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How I Layout My Classroom

Recently I wrote about arranging the space of my very first classroom and how the dream of this compared to the reality. You can read more about this and also…

Recently I wrote about arranging the space of my very first classroom and how the dream of this compared to the reality. You can read more about this and also check out my ideal classroom layout at my recent post: Do You Have An Ideal Classroom Layout?

I received a comment from Michelle asking how I ended up actually laying out my classroom and what I feel works and doesn’t work, so I thought I would talk a bit more about this.

The space that I had in my very first classroom was quite limited. When considering the layout of the room I really had to decide what the most important feature was, as I couldn’t really do much of what I wanted. I decided that the single most important feature for my class layout was to include mat space. This is where we could all sit on the mat as a class for such things as direct instruction, reading aloud and modelling a particular skill.

With limited space this can be quite challenging. As you can see below I started out with two big groups of desks in two columns that were joined by a row of desks across the back. This allowed for space down the middle of the 2 groups of desks as well as at the front of the room for mat space.

classroom layoutThis layout seemed to work quite well in the first week. I allowed students to choose where they wanted to sit on the first day. As I didn’t really know the students, this enabled me to see who chose who to sit next to and observe the interactions that occurred between students.

I quickly learnt those students who shouldn’t be sitting next to one another, and made changes to the seating arrangements. Other than moving students who couldn’t work well where they were, the actual arrangement of the desks and the use of space worked surprisingly well.

I read somewhere that when you start with a new class you have a 2 week window of opportunity where you establish the routines and expectations of the class. So when I had the seating arrangements of the students working well, I didn’t actually change the layout of the class for the first two weeks.

However, like all things in my classroom I like to change things up regularly. I decided that I would change the layout of the desks for each Monday, and that students would have new seats to sit in and new people to sit next to each week. On Monday mornings students knew this was happening so when they arrived, they would take their trays out from under the desk and place them on top ready for the shifting.

There was always quite a bit of buzz on Monday mornings as students had anticipated how the room would be arranged and then wondered who they would be sitting next to for the week.

Whenever I rearranged the desks I had in my mind the need to include mat space. I found that the best layout of the desks to achieve this was to have them in groups, or in the two columns as previously explained.

Some of the other ways that I chose who students sat next to included:

Teacher choice – I would choose where each student would sit in the class. I would often draw the layout of the desks on some graph paper and then add in where I wanted each student to sit. This was particularly helpful when I was away from the room and there was a relief teacher as they had the name of all the students and a map of where they should be sitting.

Sociogram – This is a graphic representation of the relationships in the class. I surveyed students and asked them to list in preference order the students they would choose to sit next to. I gave them up to 5 preferences. This information was then used to help me determine where to place students. I implemented this in Term 3 with my class, and it worked exceptionally well. I had students sit in either groups of 4 or 6 and I managed to have at least every student in the class have someone that they had listed sitting in their group.

One final thing that I implemented was to actually get rid of the dreaded student tray. These are the trays that students have under their desk to place their everyday supplies in, such as pencil case, workpads etc. These become so messy and full of items that sometimes the trays don’t even open.

During Term 2 I had to work very hard to convince my Principal that I wanted to do away with these. As students in my class were constantly moving seats and sitting in different places I felt that they could better be replaced with cardboard magazine holders. It would be much easier for students to then take their possessions with them when moving around the room.

These holders just sit on top of the desk tops. This is also a really good way to keep an eye on how messy the holders are becoming.

Oh my goodness, this was one of the most important things that I did in that first year of teaching. The reaction from the students was nothing short of amazing. They were allowed to decorate the magazine holders how they liked. We talked about responsibility and the need to take care of them as they would not be replaced if ruined. I was completely surprised that most students rose to the challenge and there were only about ½ dozen students whose holders did not last the remainder of the year.

So after all this trial and error in my first year of teaching with arranging my classroom, some of the things that worked for me included:

  • Arranging the desks so I always had room for mat space;
  • Using a sociogram to assist with arranging students; and
  • Getting rid of trays and replacing them with magazine holders.

Some of the things that didn’t work for me:

  • Changing the arrangement of the room and the desks every week. This became too much work to do on a weekly basis, so in Term 2 I only changed the arrangement of the room three times. However, students still sat in new seats each week.
  • I did also try having students in rows. This didn’t work either as many of my lessons and the way I teach involved students working collaboratively, in either pairs or small groups.

So I would surmise that there is probably no preferred way to classroom layout. But it’s more about knowing your students and how you can maximise the space you have for the best learning to occur.

Have you tried anything different in your room like I did with the magazine holders? Please use the comments below to share your experiences.

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7 Comments

  1. Leigh Langton (The Applicious Teacher)

    Melinda,

    It was interesting to read about your classroom lay-out and student placement. Why do you move your students’ seating places so much? And don’t worry about not having a “perfect classroom layout”, every year you’ll get new students who need something different! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Deirdre

    I am constantly rearranging my classroom, there never seems to be enough space. I like the Sociogram part of it, gives the kids responsibility for making good choices.

    – Deirdre aka Evil Math Wizard
    Come visit my blog at Evil Math Wizard.

    Reply
  3. Carrie

    I love that you posted this! I too am someone who rearrages regularly. When I first started teaching I set up my room and was all set to go. LOVED the arragement and swore I would not change it.
    Then about 3 days in I realized the desks were too close together, I couldn’t see all the centers from my small group table, I needed more room for carpet space, and I couldn’t see the clock from my reading table. So needless to say we did some rearranging!

    Carrie
    BuzzIntoKinder

    Reply
  4. Anne Gardner

    Hi Melinda, I love the idea of switching up seating on a weekly basis! What a great way to keep things fresh and make sure kids have the opportunity to interact with many of their classmates. Thanks for sharing this! Anne

    Common Core Connection

    Reply
  5. Zoom Zoom Classroom

    Melinda,

    WOW! I can see from the photo that you have a slate board in your classroom. That goes back some years doesn’t it? This is such an interesting and honest post about your journey with your classroom layout. It’s such a challenge to arrange a classroom when space is limited. It’s good to know what the priorities are you indicated what your “must haves” were when you began your arrangement. Thank you for sharing what did not work as well as what did work for you.

    Zoom Zoom Classroom

    Reply
  6. Claire

    Thanks for sharing how you set up your room. It is such an important process, I am personally still not happy with mine.

    Claire

    Reply
    • Melinda

      Hi Claire,

      My pleasure. And I agree it does seem to be one of those things that is hard to get right! I think this is one of the reasons I constantly changed things up, I was never quite happy with it!

      Cheers
      Mel

      Reply

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