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How NOT To Arrange the Desks In Your Classroom

Updated: Feb 22

Want to increase student engagement and decrease student behavioral issues? Rearrange your room in any way EXCEPT traditional rows. Rows can create a sense of isolation and a more formal and rigid learning environment.

For teachers who keep students in rows because they believe it keeps behaviors at bay, I encourage them to try any of these other arrangements with fidelity for a period of time, reminding students of task expectations, setting systems for behavior, and modeling the behaviors they want to see in their groups. Over time, teachers will see their students adapt.

Here are some alternatives ways that your teachers can set up their student desks:

1. Group desks in four. This setting promotes collaboration and communication. Students can turn to a partner and have a quick discussion about a question prior to whole-class share out. Groups can jointly work on a task, brainstorm ideas, co-develop solutions.

2. Make a big circle. A circle still gives students a chance to collaborate with the student left or right of them, while also encouraging conversation and question-asking with literally any other student in the class, since everyone is facing each other. I love circles when I want students to engage in deep discussion around a particular topic. The circular desk arrangement also eliminates the problem of students hiding behind their classmates, making it easier for the teacher to keep everyone on task.

3. Create a U-shape. U-shapes have the same advantages as the circle, however, they are particularly useful when a board (smartboard, whiteboard, projector, etc) is needed to share content or model skills.

The teacher may be wondering where they fit into this equation- quite literally!

While the desks arranged in groups make it easier to circulate the room, the circle and U-shape give the teacher the ability to observe all students pretty much at one-time. I also highly encourage teachers to join their students in this formation. Yes, pull up a desk and get in the circle or sit in a chair at the end of the U-shape and next to the board. There is something that students love about having their teachers join them in the formation.

Yes, arranging desks can be annoying, but who sets the time for how long desks need to remain in a particular way? Switching up desks can be a great piece of feedback for teachers who are

  • struggling with classroom engagement

  • stuck in whole-group instruction

  • stuck circulating and assessing. More on that here.

All three of these arrangements foster a sense of community, interaction, and engagement.

Which one will you encourage your teachers to try?

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