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Home » Blog » Fall » Back to School » New 1st & 2nd Grade Teacher Must-Haves

New 1st & 2nd Grade Teacher Must-Haves

Back to School, Classroom Setup, Teacher Support

Written by: Katie Palmer

Have you just landed your dream teaching job? Are you moving to a new grade level? Or, are you returning after a restful summer break and ready to start fresh? If so, this post has all of the teacher must haves: resources to make your new year of teaching easier! Let Lucky Little Learners be your teaching partner this year, and every year!

This post is broken up into five categories. Please keep in mind you do not need to use or implement all of these resources at once. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may be most beneficial to start with your classroom setup and design, then create/add in centers and other academic resources as you use or need them.

I) Behavior Management

II) Teacher Tried Classroom Procedures

III) Literacy Ideas

IV) Math Ideas

V) Writing Ideas

VI) Classroom Setup Materials

Get Classroom Setup Resources

As mentioned above, all of these classroom setup materials can be printed to match your desired classroom theme. Just click, print and go! Hooray for easy!

I) Behavior Management Ideas

Arguably the most important key to having a successful school year is getting a grasp on behavior management. The following resources and activities will help you manage your classroom like a champ.

Executive Functioning

Most students can follow simple rules & expectations in the classroom. Many can also follow multi-step directions already in the primary grades. A few may even have organization and time management skills. However, for the rest, it is very beneficial to work on and build up executive functioning skills.

teaching students to keep their supplies organized helps the school year run smoothly

According to Harvard University online, executive functioning is defined as,

“A set of skills that underlie the capacity to plan ahead & meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions, among others.”

Do you have (or have you had):

  • Students who struggle to complete work on time?
  • Students who constantly lose supplies/assignments?
  • Repeated uttering of the words, “What are we supposed to do?”
  • Students who are easily distracted?

Check out these lists of executive functioning activities by age provided by Harvard University.

If any of these ring true, executive functioning could be a factor. Here are tools and resources to keep your classroom and students functioning well:

Working Clock

The idea behind this strategy is it gives a clear visual of how much time students have to complete certain tasks. They will no longer ask how much longer they have to work or until you will transition to the next activity. 

Some teachers purchase an analog clock with a wipe off surface and use dry erase markers to create their working clock. Others display an online clock and draw onto the projected image on their whiteboard or interactive board. HERE is a free online clock that can easily be displayed. (Just make sure to click “real time”.)

using a working clock taps into executive functioning skills and keeps students on task

Picture Reminders

Taking pictures of how supplies, centers and desks should look will help students tackle their organizational skills. At the beginning of the year, take a picture when all the things are in the right place. Laminate and tape these pictures down to remind students of the proper way to put away and store classroom materials.

All Access member? Download this resource FREE here.

Classroom Rules

Setting clear rules and expectations is another key to having a successful school year. Make sure your list of rules is short and the consequences are clear. An enormous list of rules can be hard to keep track of and follow. After reviewing each rule with your students on day one, display the rules across the front of the room for the rest of the year. I like to create a chant to go along with each rule. This makes reviewing the rules engaging and helps students keep the rules in the back of their minds at all times.

Sample Rules Chant:

Whole Class Behavior Tracking

Students can be peer motivated, and teaming them up to work on classroom behavior can be a win-win! Bonus: behaviors can be tracked digitally! There are several online trackers available. But, we have loved classroom screen.

This online classroom management platform has it ALL! Simply create a free account and start playing!

Punch Cards

Another teacher must have is punch cards! I honestly don't know how I managed my class so easily without them. Students are highly motivated to display positive behavior just for a hole punch! In my classroom, once students got 10 punches, I printed their next punch card onto another color. (They progressed through rainbow colors.) Once they filled violet, they got to create their own punch cards for the year.

punch cards promote positive classroom behavior
All Access member? Download this resource FREE here.

Get Classroom Setup Resources

Parent Communication

School to home communication (and vice versa) is vital to establishing good relationships with classroom parents. This can be done in a few ways:

  • Send home a weekly classroom newsletter
  • Keep a communication log (if needed to reference at another time)
  • Use digital communication when you need to correspond with a parent. Easy to use apps like Remind and Seesaw offer an alternative to calling or in person meetings that can take up extra time and easily go off track. (I am not saying to not meet with parents in person or make a call, but often times electronic communication covers all bases.)
  • Create an email label or desktop folder titled “Parent Communication” to store important emails.

Keeping on top of communication is key for student success during the school year.

II) Teacher Tried Classroom Procedures

For more teacher tried tips & tricks, check out our classroom procedures post library:

III) Teacher Must Haves for Literacy

As stated at the beginning of this post, start with the basics and add the academics when you can, or as you go. The following is our team's favorite must have literacy resources to make your teaching life easier.


Having meaningful, standards and research based literacy centers will keep students practicing vital skills independently so you can easily pull flexible skill groups. Use centers that can partner perfectly with any curriculum as all appropriate skills covered!

centers provide engaging academic practice for primary students
All Access member? Download this resource FREE here.

Learn more about literacy centers here: Building Phonological Awareness with Literacy Centers Activities.


