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Special Education Classroom Setup: Designing a Structured Space for Special Needs

It's that time of year when we're all setting up our classrooms for our new students. When they walk in on the first day of school, you want your room to look bright and inviting, right? But if you're a special education teacher, that means more than just choosing a theme or picking out cute decor.

There are 3 really important ingredients for designing a classroom environment that supports special education students:

  • Classroom Layout

  • Classroom Furniture

  • Wall Space

The key to each of these is: Student Needs First

We all like pretty. We all like the latests trends. But remember, our students come to school to learn and some aspects of our classroom design can either help or hinder that. So let's look at the three aspects of classroom setup that have the most impact. (General education teachers - If you teach in an inclusive classroom or have ESE students that push-in, these tips will help you too.)


When you set up your classroom for the year, the first thing you probably think about is where you want certain things like your classroom library, your teacher desk, your computer station, and your circle time area. As you consider these things, focus on the space between each area. Can your students maneuver between them? Is there room for a wheelchair or for two people to walk at the same time (such as when a student with a physical disability needs assistance to get somewhere)?

Look at where your adult-attended spots are in relation to independent work areas. I suggest putting your small group table or your para's table near the door. If someone knocks, you can easily answer it without walking away from your group of students. If you have a "runner" in your class, the door won't be as easy to access. What about your time-out or calm-down spot? It should be in a quiet area of the room, near an adult - not right next to your independent work stations, sensory corner, or other stimulating activities.

Consider how your students will rotate through the room for different activities. Do you really want your life skills kitchen area right next to your small groups or w