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Seating Arrangements in the Classroom
Seating Arrangements in the ClassroomClose
Choosing a seating arrangement for a classroom is one of the most important decisions a teacher can make. The proper plan can facilitate the learning process, while a poor choice can all but render a lesson a failure. Nicole Cusik wrote a research paper about the implications of classroom arrangement for her Instructional Strategies and Reflections class at the University of Delaware. This paper can be found at. Her main point states that a teacher needs “to be sensitive to the learning objective of the lesson, as well as the interpersonal dynamic that exists among the students in the group.” There are several options when it comes to arranging a class, including rows, circles, clusters, activity zones, and pairs. Each can work well in some scenarios, poorly in others.
The first setup Cusik discusses is the desk row arrangement. When using desk rows, the teacher wants the focus of the room, either for a lecture, whole class instruction, or for testing. Student interaction is kept to a minimum as this arrangement is not conducive to discussions or interactions. Next, she writes about circle arrangements. This setup is perfect for group discussion lessons. The students can see each other and any materials posted to aid in the discussion. The focus of this type of class falls more on the students, with some guidance by the teacher. Then, Cusik analyzes the cluster arrangement. Clusters are perfect for small group activities. They encourage peer to peer learning and group interactions. She also describes how this setup is a great primer for the business world and how to interact with others. The focus of this arrangement is definitely on the students. This is a very poor choice for tests, unless they too are group oriented. Next, she discusses the table row classroom. Table rows are basically a halfway point between desk rows and clusters.
They are generally used in science type classes as they allow for lectures, then group work. The groups are larger than in clusters, allowing more space for projects. This arrangement is more beneficial when there is an activity, like an art or science project. Testing is not recommended in table rows since it can be rather easy to copy someone sitting nearby. Cusik also discusses the use of activity zones in the classroom. This arrangement is used when there are several groups of students working on different topics. She recommends zones only for older students as there can only be minimal supervision. If needed, the teacher can lecture the class, but needs to make sure everyone has a seat that is conducive to learning. These classrooms tend to be louder since there is a lot of interaction and self-regulation among the students. Lastly, Cusik discusses the use of paired seating in the classroom.
The pairs arrangement is similar to desk rows, only the students are grouped at a table for two. As in the desk row setup, the teacher can easily be the focus of the room. On the other hand, the teacher can easily switch that dynamic to be student based by assigning role plays or other small group activities. Students are also required to develop social interaction skills. This social interaction is more important in this setup than the others as only two people are doing most of the interaction. The teacher might want to observe the classroom and the student interactions before assigning the pairs. Again, testing is not recommended in the setup because the students have a partner sitting right next to them.
By looking at all possible scenarios, and taking into account the general idea of the class, the teacher can decide what type of arrangement is best for the class. Ideally, this arrangement could change with different types of lessons. There is obviously no one right way to set up a class, but by analyzing the needs of the class and the lesson, the teacher can make the best choice possible.
Seating Arrangements in the ClassroomClose
The manner in which seats are arranged in the classroom significantly impacts the quality of education. Seating arrangements have an equally profound effect on the effectiveness of communication both between the teacher and students and amongst the students themselves, especially younger students. The majority of resources available to teachers on this topic appear to emphasize the former and neglect the latter. This is indicative of a greater tendency surrounding the body of research in classroom management to concentrate on the concerns of the teacher and disregard the students’ needs and perspective.
I hesitate to even use the word ‘classroom management’ as the term itself implies a teacher-centric perspective when seating arrangement should primarily be for the benefit of the students. This is the more reasonable philosophy of the two choices due to the simple fact that the purpose of lessons is to supply edification and information to the students in the most effective means possible; not to ‘manage’ them as though they were an unruly and defiant lot that needs be subjugated and tamed. They are better regarded as individuals, almost peers, and are most likely to respond to a teacher’s respect for them in kind. Seating arrangements that attempt to manage students are ineffective in my opinion and will only succeed at separating teachers from their students and establishing communication barriers which are especially troublesome when communication is the object of our lesson as teachers; as is the case in teaching a language.
After a week of research it is quite apparent that even amongst more student-centered seating arrangement options there is still a great deal of debate that currently exists regarding which particular seating arrangement is best. There is a lot of wasted energy on the part of the proponents of the various conflicting styles to this effect as what they fail to realize is that they are all correct to an extent. The problem is not in the rationalization for each method. The great majority of them have sound and logical explanations supported by empirical observations. The common failing amongst them is that they are too rigid. They do not consider the possibility of using multiple arrangements within a class during the same lesson, let alone variations from one day to the next.
The various seating arrangement styles at our disposal as teachers each have a particular objective that they are best suited for depending on a number of variables in the classroom. The most affectatious or deterministic of these variables include the number of students, age of students, and lesson topic(s).
The remainder of this paper will focus on defining the seating arrangement techniques that, in the author’s opinion, are most concerned with student beneficience and the specific function of each technique.
