6 Ideas for Classroom Seating Arrangements

Posted by Ryan Owens on Jan 31st 2017

As a teacher, each year you have a new group of students to get to know and to figure out how to teach. Some years it’s a breeze and other years bring significant challenges. Some students just don’t work together well, making your job even trickier. You have to use patience and a bit of detective work. You slowly find out which pairs of students work well together, which students need to be seated away from others, and which students need extra help from you no matter where they’re sitting.

This is why no one classroom seating arrangement works for every teacher and every student. Factor in varying classroom shapes and sizes, different subjects being taught, and limited desk or table options available at your school and you quickly have to get creative with how to organize your classroom so that every student is working well and learning at their maximum potential.

It’s amazing what a simple rearrangement of desks can do for students. Suddenly, previously too-chatty students are able to focus, those who were having difficulty seeing your presentation can view it easily, and students who were shy now work happily in a group. Group dynamics make classroom seating arrangements vital to the health and functionality of a class.

A Few Considerations

Just as each student’s personality will change the overall personality of the class, there are other issues that will need to be considered when arranging your classroom. Here are a few to consider while you design your classroom floor-plan:

  • Ages of the students: Younger children will be engaged in different kinds of projects than older children will be. They also need to move around more, so you will need to factor in floor space for play, sitting, and general movement. Older students might need seminar or discussion style seating, or they might simply need quiet spaces to work.
  • The building structure: Your classroom might have beams and supportive poles that get in the way. Windows might be an issue, especially if the sound coming from outside distracts your students. Door locations, built-in sinks or drinking fountains might also use up floor space and limit your options.
  • Location of white or black boards and projector screens: If you tend to use these for the majority of your lessons, you will need to make sure that every student can easily see and won’t have to turn awkwardly. Consider getting a rolling white/black board to make your classroom even more flexible.
  • Available classroom furniture provided by the school: You might find yourself limited by which kinds of desks, tables, chairs, and other furnishings are available. This will require you to get creative and find your own spin-offs on traditional arrangements.
  • Subject-matter being taught: If you are teaching elementary classes, you’ll be able to focus (generally) on one group of students. But if you teach something specific like art, or if you teach middle or high school classes, you will have different classroom arrangement needs. Figure out what works best for what you are teaching, then set up your desks accordingly.

With all of that in mind, here are a few classroom seating arrangement possibilities to try out with your class:

1. Squares of Four

Cluster four desks together in small pods, facing in toward each other. This type of seating works well for teachers that enjoy having students engage in group work or cooperative learning. With a little observation, you can quickly determine which students will work well together in a group, and then set them up together.

Overly chatty students might not do so well in this formation, so you’ll have to watch out for that. Some classes will do well with this set-up, and others might just have too many talkers for it to work well at all. Another issue might be that some students won’t be able to see the board as easily. Make sure to set up the pods so that they can all see the front of the room, if possible.

2. Stadium Seating/Slanted Lines

This set-up works great for a smaller group of students. Arrange desks in straight lines, but slant the line into an inverted V, leaving a wide aisle between the lines at the top of the V. You can add two or three more rows, but you should probably stop there so students don’t obstruct each other’s view. This is a smart arrangement for teachers who want to be able to see what each student is doing at all times. It also gives easy access for the teacher to get to each student for one-on-one help. You can place a projector in the center or a rug for smaller children to sit on during activity times.

This setup does take up a lot of space width-wise, which can cause problems for space-limited rooms. It can be used for group work, but requires rearranging desks. This arrangement is also not ideal for classrooms with over 18 or so students. If you like to have students collaborate more than anything else, this also might not be a good fit, as it places an emphasis on lecture-style teaching.

3. Circle ‘Round

Create a circle with desks, leaving aisles at the center of each “side.” With square desks, this tends to end up looking like a large rectangle or square. This arrangement is perfect for the teacher who likes to be equally accessible to every student. It’s also great for discussions and seminar-style learning. The teacher can stand in the middle of the circle available to answer questions, to lead a discussion, or to keep on eye on students during work or test-taking.

This does work well with larger groups, but you’ll have to watch out for too much spreading. At some point, the desks might be so far apart that the collaborative nature of the circle gets to be too difficult. Having a large empty space in the center of the desks might not be practical for many classrooms, as well.

4. Rows of Four

This configuration is an alternative to the classic classroom with rows (which tends to be impractical and to take up too much room). By limiting rows to desks of four, you can stagger the rows in whatever way will fit in the room. Keep them in straight lines, or follow another geometric pattern for an excellent classroom fit. This works well with larger groups or classrooms that aren’t focused on group work. However, the smaller rows can huddle up if group work is part of the lesson.

This arrangement doesn’t necessarily make the best use of space, especially if you’re working in tight quarters. Additionally, some students might obstruct another’s view. It can be hard for a teacher to weave in and out of rows to get to a student who needs help. It’s not the best set-up for everyone, but it may work for some classrooms.

5. Layered Horseshoe

This one is a variation on the stadium seating that is better for smaller classrooms and larger group sizes. Create one large horseshoe shaped rows of students, all facing inward. Then create another smaller one inside, again facing inward. Make sure there is a plenty-wide aisle in between both horseshoes. In the inner empty space, a teacher can place their projector cart, set up a display or blackboard, or simply stand and present to the class. The teacher can also easily see and get to each student that might need more one-on-one help.

This arrangement is decidedly teacher-focused, which might not work well for learner-focused classrooms. It doesn’t lend well to group work, since the desks can’t be maneuvered very easily. It might work well for certain kinds of learning groups and not work at all for others.

6. Mix It All Up

Many teachers find that no one configuration is the answer for their classroom. They might start out in one formation, then realize that one or two students just can’t be near others without becoming distracted. These students are then pulled away into their own little nooks, so they can focus. Then the teacher might realize that three or four students really work well together and benefit each other’s learning experience, so those students are put into a small pod. Another group of students might be fine sitting near each other, but they can’t face each other without becoming distracted. Suddenly, you might find that this classroom has small variations of many different kinds of arrangement styles.

For many classrooms, this will probably be the case. If you work with students who have learning or behavioral issues, this is even more likely. The key to classroom arrangement is to focus on your students’ needs and to stay flexible. One thing might work great one year, but not the next. Keep many ideas up your sleeve for using with various class dynamics.Being a teacher is a constant lesson in being adaptable and creative. Each year brings new students who each have their own strengths and challenges. Put them all into a group and together they create a unique dynamic that you’ll have to account for in your classroom planning. There are many options for how to arrange your classroom, some that you may come up with on your own. The ideas presented here will hopefully inspire you to get creative, look at your space critically, and consider the needs of your students as well as your own teaching needs. Enjoy discovering the unique strengths of each class and growing to love each student!