Back-to-school season is an exciting time of year. It’s a fresh start! New teachers, there’s nothing like getting the keys to your very first classroom and walking in to see that beautiful, albeit overwhelming, blank canvas. Veteran teachers, maybe you find yourselves walking into a big mess that you’ve got to reorganize because of maintenance that had to happen in your rooms over the summer. Whichever category you fall into, you’re in good company. Teachers around the world are starting to plan their classrooms so that they create warm, welcoming spaces for their new students, as well as, functional spaces for smooth routines and procedures throughout the school year.
Taking the time to plan out your classroom space is an important step in building classroom community and student engagement. Elementary and middle school teachers tend to be really good at this sort of thing, but secondary level teachers are often so focused on the technical elements of the back-to-school season like updating syllabi, unit plans, and pacing guides that they forget to think about purposeful decor, charts, bulletin boards, and desk arrangments. This is especially true if you are in a high school where the administration has teachers floating from room-to-room just as often as the kids’ schedules do. When no one bothers to take ownership of classroom space, classroom management problems increase and the energy of the room is not great.
Student-centered spaces that are well-organized and thought out are more conducive to learning and these classroom teachers, oftentimes, experience far fewer disciplinary issues. It all starts with having a sense of the space in your room and reflecting on your own teaching style. Then, you plan the room around those needs.
Desk configuration is a huge piece of the classroom planning puzzle. Many teachers have 30+ students in one room at any given time. It can be hard to plan for that many bodies in a small space. While some teachers have resorted to flexible seating options in order to balance the body to desk to space ratios, others may not have the option. Flexible seating might be cost-prohibitive to you or your administration has said no to it for various reasons. Secondary teachers, that doesn’t mean that you are left with the straight rows as your only option for planning the space! It’s time to get creative!
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself in order to plan your classroom space:
- Am I the sort of teacher who is anchored to one spot in the room (computer, document camera, podium) while facilitating lessons, or do I constantly walk the room between desks?
- Do I need to plan for designated student centers (classroom supplies, access to technology devices, classroom libraries)?
- Are there any obstructions to the students’ view of the board (bookshelves, cabinets, closet doors, glaring sunlight)?
- Will students be working individually, in pairs, in small groups, or in large discussions frequently?
- Will any areas be teacher designated spaces only?
If you’re struggling to build a more student-centered space, don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel! There are tried and true layouts that already exist, successfully, in secondary classrooms. Here are 6 desk configurations for the new middle or high school level teacher, or for the experienced veteran teacher who just wants to make a change to his or her classroom layout to experiment with movement, stations, or small groups. This is an editable PowerPoint file. Each chart holds 30 students, but if you have a classroom with 30+ students, I’ve included the .PNG desk to add more desks to the existing configurations. More of a flexible seating fan? These seating charts could still be helpful for you. Chances are, you’re still going to have a place for 30+ students to sit. Let these layouts be your guide to planning where to sit the traditional desks and where to anchor your family room style set-up with a couch.
- Straight Rows
- Open Horseshoe
- Double Horseshoe
- College Lecture Hall
You can type in the names of your students to pre-seat them, or you can project it on the board and have students fill in their own names and introduce themselves to you. Students could even write or type in their own names while they do this! The first day of school is such an important one. Rapport is developed by learning to pronounce names correctly. (Just because a name is difficult for you to pronounce, don’t make that the student’s issue: practice, write it out phonetically, etc.)
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