How to Arrange Classroom Chairs & Desks for the Optimal Learning Environment

Posted by Ryan Owens on May 3rd 2016

Traditionally, schools have arranged classroom chairs and classroom desks in rows facing the teacher’s desk and the blackboard. Students get put in rows alphabetically, or occasionally by height so the shortest students can see properly. Some teachers allow students to choose their own desks, but will break up disruptive groups by assigning seats.

But is straight-row seating the best way to arrange your classroom furniture? This classic form has been around for centuries, but it may not provide the best classroom environment for concentration or collaboration. It also causes problems for students with vision trouble and can disadvantage students at the back of the classroom.

Modern educators have learned that seating arrangements do affect student learning, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best arrangements for a given classroom. Each type of seating arrangement carries advantages and disadvantages, and the modern classroom has evolved to provide classroom seating that can accommodate a variety of scenarios.

Traditional Straight-Row Classroom Seating

Straight row seating arrangements are not without their advantages! This type of seating is best used in classroom situations that require students to work individually, such as figuring out math problems or working on language compositions. The rows allow the teacher to freely walk among the students in order to answer questions and offer assistance to those who appear to be struggling with the subject material.

A teacher walking among the desks may also serve as a silent reminder to potentially disruptive students to remain focused on the task at hand. Straight row seating is also ideal for when teachers deliver a long lecture with a minimal amount of student interaction followed by a question-and-answer period at the end.

Horseshoe or Semicircle Seating

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the children who sit in the front when classroom desks are arranged in straight rows are more attentive than their counterparts in the middle and back rows. To circumvent the students in the back being left behind, many teachers opt to arrange classroom furniture in a large semicircle in which every student is directly facing the teacher. This type of seating arrangement is best for classes that involve a great deal of interaction between students. Foreign language classes where students often converse with one another as a part of classroom exercises are awkward to manage when desks are arranged in traditional straight lines.

Semicircles are ideal for this type of learning because each student can look directly at others without having to turn around, and they are also ideal for situations where the teacher is using visual aids to instruct the class. Some teachers use a semicircle to maintain optimal control in classrooms with a high percentage of disruptive students because their actions are more easily observable than with other types of seating arrangements.

Small Table Seating or Groups of Desks

By the same token, however, learning experiences that involve working collaboratively in small groups will be difficult to create when classroom chairs and desks are arranged in a semicircle. Small group interaction is best facilitated by seating groups of students at round tables. If small round tables are not available, it might be possible to maneuver student desks to form a rectangle in which groups of students are facing one another.

While this arrangement is advantageous for working on group projects, students who are seated with their backs to the front of the room will experience difficulty seeing the blackboard. This arrangement may also make it difficult for teachers to properly monitor all groups if the tables or groups of desks are simply placed about the room in a haphazard manner.

In schoolrooms of old, classroom desks were bolted in place on the floor, and teachers and students didn’t have available alternative seating choices. When moveable desks and classroom chairs entered the picture, students and teachers alike discovered the benefits of rearranging chairs to suit the specific needs of the projects at hand. Desks and chairs that are easily moved and maneuvered as desired should be a part of every educational environment so that students and teachers can have the best of all of the different types of seating arrangements.

Please feel free to contact us at your convenience to find out more about how desks and chairs can be arranged and rearranged to suit the classroom needs of teacher.