Hannah Zurn, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
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A first year teacher is walking into their classroom for the first time. All the desks are pushed to one side and it’s up to them to pick the “perfect classroom design”. There are many possibilities, however which would best suit the environment being taught in?

Taking Into Consideration
Classroom size, how many students attending class, and what area being taught are a few important factors needed in order to create a suitable teaching environment for the students as well as the teacher.

  • Classroom Size– Most of the time teachers are not able to pick the classroom they will be teaching in, so they have to make do with what they are offered. Big or small, a teacher wants to make enough space for everyone and accommodate every student’s needs. Each student needs a certain amount of desk space for the tools used and a certain amount of floor space, leg space, and elbow room to perform the required tasks (Kaya & Burgess 2007). A teacher needs to make his or her students comfortable while being able to teach them effectively.
  • Class Size– Depending on the school district, school and subject, the amount of students attending class will vary year to year. Looking at a class list before classes start will help teachers determine the number of students in each class. That will influence how many desks are needed in the classroom and how much space is appropriate for the given situation.
  • Area being taught– The subject being taught in the classroom is a good indication on how the teacher will be setting up the arrangements of the desks. Teachers need to decide if their class will be doing a lot of interacting with one another where students will need to be in groups and pairs or if their students will need to pay close attention to lecture where they will be in rows of columns.

Type of Desk Arrangements
From groups to pairs, to rows and columns, each classroom seating arrangement is different. Choosing the “perfect” classroom design is very important when it comes to teaching. A lot depends on what sort of teaching method a teacher intend to do: more group work or more individual work.

Individual Work
When a teacher has a class that’s noisy, difficult to control or is just a rather large class, they should put the desks into neat rows or columns. This arrangement is very simple. The main advantage to this setup is it minimizes distractions among students. Intervention studies have consistently found that seating in rows for individual task work improves time spent on‐task (Hastings & Schwieso 1995). Sitting in rows or columns will increase the student’s focus and listening. Student sitting in this position creates more personal space between one another increasing comfort and making it simpler to move around the classroom. The teacher will have an easier time seeing each student and getting attention when needed.

The biggest disadvantage to the row and column arrangement is it limits group work and student-student interaction when necessary to the lesson. When students are instructed to get into groups there will be a lot of classroom chaos in order to get into the appropriate format for the activity making things a lot harder on the teacher.

Group Work
When a teacher knows their class will be doing a lot of interacting between one another, placing them in small groups would be the ideal arrangement. When the desired behavior is interactive, like brainstorming or questioning the teacher, seating arrangements that facilitate interactions by proximity and position, such as clustered desks or semi-circles, should be utilized (Wannarka & Ruhl 2008). The biggest advantages when placing students in groups is the efficiency of communication among peers. As long as they are on task, sharing ideas with one another is a lot easier. As the teacher meets with each group, her or she would be able to focus their on a small group of students without disrupting other students around them.

The number one disadvantage to small groups is it leads to lots of distractions among students and disciplinary problems. Sitting that close to someone will increase talking, lack of focus, noise and will invade comfortable, personal space between students.

Best for the Class
The solution to finding the most efficient classroom is simple. What works best for the class! In order to find the “perfect” classroom seating arrangement, the teacher needs to figure in the type of class they are intending to have and weigh out their options. Remember, once a teacher arranges their classroom and doesn’t feel it fits the needs of the class they can always rearrange. If plan A does not work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet. Have fun designing an ideal classroom!

Hastings, N., & Schwieso, J. (1995). Tasks and tables: The effects of seating arrangements on task engagement in primary classrooms. Educational Research, 37(3), 279-291.
Kaya, N., & Burgess, B. (2007). Territoriality Seat Preferences in Different Types of Classroom Arrangements. Environment and Behavior, 39(6), 859-876.
Niemeyer, D. C. (2003). Hard facts on smart classroom design: Ideas, guidelines, and layouts. Rowman & Littlefield.
Walter , McKenzie. N.p. (2013). Do Seating Arrangements and Assignments =Classroom Management?
Wannarka, R., & Ruhl, K. (2008). Seating arrangements that promote positive academic and behavioral outcomes: A review of empirical research. Support for Learning, 23(2), 89-93.