Classroom Seating: Which Arrangement is Best?

The way you arrange your students' desks is an important choice that will impact your classroom environment.

By Greg Harrison



Let's face it, we've all done it. We enter our classrooms right before the end of our summer vacation and ask ourselves, "How should I arrange my seats this year?" If you're like me, you probably set up your classroom exactly the way it was when school ended in June.

One year I decided to try something different, and discovered a seating arrangement that I ended up using for the rest of my career. I used this arrangement for second through fifth grades, and it worked quite well for each. What follows is a description of each of the types of seating arrangements I've used throughout the years, including the pros and cons of each, and the reasons why I think one of these is the best choice.

Using Table Groups

I used a seating arrangement involving table groups for each of the grade levels I taught; first, third, fourth and fifth. I found that this type of arrangement works best for students in the younger grades, since many of the lessons require small-group learning. It made sense to have students sit in groups so they wouldn't have to move their desks all the time. Another nice thing about having this type of seating arrangement is that it results in more space in the classroom, and makes it easy for teachers to get to students for one-on-one interaction. However, I found that this arrangement didn't work as well in the upper grades. In the upper elementary classroom, students are more social and sitting in groups can lead to a lot of off-task talking and fooling around.

Lining Up in Old Fashioned Rows

When I was growing up, students sat in rows. Since this is the way desks were arranged when I was young, it seemed natural to set up my room this way when I became a teacher. In my opinion, old fashioned rows should only be used in third grade and up.  It is a very formal arrangement, and usually leads to a classroom environment in which there is less discussion and more teacher- directed learning. In addition, I never liked the fact that the classroom space was filled with desks and chairs, making it difficult for me to reach students. This arrangement also limited student interaction and made group activities more challenging.

The Upside Down Double U

While I tried other methods, the seating arrangement I ended up using in my classroom is the upside down double U shape. Pretend you are above the classroom, looking down with a bird's-eye-view, you would see this configuration.

                                                                           __    __    __    __   __  __

                                                                          l      __   __   __   __   __    l

                                                                          l      l                             l     l

                                                                          l      l                             l     l

                                                                          l      l                             l     l





There is a lot to like about this arrangement.

  • There is a lot of open space created inside the U formation that allows you to get close to students while teaching, instead of being stuck in front of the room at a distance from them.
  • In the younger grades, the open space can be used for "carpet time." Students can gather in this space for a story, song, or discussion. Even my fifth graders liked to have "carpet time" every once in a while! 
  • During choice time, the open space was often used as a place for students to play board games, build things with blocks, and read books. 

In my mind, this arrangement gives you the best of both worlds; your students will be focused on their work, rather than on each other (the main problem with table groups), and they can easily interact with each other in small groups when they need to. Additionally, this arrangement frees up a lot of space in the classroom. If you count the number of desks in the diagram above, you'll be surprised to see there are 25.  Your classroom can still feel "open," even with numerous desks.

Finally, I believe it's important to change where students sit in the classroom on a regular basis. It allows them to get to know their peers, and gain a different perspective of the classroom. Even when they moved, students always kept their own desk and chair. I hope you give the "Upside Down Double U" seating arrangement a try.  I think you'll like it!


You can get more ideas by checking out our complete Back to School Guide