This article explores the pros and cons to a number of different classroom seating patterns

Some schools have seating plans for each room, which staff are expected to stick to, other schools allow everyone to choose what suits them best. There’s nothing worse than coming into a class to teach when the previous person has omitted to leave things as they found them, so if you do re-arrange furniture show some consideration for the next group to be using the room!

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In an ideal word, seating should be frequently re-arranged to meet the needs of:

  • Behaviour
  • Ability
  • Task
  • Time of day
  • Size of group

Some basic principles of seating:

  • Distance-decay – pupils towards the back are less likely to participate and more likely to chat.
  • Rows reduce interaction.
  • Children are creatures of habit, and will try to sit in the same place with the same people – asking them to move may meet with resistance!
  • Some children are isolated by their peers – clever seating arrangements can help to reduce the impact of this.
  • Changes in seating patterns can have a negative physiological effect. To stimulate both sides of the brain, children need to feel relaxed and secure.
  • Consider moving pupils away from tables for some activities – with nothing to lean on pupils may be more attentive and involved.
  • Have a seating plan to help you learn some names – it will also help you to have one form of control and then you can be flexible about seating arrangements to reward good behaviour.
  • Re-arrange seating to help manage behaviour.

U style

  • Great for getting around the class and amongst your pupils.
  • Good visibility for pupils.
  • A standard pattern so pupils won’t worry about finding seats.
  • Traditional and business like.

Drawbacks

  • Rowdy classes will communicate with each other across the room.
  • Not very conducive to group work.
  • Those sat at the front ends are facing the board at an angle.

Herring Bone

  • Works well with a large classroom, as long as it’s not too narrow.
  • Good visibility for all pupils.
  • Teacher can walk up and down the spine.
  • All pupils are facing the front, which is good for ‘chalk and talk’ teaching styles.
  • Those at the edges are less isolated than if straight rows are used.
  • Easy to join desks together for group work sessions.

Drawbacks

  • Back row brigade! Need we say more?
  • Harder for the teacher to move along the rows.
  • Favoured by the ‘strict and scary’ teachers?

V style

  • Great for visibility.
  • Great for teacher / pupil contact.
  • Less formal than the U-shape.

Drawbacks

  • Takes up loads of space – best with a small group.
  • Not ideal for group work.

Café-style

  • Great for group work.
  • Informal – encourages pupils to participate in discussion.
  • Easy for the teacher to circulate.

Drawbacks

  • Some pupils will have poor visibility and may even have their backs to you.
  • Lack of attention and chatting can be a problem – harder to control behaviour.
  • Encourages pupils to sit in friendship groups, which doesn’t always help create the ability or social mix that you need.

Circle

  • Encourages everyone to get involved.
  • Great for debates and discussions.
  • Lots of teacher and pupil contact.
  • Friendship groups less obvious.
  • No barrier between teacher and students – teacher can use their body kinaesthetically.

Drawbacks

  • Not easy to set up with rectangular tables!
  • There may be a scramble for seats and momentary disorder as pupils face an unexpected seating pattern.
  • You’ll probably have to move the furniture before and after the activity.

Lecture style

  • Good visibility and acoustics for all.
  • Space-effective.
  • Good for traditional teaching styles.

Drawbacks

  • Difficult to have personal contact with all pupils and if you bend over to help someone, your bottom is presented to the row behind you!
  • Restricted views for the back row.

References:

Accelerated Learning Colin Rose ISBN 0905553128

Getting the Buggers to Behave 2

Sue Cowley ISBN 0826465005
The Trainer’s Pocket Book John Townsend ISBN 1903776023
500 Tips for Trainers Phil Race and Brenda Smith ISBN 0749415916

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 1 Autumn 2003.

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