Seating Plans

For Mentors to Share

To  put them in a seating plan or not? 

Well obviously the answer to that question is yes … and no.

A seating plan can be an effective tool to help you shape the learning environment in your classroom, and to create positive relationships (teacher/student and student/student) that are focused on teaching and learning. With this purpose in mind, a seating plan can help you create momentum and focus for both individual and group, as well as whole class work. 

Sometimes, you can want these outcomes and believe a seating plan will help you achieve it, but are reluctant to implement it as you are apprehensive about creating conflict or defiance.

I would encourage you, do not wait until things feel out of control in your class to use a seating plan, as this means students will view it as a punishment and are more likely to resist. Rather, use it as a positive tool and be explicit talking to students about why you are doing it, what they will achieve and the timeframe for it.

Like all decisions around shaping the learning environment, using a seating plan should focus on creating a learning-focused culture rather than compliance for the sake of it.

So what are some practical steps you can take (even if things are already feeling out of control, take a breath and take these steps):

You can establish a seating plan at any time of the year by making it positive and learning focused – before students arrive, lay out something engaging and individualised that piques their interest (for example part of a picture, a sealed envelope, or a curious word) – named for each student. Then greet students at the door and say to them, ‘Find the desk with your name on it and take a seat.’ (This works best at the start of the day or after a break as it gives you time to get organised.)

  • Most students will find their place and sit down. 
  • Some might try to move (be firm: ‘This is what we’re doing today, hop back into this seat thanks.’) Or moan, ‘Miss, why are you putting us in a seating plan?’ Have a response ready:

‘Yes thanks, to start the year, so I can learn your names and get to know you,.’

‘Yes, so we can do this activity, I need you to sit in this spot.’

‘I’ve planned out groups so you can help each other.’

  • I also usually tell students, ‘This won’t be forever, once we’ve – set up class routines/finished this activity/completed this group work – there will be an opportunity for you to move and choose who you work with.’ 

HOT TIP: If you tell students they will get to choose, make sure it happens.

After an initial stretch of a few weeks settling-in, I move my desks and regroup students quite often so that they get used to working with a range of people, sometimes my choice, sometimes theirs. This makes the seating plan a normal part of the routine in your classroom and it also allows you to make some strategic moves without it becoming a big deal.

Have the plan of where you have laid out the papers in your planner. (See the free seating plan generator in the resource section.) This is particularly helpful at the beginning of the year as you can  refer to this for students’ names. This is helpful with initial management as you can address students by name and helps to quickly learn names. 

Having students select a person they want to work with and then you group the pairs can be an effective way to ensure students feel comfortable, supported and productive.

Thinking about seating plans will also get you thinking about how you arrange your desks. There is a lot to consider when doing this and a range of constraints. Some things to consider include, can you get in front of or at least beside every student? Can every student see? Can you easily transition between individual / pair / group / whole class work?

To answer all these questions, I am a fan of the horseshoe or a horseshoe divided into groups – with all the desks facing the front of the room or inwards from the sides.

SUPPORTING RESOURCES

Copy and paste your class lists into this free seating plan generator from clickschool, which includes a range of templates that you can customise and place students strategically or randomly.

If you’re looking for more tips on starting off the year well – check out the Meeting Your Class Pātaka post.
This blog post from Glennon Doyle describes a different, but equally important, purpose for thinking about seating arrangements. I have seen a number of teachers adopt this routine with powerful results.

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