Classroom Layout Matters

How to set up the classroom is one of the many decisions a teacher needs to take at least once a year. An overarching goal is to create in the classroom a space that is welcoming, safe, inclusive and educational for the people who will work together there throughout the school year.

Although different classroom configurations suit different activities (individual work, interactive work, pair-work and group work, for example), different priorities (maximising time spent on task, holding frequent whole-class discussions, minimising disruptive behaviour, promoting inclusion for example), and different curriculum subjects, in most classrooms it would be impractical and time-wasting to change the layout on an ongoing basis. Instead most teachers try to use one predominant layout with occasional changes for particular activities.

My ideal classroom layout is in a U-shape. Every child can see one another’s face which is good for class discussions. I can see every child and move around to check their work quickly if necessary. I can also move quickly towards any area where disruption is brewing and try and pre-empt it before time is wasted. The space in the centre of the U can be used if I want the children to sit down away from their seats to listen to me telling a story, for example. It’s relatively easy for children to work in groups of 2-3 in this configuration but not so good for having them work in larger groups.

Unfortunately, most classrooms are too small to accommodate such a layout. The desks may be too big or there may be too many children in the room. So alternative options need to be explored.

Many teachers organise their class in groups, “cabaret style.” This is a good arrangement for doing group activities and it can be useful for classroom management (e.g. nominating one group at a time to line up before leaving the room and distributing materials to one group at a time). However, a whole-class discussion can be more difficult because the arrangement makes the small group a more natural unit for discussion and many children can’t see all their classmates without moving around to a different space in the classroom. That arrangement may also make it easier for children to engage in off-task behaviour.

Another popular classroom layout is rows or pairs. Although rows work well for pair-work activities and they are good for promoting the quality and quantity of work done, this arrangement means that some children are looking into the backs of other children’s heads and the children at the front of the class have to turn around to look at someone behind them who is speaking to the class.

In general when laying out a classroom it is good to maximise the amount of space and to minimise crowding. This can be done through the arrangement of desks and seats, through locating materials in suitable places in the room and through use of appropriate storage spaces.

What is your ideal classroom layout and why? What compromises did you have to make in the chosen arrangement?

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