Classroom Layout and Desk Arrangement Methods

The four seating chart strategies each have advantages and drawbacks

Teacher pointing at student with raised hand
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Classroom layout is one of the key decisions that teachers need to make when they begin a new school year. A few of the items they need to decide include where to place the teacher's desk, how to arrange student desks, and even whether to use a seating chart at all.

The Teacher's Desk

This is the most important consideration in arranging a classroom. Teachers typically place their desks at the front of the classroom. While being in the front of the class affords the teacher a good view of the students' faces, there are advantages to placing the teacher's desk at the back.

By sitting at the back of the classroom, the teacher has less of a chance of blocking the students' view of the board. Additionally, less motivated students generally choose to sit in the back of the class. Proximity to those students can help the teacher more easily forestall discipline problems. Finally, if a student needs help from the teacher, she might feel less intimated by not being highly visible in front of the classroom if the teacher's desk is at the front.

Students' Desks

There are four basic student desk arrangements.

  1. Straight lines: This is the most common arrangement. In a typical class, you might have five rows of six students. The benefit of this method is that it allows the teacher to walk between the rows. The drawback is that it doesn't really allow for collaborative work. If you plan to have students often work in pairs or teams, you will be moving the desks frequently
  2. A large circle: This arrangement has the benefit of providing ample opportunity for interaction but hinders the ability to utilize the board. It can also be challenging when having students take quizzes and tests because it will be easier for students to cheat.
  3. In pairs: With the arrangement, every two desks are touching, and the teacher can still walk down rows helping students. There is also a greater chance for collaboration, and the board is still available for use. However, a couple of issues can arise including interpersonal problems and cheating concerns.
  4. Groups of four: In this setup, students face each other, providing them ample opportunity for teamwork and collaboration. However, some students might find they are not facing the board. Further, there can be interpersonal issues and cheating concerns.

Most teachers opt to use rows but have students move into the other arrangements if a specific lesson plan calls for it. Just be aware that this can take time and can be loud for adjoining classrooms.

Seating Charts

The final step in classroom arrangement is to decide how you are going to deal with where students sit. When you don't know the students coming in, you typically do not know which ones should not be seated next to each other. Therefore, there are a couple of ways to set up your initial seating chart:

  1. Arrange students alphabetically: This is a simple way that makes sense and can help you learn the students' names.
  2. Alternate girls and boys: This is another simple way to divide a class.
  3. Allow students to choose their seats: Mark this down on an empty seating chart, and it becomes the permanent arrangement.
  4. Have no seating chart: Realize, however, that without a seating chart, you lose some control and you also lose a powerful way to help you learn student names.

Regardless of which seating chart option you choose, ensure that you reserve the right to change it at any time maintain order in your classroom. Also, if you start the year without a seating chart and then decide partway through the year to implement one, this can cause some friction with students.