work faster than others so how do you keep them occupied until the other groups have finished? Thanks so much in advance! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your teaching ideas!

    • The Teaching Files July 6, 2022 at 9:10 am

      Hi Sherri!
      So rotations look different depending on how you end up structuring them. I’m assuming you’re referring to the timed version? If so, there are a few things you can do/think about.
      -How did you make groups? I always group with mixed abilities so they can support eachother but also because if you have all of your “higher” students in one group, they will def finish fast.
      -How much time are you giving? We always play more on the side of just enough time to a little bit less for our stations so that students don’t finish too soon. This would depend on how much time you have in total.
      -How many questions are you assigning at each station? We always prep more than we know students will get through to account for the different work speeds.
      -And lastly, you could have an “extra task” students can grab sitting somewhere that floats with them in case they finish early at any station

      Hope that helps! If you aren’t signed up yet, I’m presenting in a free virtual math conference in a few weeks and it’s on this exact topic of breaking down classroom transformations! You can message me or email me if you’d like the link!

  • Jessica July 8, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    I was looking for more information about your fear factor transformation. What you used and how it worked? Your class looks like SO much fun.

  • Aimee July 9, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    Do you have a link for the Starbucks transformation? I didn’t see it in your tpt store. Love your resources! Thanks!

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