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Classroom Arrangement: Principles & Styles

By Jacqueline Chinappi

The physical atmosphere of your classroom can play a large role in how well you are able to manage your students. Learn how to set your classroom up for success by following the four basic principles of an organized classroom and finding the arrangement style that's right for you.

Four Basic Principles

There are four principles a teacher can use when deciding on how to set up a classroom. (Evertson, Emmer, & Worsham, 2003): Decrease obstruction in high traffic parts of the classroom, the teacher needs to see all students, commonly used educational materials should be accessed easily, and make sure that every student can see “everything” from where he or she is seated.

Decrease obstruction in high traffic parts of the classroom: Some of these high traffic areas may include group areas, bookshelves, pencil sharpeners, cubbies, closets, computer workstations, and the teacher’s desk. A good way to ensure the least amount of congestion is to separate these locations as much as possible, while still making them easy to access for all students. These locations can cause interruptions and disturbances in the classroom.

The teacher needs to see all students: One of the most important management tasks of the classroom setting is to make certain that the teacher can keep an eye on every student. This is a very difficult task as to accomplish this, the educator needs to see every student at all times. There should be no blockage or blind spots between the teacher’s desk and the student’s desks, workstations, computer stations, cubbies, etc. The teacher should stand in every part of the classroom to ensure she can see every student from any location in the classroom.

Commonly used educational materials should be accessed easily: By ensuring educational materials such as workbooks, textbooks, crayons, construction paper, etc. are readily available to the students and yourself, you will cut down on clean up time and set up time as well as cut down on distractions and interruptions during class time. This will contribute to a smoother running classroom.

Make sure that every student can see “everything” from where he or she is seated: Just like you as the teacher need to see what is going on at every moment and in every location of the classroom, this similarly goes for the students. They need to be able to see chalkboards, bulletins, freestanding chalkboards, televisions, etc. They need to be able to observe in full the area from where you will be teaching. The teacher should sit in ever students chair and ensure the student will be able to see classroom presentations. Make sure no one is squinting, moving out of the chairs, or turning their necks to see a presentation. Often it is best to seat shorter children in the front of the classroom and taller children in the back.

Arrangement Styles

As a teacher you think about how you will organize your classroom and I am sure plenty of ideas fill your mind: A bulletin here, the chalkboard about a nice reading center in the corner? How can you provide the best educational setting? As you go through all of these ideas in your head, the best thing to do is write it all down.

There are several common arrangement styles in a classroom, and there are pros and cons of each. The standard classroom styles include auditorium, face-to-face, off-set, seminar, and cluster. Your selection will depend on how you want to run your class and what kinds of activities the students will be involved in.

Here are the basics of each style:

Auditorium Style: students’ desks are facing the teacher.

Pros & Cons:

Distractions and disruptions are actually found to be highest with this style (Santrock, 2004). On the other hand, this style allows for an easy flow of traffic and usually gives the teacher a better view of every student. This arrangement also works best if you want the students working independently.

Off-Set Style: several students sit at a table; they do not sit right across from each other.

Pros & Cons:

While it may cause some distraction, this arrangement typically causes less distraction than a face-to-face style and is an effective style for group work.

Seminar Style: students sit in circular or u-shaped formation in groups of ten or more.

Pros & Cons:

This is highly effective if you want members of the group to talk to each other. It can also be highly ineffective if you prefer less distraction and disruption in the classroom.

Cluster Style: students sit in groups of 4-8 and sit in closely, clustered groups.

Pros & Cons: Again, this style can cause disruption as students are working so closely together. There may also be disagreements between “who is sitting with whom” and “who likes or does not like who”, etc. This style works well with collaborative learning activities.

Which is Your Style?

Eventually, the question may come down to, “Do you want your students to work individually or in a group setting?” For instance, while Clustering helps with social interaction and group activities, Auditorium style - with the desks arranged in rows - will allow the students to pay more attention to the teacher.

The grade and age range of your students may also be a factor in your decision. When you walk into a kindergarten classroom what do we usually see? Tables set for 4-6 students. On the other hand you walk into a high school setting and you see all the desks set up in rows. So do we save the group activities for the younger students and keep the older students working alone? Not necessarily.

While many teachers opt for the traditional seating arrangements in a classroom, there are still many who are “unique”. I remember one teacher I observed actually had eighth grade students (pre-teens mind you) sit at tables in groups of 4. This Spanish teacher started each class with a fun activity. The groups of students would converse about whatever topic she chose for the day…in Spanish. So while they were learning they were having fun as well.

This situation worked for her and her class. What might work in one class though may not work in another class. I believe that classroom arrangement should come from the teacher’s personality and what he or she has planned for the upcoming year.

Remember to always look at details as well as the big picture when setting up your classroom. Write all of your ideas down and even draw out a blueprint of what you want your classroom to look like! However you decide to arrange your class, make sure it benefits not only you but your students!