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Seating Arrangements: Your First Line of Defence in Classroom Management

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and heck I’m going to say it right now: Don’t underestimate the power of a well-planned seating arrangement. 

seating arrangements and classroom management photo

I had allowed my students the privilege of sitting beside a person of their choice. I know when I do this, it probably won’t last the day. However, I let them know up front that they will keep their seats if I don’t have to speak to them for being chatty and off-task. Having to speak to them more than a couple of times shows me that they obviously won’t be able to work productively beside that person and they will have to move. So, fast-forward a few days into the seating arrangement (basically chosen by them). Some partnerships are working (as usual) and others are crashing and burning. There were a couple of pairings, in particular, that were poison for one another. So, one day at break-time, I made some quick seat changes and the difference in the noise level from before lunch to after, was measurable – especially for a Friday afternoon.

If you have never given much thought to your seating arrangement OR you need to give some more thought to it now, I’ve got a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind. This is not a complete list – just a few things to get you started.

Seating Arrangement Tips (in no particular order):

1. When you’re planning your arrangement, think about the space that you have and how you usually teach. Will they be taking notes? Can everyone see the board? Will you be asking them to work with a group every day?

2. Survey your room and see if there’s any furniture that could be placed elsewhere to free up floor space for desks. Your teacher desk, computer, shelves – are they all in the best spot giving you the most usable classroom space? (I hadn’t considered this one until just this past August. I had my furniture as it was when I inherited the room and I realized that the configuration wasn’t optimal for space and utility.)

3. Think about the different seating options that will fit/work in your room: Single rows, rows of pairs, rows of threes, small groups of 3 or 4, a horseshoe shape, a horseshoe shape with a few rows inside the horseshoe etc. Have a look around your school for inspiration of desk/table configurations that will work in your room.

4. Students with hearing or seeing issues should be placed close to the teacher if possible.

5. Are you going to seat by ability, pairing like students together or students with different abilities together? There are pros and cons to both – there can also be some mixing and matching here to try to reach the needs of your students.

6. Who is easily distracted? Try not to seat these students by the sharpener, the windows, door or other high traffic areas – IF possible. Try to seat these students beside students who tend to be more focused, to balance things out.

7. Students who tend to turn around in their seats need to sit at the back, if possible.

8. When you make changes to a seating plan, always move more than one person. If ONE person is being a problem and s/he comes in to class to find that s/he is the only one moved, s/he may feel targeted and could get defensive. However, if you have moved multiple people, you can say that a few pairings weren’t working out and so you had to make some changes.

9. Write each student’s name on a post-it (there are online options for doing this as well) and then move the post-its on your desk until you have students where you want them.

I’ve stopped at 9, hoping that you can help me to continue this list. What other tips or lessons learned about seating arrangements could you share?

middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo

BEd Programs Should Offer Courses in Strategic Seating Arrangements

I must admit, when I was completing my BEd just a few years ago, that I had never given much thought to seating arrangements. I remember reading about them and how they were a “classroom management strategy”. I didn’t realize until I got my own classroom 5…6 years ago – I’m beginning to lose track…is it still baby brain if the child is a year and a half? Now I’ve lost my place…What was I talking about? Oh yes, seating arrangements! I found out in my first year of teaching a grade 9 math class just how important seating arrangements are. Until then, I didn’t realize how much of my time would be spent trying to figure out the perfect spot for each student!

There’s so much to consider. First of all, Wendy has glasses and needs to sit up front. That’s a given. It gets more complicated though…So much more complicated. She had a fight 2 years ago with Simon, and now they hate each other’s guts. Their parents have asked that they not sit beside each other. Bill is always turned around in his seat – perhaps that means that he needs the back row? Jake drives me crazy – so he needs to be as far away as possible – back left corner. Then there are the chatty girls. Do I pair them up with the quiet boys to make them stop chatting – or will that lead to more distractions? Jay wants to sit up front, Pam wants to sit at the back. Al performs for the class and so he needs to be where the fewest people can see him – back right corner. It goes on and on – as you well know! Jen has ADHD and so she can’t go by the window or the door, but the center on the classroom has too many distraction as well – so…far left side. Amy needs to be up front as she’s falling behind. Derrick failed his hearing test and so he needs to be up front as well – not next to Curt though because Curt bullies Derrick…

Once you figure out where everyone will be – what arrangement will you choose? Rows? Pairs? Groups? A Horseshoe? There’s so much to consider! You’ll never please everyone, of course. I always give my students the chance to choose their seats in the very first week of school. As long as they’re quiet, they can stay with their friends. You can imagine how many students get to keep their spots!

So, I guess the moral of the story is: Don’t underestimate the power of a good seating arrangement. If you’re having classroom management issues – start by looking at where students are placed, who’s around them and how different configurations may work. Sometimes simply changing a pairing of students can make all the difference. I strongly believe that BEd program should have a course on strategic seating arrangements. They are mentioned in passing but a well thought out seating arrangement can make or break a class.

In addition, mix it up! Kids get bored with always being in the same spot. They also need to try working with different students – so vary where they are and who they work with.

All that being said…I’m off to change my own seating plan…Is it time to try a horseshoe with this group – or will they just make faces at each other? You never know until you try!