When it comes time to plan out your classroom seating arrangements at the beginning of the year or rearrange student seats after a few months of all the kids in one place, there’s always a LOT to think about. Should you arrange students in pods? Separate them out in a grid? What about flexible seating? Hot trend you should avoid or jump right in on?
How will your seating arrangements affect student learning, and what the heck do you do when a new kid (or kids) moves in and changes the number of kids in your room?
Take a breath! We’ve taken a look at some of the science behind seating arrangements plus considered the rules and regulations around preferential seating to ensure your students with IEPs are being best served by their spot in the classroom.
How Does Seating Arrangement Affect Learning?
At the end of the day, this is the question teachers always ask, isn’t it? Will moving little Johnny or little Shante’s seats be a good thing for their academic success?
As you know, seating arrangements in the classroom are about a lot more than picking a style that looks aesthetically pleasing or even picking one that works with the size of your class list and the size of your classroom.
Studies have shown that where a child sits in class can affect everything from their motivation to their class participation, as well as their relationship with you as a teacher, relationships with classmates, and — of course — learning.
How you set up your classroom desks can also affect your own pedagogy. Thinking of setting up stadium-style seating? You may not mean it, but the studies show you could end up spending more time lecturing to your students with less involvement from them.
Thinking of a roundtable-type seating arrangement? The opposite is likely to be true — your students will likely be more actively involved, and your classroom learning environment will be more student-led.
So how do you choose? We’ve put together some seating arrangements to consider in your classroom — from pods to the increasingly popular flexible seating — along with how they might work (or not) for you.
Classroom Seating Arrangement Ideas
Before you plan out any seating arrangements for your classroom, it’s important to first take a look at your students’ IEPs. Does anyone in your class have stipulations about where they should be seated for the best learning environment?
Preferential Seating for Students With Disabilities
Often called preferential seating, these accommodations are made to give students with specific needs the ability to see, hear, and participate in classroom activities in the same ways as their peers who don’t have disabilities. A child who has a hearing disability, for example, might be required to sit nearer the teacher to be able to hear what’s being said, while a child who is easily distracted might need a spot out of the line of sight of the classroom door.
These seating arrangements for kids with IEP aren’t just suggestions. It’s federal law that you make sure you abide by them.
It’s also wise to consider the needs of students who do not have IEPs when planning your seating. A child with glasses, for example, may not have an official plan, but you may realize they really need a seat closer to the front of the classroom.
Likewise, there may be students who really should not be seated near one another, whether it’s because they’re too likely to talk or simply do not get along. If your class is brand-new to you, these are things you’ll find out as the school year progresses — don’t be afraid to change up your seating arrangement!
How to Arrange Classroom Seats
Once you’ve taken students’ individual needs into consideration, how do you arrange all of those classroom seats?
Here are some pros and cons to eight different classroom desk arrangement ideas that have been tried and tested by teachers in the know. Obviously, there are a number of factors that will influence the seating arrangement that will work in your classroom. The main struggle is, of course, the size of the classroom, number of students, and the furniture you have.
This list has something for every teacher and every classroom … we hope!
Grouping of student desks in a variety of numbered groups is often known as seating students in ‘pods’.
This set-up, of course, lends itself really well to a classroom that does a lot of group work and collaboration. Also, if you are a teacher who finds the competition of ‘group points’ works well to keep your students on task, this desk layout is a winner! You may opt to use some of these grouping posters for the classroom to name your groups and keep track of group points.
Cons to ‘pods’ desk configuration include:
- Desks move around easily
- Can be distracting for some
- Some kids will have to shift to see the whiteboard
- If you need to social distance students, pods just don’t work
(2) Mix it Up
Let’s face it, in a classroom of 30 or so students, there are going to be a variety of learning styles and learning requirements. One way to combat this is to mix up the desk arrangement and try to cater to a variety of learning styles and needs.
Another classroom management technique using this desk configuration is to not have ‘set’ desks.
A bit like flexible seating, students can move around to the desk configuration that is going to work for them for different subject areas. This may be more teacher-directed than student-directed. If you have a small group of students that need a lot of teacher assistance for one subject area you can get them to sit in a desk arrangement such as the small U shape and position yourself in the middle of the U.
The obvious con of this arrangement is that students may not like to be sitting in a different configuration from their peers. Also, can you cater to every students’ learning needs?
(3) Flexible Seating
Flexible seating is not a new concept. Teachers either love this concept or they don’t. Again, it really depends on the students in your class and what works best for them.
Flexible seating gurus say that this form of classroom ‘un-seating’ better reflects the hyper-connected and every-changing world we live in. That it inherently requires students to master skills such as flexibility, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration.
This kind of seating arrangement is an absolute classroom change. If you are thinking of changing to flexible seating it may be an idea to have a bit of a trial period to see if this sort of layout is going to work for your class. Have one ‘different’ flexible seating option available and see if it’s something your students will be able to cope with and will improve their learning environment.
We have some Flexible Seating Expectation posters that would also help with the change over if this is something that you are thinking of doing.
Worried about the cost and how to set it up?
Check out how this teacher and her students designed their own space – A Student-Designed Flexible Seating Classroom Tour. Getting your students involved in the process is another bonus to this seating set-up.
(4) Mini U’s
This layout is one that I often used in my classrooms. It had the benefits of easily managing small group work without students being squashed together and meant they had a bit more personal space.
This layout was also beneficial for me, as the teacher, as I could easily go around and check work and check in on individual students. I would often position my chair in the middle of one of the ‘U’ shapes to have small discussions with each group when needed.
Again, a con to this set-up would be you will have some students not ‘facing’ the whiteboard and others that are facing the whiteboard, however, may have other students’ heads in the way of their viewing of the whiteboard.
(5) Simple Rows
The traditional desk in rows is still an option, especially if you do a lot of board work.
Obviously, this layout doesn’t cater very well to small group/collaborative learning. However, if you have space in your classroom, you may be able to set up a variety of other group work areas in the classroom and save the desks for individual work.
All students in this desk layout will face the board, and it lends itself to easily move the desks to cater for test conditions if required.
When the desks are in rows, it is often easier for the teacher to see who is on task as well. However, if you do have a lot of students in your class, this layout could put some students a fair way away from the whiteboard and the front of the class.
(6) Stadium Seating
A slight deviation to the desks in rows, stadium like seating is another option that may work – particularly for older kids.
This layout again makes it easier for the teacher to see if all students are on task as the desks are angled to one point in the classroom. This layout also uses less floor space and, as we know, some classrooms are very, very small. The more floor space you can get the better! Am I right?
This layout won’t suit a classroom that does involve a lot of group work/collaboration, and it can often turn the teacher into a lecturer.
(7) Large U Shapes
This desk arrangement concept was another one of my favorite layouts for the classroom.
This layout caters well to whole-class discussions and enables students the ability to easily see their classmates and interact with them during discussions.
This layout is similar to the small u-shapes in that each desk is easily accessible by the classroom teacher. Again, this layout doesn’t work well for small group work, but students can still work in pairs with the person beside them if required.
(8) Double E
If you are struggling with a small classroom, this Double E shape may just be the desk layout that will work for you.
This desk configuration creates two smaller carpet areas in the middle of the desks, which would provide some space for small group work as well.
Again, this layout makes it easier for the teacher to get around and help out individual students. This layout also allows for a little flexibility in that if you have particular students that really need to face the whiteboard you can make sure they are facing the front of the classroom.