By now you have probably heard of decodable text. Decodable text is text that students can actually decode! It is not full of words impossible to sound out like many other “beginner” texts. (Which can lead to student burn out and defeat.) Decodable texts often focus on a specific phonics sound, making them easy to add into your small group or whole group study.

All Access member? Download this resource FREE here.

Learn more about the benefits of decodable text here: Decodable Text: How & When to Use it.

Sound Wall

When I was in my first few years of teaching, the common practice was to have a word wall. It was simply a spaced out alphabet where I would staple up words that started with each letter. About ten years later, I made the switch to what I called a phonics wall. This time it was not an alphabet, but rows of pendants with our phonics sounds on them. I put up words that had those phonics sounds under each one. Fast forward five years, and the sound wall has proven to be best practice. Did I invent the sound wall? Far from it! But I was on the right path. Sound walls are backed by the Science of Reading and improve students' sound recognition far more than word walls of the past. And, they teach students how to properly form all of the sounds we use daily.

promote literacy skills by displaying a sound wall in the classroom

To read more about sound walls and how having one will drastically improve your reading instruction, check out these posts:

Level Up Your Reading Instruction with a Digital Sound Wall

Let's Talk About the Classroom Sound Wall

IV) Teacher Must Haves for Math

Setting up daily, consistent routines for math will make your teaching life easier while also eliminating students asking, “What are we going to do next in Math? How about after that??” My most successful math teaching years were formatted like this:

  1. A whole group warm up and lesson (about 15 minutes)
  2. Small group rotations (about 45-60 minutes)

In my small groups I would reteach the concepts or try more challenging problems. It was a very easy way to differentiate! Although I loved teaching small groups in math, I had to provide independent center activities for the rest the class. This is where Lucky Little Learners resources come in handy! The following are top picks for independent math work.

Math Centers

Math centers are an engaging way to keep students practicing and reviewing skills. Having daily centers also allow you work one on one in or flexible small groups with students who need the most help.

math centers are an engaging way to reinforce skills
All Access member? Download this resource FREE here.

Launching centers may sound overwhelming, but we've got your back! Check out these posts for your next steps:

Math Centers FAQ's & Answers

FREE Math Centers & Launch Kt

Daily Quick Practice

Kickoff each math block with quick review. I give my students 3-5 minutes for this. Then, they either turn these in (if I have differentiated their daily practice) or we correct whole group. I use Spiral Math.

A few tips:

  • Have your spiral math in a binder, leaving sticky notes on which week each student is working on. Makes copying them off much easier to keep track of!
  • If possible, copy each level (or math group) on to a different color to easily differentiate while correcting
  • If you are using multiple grade levels of Spiral Math, students can complete an entire page each day since they have more weeks to work through

To try Spiral Math free, click here: Spiral Math Freebie.

V) Writing Ideas

1st and 2nd grade are years in which students need a lot of writing practice. Not just with content, but also with letter formation and handwriting. At the beginning of the year focus on personal narratives, free writing & drawing and quick prompts.

Let us help you plan your writing lessons: Beginning of the Year Writing Mini Lessons.

To get my handwriting instruction off the ground, I have had success having students write jokes! You may need to read the daily joke out loud before they begin, but once they hear it, they will love to trace and practice it! (And may even retell the joke at the dinner table!)

Read more about using jokes during handwriting here: Joke of the Day Routine in 2nd Grade.

Handwriting Instructional Video

While it is easy for you to demonstrate how to correctly write each letter, it can also be fun to bring in technology. The video below from Kiddos Wold TV shows how to properly form each letter and works on initial sounds. The way the video is edited makes it easy to pick which letter you will watch each day.

VI) Classroom Setup Materials

A classroom doesn't need to look like it could be featured on Pinterest. Although many teachers yearn for the Pinterest worthy classroom, the truth is it is not necessary, and many times, not affordable. Creating a classroom that is clean, fresh, neat and focusing on just a few colors is an easy way to create a calm environment conducive to learning.

Back to school organization can be made easy with the classroom setup pack

Our classroom setup pack is streamlined with a neat, easy to read font and can be printed in any color scheme you wish. Want to change out your classroom color scheme mid year? No problem! Just print ‘n ‘go on your new chosen color.

This resource includes:

  • Calendar display
  • Labels galore: folders, teacher supplies, student supplies
  • Library labels: many varieties
  • Classroom jobs board options
  • Student birthday displays
  • Classroom schedule
  • Open house forms-anything you could need to start the year with a breeze!
  • Bulletin board decor pack
  • I Can statements for grammar, reading, writing, phonics and math!
  • Editable back to school newsletter templates
  • Classroom visuals including desk plates, number lines and more!
  • Beginning & End of Year checklists

Download everything you need for a cute and organized classroom below!

Get Classroom Setup Resources

Do you want access to it all?

If you are thinking all of the resources shown in this post will make the beginning of the school year easier, you are right! Did you know you can have instant 24/7 access to all of these resources plus tens of thousands more?! (PLUS anything our team makes in the future!) It is true! Hit the easy button to access it all and print-click-teach!

Happy teaching!


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