The beginning of the school year is ripe with possibilities, including how you arrange your classroom. It’s often the first thing new teachers think about once accepting a job and a common way for veteran educators to shake things up. And, just as teaching has evolved significantly over the past few years, so too have strategies for desk arrangements. Here’s four things to take into consideration to find the perfect classroom setup for you.
Rigid rows have fallen out of favor for multiple reasons, one of which being that they tend to make it difficult for the teacher to circulate. Traditional rows also take up a lot of space in classrooms that are becoming increasingly crowded. Many educators are adjusting their desk arrangements to instead feature 2-3 wide aisles that they can easily roam to monitor student progress and offer help. Wide aisles also aid in directing student traffic away from potential distractions.
One way to accomplish this setup is with an amphitheater-style arrangement, with two or three rows of desks that all face a central point and have aisles between groups of 3-4, like the sections in a stadium. Everyone is facing forward for whole group instruction, yet are still next to shoulder partners for turn-and-talks or other collaborative strategies.
Speaking of collaboration, many teachers have found that group seating setups of 4-5 desks arranged like a table is more trouble than it’s worth—there’s simply too much opportunity for off-task behavior and distractions, even with the collaboration potential. Teachers often find themselves having to exile particular students to far corners to keep the peace, which is punitive and only provides more opportunity for distraction. That’s not to say the table arrangement can’t be used, but it helps to be able to switch to something else when the need arises.
As classrooms become increasingly dynamic, more and more educators are finding that the best seating arrangement is whatever works at the time. This may mean changing your setup on a regular basis throughout the year or even using multiple arrangements at the same time (i.e., a group table, some rows, and independent areas all together). Every student is different and has different preferences in how they work, so if you aren’t married to a specific arrangement, you can more easily accommodate their needs. Flexible setups also allow you to use every lesson in your arsenal, including centers, flipping, and interventions.
After the desks are arranged, the next question for any teacher is whether to assign seating or not. The majority do, but this is entirely dependent on the classroom culture. If you choose to do so, consider not assigning desks alphabetically for the entire year. It’s the most common method, so students whose last names are near each other tend to have been sitting together for years.
However, to start the year, I would suggest assigning seats alphabetically by first name make it easier to get to know everyone. After a few weeks, switch it up. Consider assigning seats by birthdays or drawing cards. One word of caution—avoid assigning by performance, such as grade averages. That’s not to say you shouldn’t group students of similar abilities together if an overarching strategy—like Response to Intervention—calls for it, but it shouldn’t be permanent, and seat assignments should never be punitive or compromise students’ privacy.
Looking for more classroom management tips to help you get the school year off to a great start? Check out our Teachers’ Ultimate Guide to Back-to-School Planning!