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Classroom seating arrangements

Through my teaching career I experimented with a number of desk arrangements: rows, cabaret style, horseshoes and double horseshoes. In later years I regularly used rows for large groups and a single horseshoe for groups below about 12 students (most A-level classes).

I think my temptation to used grouped tables, cabaret style, was a vague feeling that it was less formal and that it suited pair and small group work. On reflection I believe it was a bad idea.

What does research say?

This piece of research seems to confirm what common sense suggests.

I have seen this confirmed in other studies. Let me quote from the abstract:

"Seating arrangements are important classroom setting events because they have the potential to help prevent problem behaviours that decrease student attention and diminish available instructional time.... Eight studies that investigated at least two of three common arrangements (i.e., rows, groups or semi-circles) were considered. Results indicate that teachers should let the nature of the task dictate seating arrangements. Evidence supports the idea that students display higher levels of appropriate behaviour during individual tasks when they are seated in rows, with disruptive students benefiting the most."

It seems to me therefore that when seating students you would be wise not to follow any fashion or vague notion that cabaret style is more modern, less formal or discourages communication. Better, in my view, to prioritise behaviour and the reality that much lesson time is spent with the focus on the teacher with eye contact being hugely important. Having students watch your every facial expression is important is establishing successful relationships.

Tables and students can easily move in any case, so if you need space for walking about or acting, then just pile up tables. If it's pair or group work you want to do, then students can quickly turn around.

My methodology was largely teacher-led but with copious pair work so rows made total sense.

How do you arrange your classroom?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. What are your opinions on letting children choose their seating arrangements for lessons (core or non-core) John Spencer (2015) let his class choose their seats for every lesson he taught them. He worried it would make them more social but children will try anything to chat to their friends regardless. He said "I didn’t have to fight those battles anymore" Opinions on this style of teaching?

  2. I am open-monded about that. I think the teacher should exercise their professional akill in seating children. If you have to fight battles I wonder if something is amiss in the first place. As for myself, I let children sit where they wanted within the framework of a boy-girl seating pattern with 11-13 year olds (our department policy). I would then move any children if any behaviour issues arose. I didn't let pupils move around once the pattern was established.

  3. The seating arrangement in a class is a very important factor to children's learning, Hastings and Chantrey Wood (2002) discuss various research studies which say that "children's attention to their work increases when they are seated in pairs or in arrangements where no one is seated opposite them" therefore, the idea of rows or a horseshoe would be an ideal seating arrangement for children receive the most effective learning environment. However, for group and collaborative work children are best sat in groups and it may be ideal to move the tables when the lesson focuses on individual or paired learning.

    Hastings, N. and Chantrey Wood, K. (2002) Reorganising Primary Classroom Learning. Buckingham: Open University Press.

    1. Thanks for commenting. My reading on this suggests the research evidence is not that strong overall, but corresponds with common sense. Your quoted material goes along with my findings. An obvious point is that tables can be quickly moved so forward-facing tables do not necessarily stop you doing pair and group work.


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