One way to de-emphasize the distinction between student and teacher is ensure the seating for the teacher is identical to that of his or her students. This is best achieved in a round table arrangement with two variations. For smaller classes during which their will be written work that necessitates a surface to write on, a single circular table is used such that the teacher is indistinguishable from the students with regards to seating. For larger classes, separate chairs arranged in a circle including the teacher is more logistically sound as a large table in the center of 8 or more people is more of a barrier and hindrance. The circled chairs may or may not have accompanying writing surfaces. I prefer the chairs with a retractable writing surface such that it can be stored at the side of the chair when not being used. This circular style is best suited for conversations and interactive activities involving only voice. It encourages student participation as they are in a position equal to that of the teacher. As such, it is more difficult for them to rely on the teacher for cues or to carry the conversation. If a table is used at all, it should be in the shape of a circle vice a kidney shape as is common in many ESL schools to distinguish between the teacher and students.
An even more engaging arrangement for interaction or role-play activities is to not use seats at all. In this arrangement, role-plays become much more life-like and enable the students to use the language in the context of an actual situation. It is overall a more visceral experience. This arrangement obviously cannot be sustained over the course of an entire lesson but is well suited for the activate portion(s) of any prepared lesson. This style is very modular and lends itself very easily to moving students quickly and fluidly amongst various groups and swapping partners in role-plays. This concept of modularity can also be applied to seated students provided the seats do not have tables to inhibit the students from changing seats. There is more space for the movement of students while exchanging seats in the circular seating fashion described before or when seated in groups or clusters.
However, cluster seating is best suited for written group activities because role-plays are better without seats at all. The fact that we would use clusters for written activities implies the use of a table. Optimally, the tables would again be circular and each table would be shared by three or four students. This arrangement is useful for worksheet activities or games that require a board of some sort. It is important that cluster seating is not used as the primary seating arrangement as stagnate student groupings reduce the exposure of each student to all their classmates and therefore reduce their opportunity to learn more but repeating the same groupings can also increase the potential for discipline problems.
It is inevitable that in some activities the teacher will have to make use of the board or some type of common visual aid such as an overhead projector or television. In these cases, it is best to use a horseshoe or halfmoon seating arrangement out of necessity so that every student can see the visual aid clearly. For larger classes, multiple tiers of the halfmoon can be used. This arrangement still keeps all of the students on an equal footing but the teacher is inherently in a position near the visual aid. However, if the visual is, for example, a white board, the teacher can still exchange seats with students periodically to have the students write on the board themselves.
The preceding seating arrangements in this paper all have specific functions and are suited for different classroom activities. No single one should be considered as a classroom’s primary arrangement, but rather as a toolbox that can all be used from time to time perhaps even within the span of a single lesson. The important thing is to understand that the arrangement of students in the classroom is an underutilized and highly useful tool in making lessons more effective. Seating should not be stagnant and it should not be designed specifically to make things easier for the teacher or to “manage” the students. Our purpose is to educate, not manage.
Clark, Don “Seating Arrangement Styles” March 2001.
Holtrop, S. “Writing Lesson Plans: Seating Arrangements” May 1997.
Ramsden, Alexandra “Seating Arrangements” Dec 1999.
Weaver, Diane ”Seating Arrangements and Assignments” Aug 2006.
*Personal experience as a teacher in an ESL school in Japan
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There are many different schools of thought concerning seating arrangements in TESOL classrooms. For the most part, these different ways of arranging students depend on various factors. What works for one teacher in a classroom in Korea may not work for another teacher in a classroom in Thailand.
One of the largest factors contributing to the different seating plans is the style of teaching that best suits the instructor in question. Obviously, by definition, a Suggestapaedia lesson will be different from a lesson based on using multiple intelligences.
Another large factor to consider is the culture of the country in question. One aspect of culture that changes from group to group is that of personal proximity. One must take this into account before laying out a seating chart. It has been suggested that a formation in the shape of a semi-circle, horseshoe, or double horseshoe (depending on class size) may provide the best learning environment because the teacher is closer to the students and can interact with them easier. While there is no doubt that there is some truth to this, this classroom setup may not be appropriate in all countries.
Other factors a teacher must consider while making a seating arrangement for his or her students depends on the students themselves. Some students are stronger in English than their peers and some are shyer than their peers. Unfortunately, it is also true that the shy and those that do not have as strong a command of the English language often sit next to each other. This is not a good situation to be in if you are teaching an ESA lesson that relies heavily on pair work. If this happens, do not be afraid to ask all of the students to stand up and take a new seat. Do not, however, draw attention to the weaker students. If at all possible, make a game of it or try to tie it into the lesson. If you have run out of ideas, have the students sit in alphabetical order.
I would argue that changing the seating arrangements every couple of weeks is good for the students for several reasons. First, the students are perhaps meeting new people and being forced to leave their comfort zone. Second, if one changes the classroom seating chart regularly, the students will get the chance to hear more people talk, work, and study in the English language.
A teacher must take all of these factors into consideration before choosing a classroom layout and, ultimately, a seating arrangement if he or she is to create the best possible learning environment for his or her pupils.
The idea for having students in a horseshoe or semicircular formation was taken from Richard Watson Todd on