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T-Shirt Pillow Tutorial for Classroom Library

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At our school, the students in third-sixth grades design t-shirts each May as part of a t-shirt/school theme contest.  The office staff narrows the designs down to about twelve and then the entire school gets to vote on a winner.  The winning t-shirt becomes our school’s slogan for the next year.  Students and staff get the free t-shirt on the first day of school the following year. After teaching several years, I had a stack of old shirts.  I thought about making a blanket or quilt out of them someday, but then decided I had a more immediate use… pillows for our library!

The students love using them for reading workshop, and they’re cheaper than the fancy store bought pillows.  As a bonus, the shirts are easy to slip on/off and can be machine washed.  I just run the shirts through the sewing machine in three places, add snaps, and stuff away.  I used old bed pillows for the body and a little polyfill for the sleeves.  If you don’t have any old bed pillows, I purchased a few at Wal-Mart for $3 each.  Can’t beat that!  

Here’s How:

  • Turn the t-shirt inside out.
  • Sew each sleeve shut straight across the hem.  Remember to back-stitch at both ends to reinforce the seam.
  • Sew the bottom of the shirt closed along the hem. Again, remember to back-stitch.
  • Turn the t-shirt right-side out again.


    • Add three snaps along the collar to keep the pillow closed.  The snaps are perfect because they keep the t-shirt in place during use, but also allow it to be removed for washing.  I purchased no-sew snaps at Hobby Lobby and was able to attach them with a pair of my husband’s pliers. I found similar ones on Amazon if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about.
    • Slide a fluffy bed pillow into the t-shirt.
    • Use polyfill to stuff the sleeve area of the shirt.  This makes the sleeves stand out nicely.  
    • Close your snaps.  Tada!

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    Looking for other pillow ideas?  I had a couple older t-shirts that coworkers had given me from before I started teaching.  They were pretty worn out, but I was able to save the design portion and turn them into square pillows.  I also used cheap bandanas from Hobby Lobby to make large square pillows.  Now I have enough for each student to have something to use during reading workshop independent reading time.  No more fighting or rotating schedules AND I didn’t break the bank in the process.  Love that! 

    Like this how-to?  Stay tuned for my crate seat tutorial.

    freebies, literacy, reading

    Classroom Library Organization

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    The library is one of the most important parts of our classroom.  When I first started teaching, I inherited a handful of used books from the teacher who retired the year before.  I sorted the books into four small tubs of picture books and one spinning rack of chapter books, roughly organized by genre and topic.  It was sad.  Fortunately, I was able to check out two crates of books from our school library and I rotated the selections frequently.  I knew right from the start that providing students with interesting choices inside our classroom was key to getting them to read.  

    I purchased more books slowly over the next two years.  Books are expensive and new teachers (and experienced ones for the matter!) don’t make much money.  Instead of going to the mall for shopping sprees, I started hitting up the used book stores.  Scholastic Book Clubs also helped.  I usually purchased $20 of books each month from their Lucky catalog and a few titles from SeeSaw and Arrow as well.  This $20 minimum was the magic number to unlock free books and bonus points each month.  If a student ordered on top of that, I was thrilled. Gradually, my library grew.  It was time to reorganize.

    First, I needed more storage.  I picked up used bookshelves on CraigsList, plastic tubs from the Dollar Tree, and book pockets to hold check out index cards from a local teacher store.  Then I purchased a large carpet remnant on sale and cheap pillows to keep it cozy.  I also made t-shirt pillows from our school shirts. I wanted the library to feel inviting so students would want to curl up with their books and stay a while.

    It was time to get organized.  I sorted my books by topic, genre, and series.  Each tub was clearly labeled to help students browse.  I initially used color-coded dots on the back of the books to make returning books easier for the students.  However, as my library grew I ran out of options.  Now I stick small return address labels on the back corner of each book.  Students simply match the sticker to a basket’s label.  I know in Utopia students are expected to return books without the stickers as part of the learning process, but in the real world it was just easier to sticker the books than constantly have to clean and sort the library.  I say pick your battles.

    The final thing that has helped keep my library organized and relevant to my students’ needs is cataloging my books. I keep an excel sheet of every book in the library.  It was a pain to initially log my library, but now I just update the list as I purchase new books.  I can easily sort my books by genre, theme, series, author, etc. This makes pulling books for units fast and efficient.  It’s also been useful to have this list while trying to fill the gaps in my offerings.  For example, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough biographies after I sorted my books by genre.  Using the list, I’m able to spend money wisely and purchase books that will make our classroom library more well-rounded. 

    Setting up a classroom library is a lot of work, but maintaining it is easy once you have a system in place.  You can do it!

    Book Labels I use orange for fiction, yellow for nonfiction, and pink for poetry and jokes.  Students can easily browse the library by genre this way.

    Excel Book List Template I include title, guided reading level, AR level, genre, author, series, basket, theme, teacher, and number of copies.  I have sorted by all of these fields as I’m looking for books for a specific unit, child, etc. The teacher field is useful if you’re sharing and trading books with different classrooms.

    T-shirt Pillow Tutorial Learn to sew quick and easy pillows for your classroom library.  They’re inexpensive too!

    See other classroom libraries through linky parties at The Sweet Life of Third Grade and Literacy and Laughter.


    Teachers Steal

    “Ms. Fultz, teachers steal!” cried one of my third graders as he rushed into our room from math class.  My first instinct was that he must have had some small toy or coveted possession confiscated by his math teacher.  However, that was not the case.  Further investigation proved that he hadn’t been too far from the truth.  We do steal!  Except we don’t steal from our students, we steal from each other.  Let’s follow his thinking.

    I make a cute mathematical penguin with my math group each year.  After seeing them in the hallway, my coteachers decided it was a great idea.  So what did they do?  They made them too.  They STOLE my idea.  But guess what?  I stole it from a student teacher I mentored a few years earlier.  Shh… don’t tell.

    I pass out Friday Folder papers each week using a “work rainbow” so that students can easily help me assemble the folders.  This process takes just a couple minutes right before lunch compared to the half hour I previously spent doing it alone in the evening.  It worked so well (and saved valuable time) that other teachers gave it a try.  They STOLE my idea!  But guess what?  I stole it from a coteacher at my previous school.  We’re guilty as charged and there are countless other examples.

    What my little guy saw as stealing was actually sharing. I believe it’s the trademark of a great teacher and an exceptional school.  I’ve been in a lot of different buildings through my college experiences and have worked in two schools myself.  By far, the best buildings are ones where teachers collaborate and share their ideas.  Not only does it lessen the burden of constantly reinventing the wheel, but it’s just good practice too.  No one should be expected to do it all alone.

    With the ever-growing resources for teachers online, stealing sharing has become even easier.  Even if you work in a building where teachers shut their doors, there are countless other teachers via the internet who are more than happy to share their ideas and resources with you.  There are websites (and businesses) dedicated to this very exchange. 

    I’ve started this blog as another way to connect with my fellow educational superheros and share my ideas.  So what have you stolen lately?