Effective Classroom Seating Arrangements for Student Learning

As you begin planning for a new school year, your classroom seating arrangement is probably at the top of your to-do list. It has such an important influence on classroom management and often dictates the layout of your entire room. How you arrange your desks or tables is really personal preference and there's no one best way. However, there are some important things to consider when deciding on your class seating plan.


Here are some questions you should think about and answer before settling on your classroom arrangement:

  • How often will students be doing group work?

  • Where will your teacher’s desk go? (Often determined by the location of outlets, interactive whiteboard, and other equipment)

  • Do you have individual desks or tables?

  • What is the overall size of your classroom?

  • What is the minimum/maximum number of students you might have?

  • Where is the "front of the classroom" located?

  • What is your teaching style? Do you prefer to be front and center?


All of these things play a huge role in determining the best seating arrangement for YOU and YOUR STUDENTS. Before we look at specific classroom layout ideas, let's talk about some things that don't really work all that well:

👎 Alphabetical Order

Seating your students according to their last name isn't the best option and really doesn't make much sense. Maybe in high school at the beginning of the year when the teacher is trying to learn hundreds of names and faces. But in the elementary environment, it feels impersonal and it's inflexible. If you have a difficult time learning who's who, put your students’ names right on the front of their desks and the back of their chairs. That will solve the problem.


👎 Tall Kids in Back

I understand the tendency to put your tallest students in the back row. You want everyone to be able to see the front of the room and make eye contact with you. However, this is really the least of your worries when deciding between different seating arrangements. A teacher rarely just stands in the front of the room. You most likely move around, even during whole group instruction. So the height of your students should not determine your seating layout.

So what is the best way to set up your classroom? There are a lot of different options and you should weigh the pros and cons of each one. The great news is that if you try one arrangement and it doesn't work out, it's pretty easy to switch things around.

Does seating arrangement affect learning?


One thing we know for sure is that your desk arrangement can, in fact, impact your students' learning. Previous studies have shown that students sitting in the front rows of a traditional, rectangular row arrangement tend to be more attentive, answer more questions, and have more interaction with the teacher than those in the back. This set up also lends itself to more teacher-led instruction, lower student engagement, and fewer active participants.


When given a choice, students with a strong desire to excel academically will choose to sit near the front. Those who do not, tend to choose seats in the back or near windows and doors. These are things you should keep in mind when designing the layout of your room.

Here are some common seating arrangements and the pros and cons of each:

Traditional Row Arrangement

Traditional rows are a very typical set up in higher education (high school and college), but was also the most common arrangement in elementary classrooms in years past. Desks are arranged in straight rows with equal spacing between them.



PROS:

  • Easy to set up

  • Takes up less space than other arrangements

  • Easy for teacher to move between students

  • Minimizes student talking

CONS:

  • Teacher-centered

  • Discourages student collaboration

  • Students in back less engaged

  • Not conducive to group work

  • Students in front can block the view of those in back

Circular or Round Table Arrangement

In this arrangement, student seats are set up in a large circle so everyone is facing the rest of the group. One desk is typically left out of the circle to allow the teacher to walk in and out.



PROS:

  • Student-centered

  • Teacher can easily move from being "on-stage" to off

  • Encourages whole group discussion and collaboration

  • Creates a feeling of equality and inclusiveness

  • Increases class participation for all students

CONS:

  • Takes up a the most classroom space

  • Increases student talking

  • Not ideal for test-taking

  • Increases distractions for some students

  • Gives disruptive students a large audience

Pod Arrangement

This set up involves arranging your students in small groups. This can be done by placing their desks together in "pods" or using small round or square tables.



PROS:

  • Easy for teacher to move between groups

  • Encourages small group discussions and collaboration

  • Can be used with desks or tables

  • Often takes up the least amount of floor space

  • Best for cooperative learning activities

CONS:

  • Increases student talking and distractions

  • Not ideal for test-taking or