How to Choose the Right Seating Chart

Are you suffering from seating chart envy? A teacher down the hall has embraced flexible seating. Your next-door neighbor uses tables. But not you. Whenever you move away from desks in rows, chaos prevails. What’s a teacher to do?

Seating Chart

Consider Your Seating Chart Needs

Every teacher comes with a personality. Yes, you have a certain style. And, of course, that dictates your comfort with seating configurations.

Let’s look in on our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, as she plans her next seating chart. Since she’s taught for several decades, Ms. Sneed knows what she needs:

Students face forward for instruction.

Ms. Sneed knows that looking at the teacher increases engagement. In addition, she uses student faces to adapt her teaching – and as formative assessment. When students lean forward and a light shines in their eyes, she knows they’re learning. When they fidget and look around, it’s time to change her game.

Because she wants students facing forward during instruction, Ms. Sneed keeps her desks facing forward. Yes, it’s traditional. But it works for her. So Ms. Sneed does not apologize or even attempt to try newfangled arrangements. To each their own!

Desks arranged in pairs.

Ms. Sneed asks her kids to collaborate often. Sometimes she uses think-pair-share. Other times she has them work together. They may also compare answers. Having a partner is key in Ms. Sneed’s teaching. For this reason, desks in her classroom are [almost] always in pairs. Again, this is what works for Ms. Sneed. She likes to say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Students turn around for group activities. 

Ms. Sneed absolutely loves group work, especially science activities. When she first began teaching, her school had a dedicated science lab with tables for group work. But times changed, and the lab was needed for an additional classroom. To accommodate group activities in the classroom, Ms. Sneed tried organizing her desks in tables. That, of course, was disastrous for her – she could not see their little faces while she was teaching!

Finally, Ms. Sneed came up with a simple solution. To make groups of four, the front pair of students simply turns around and shares desks of those behind them. Quick and easy!

Purposeful movement is allowed. 

Ms. Sneed’s students know that she can’t stand people getting out of their seats when she’s teaching. They also know that purposeful movement during student work time is a-okay. To accommodate this on a limited budget, Ms. Sneed went to the Dollar Store and bought a classroom set of woven rugs. She keeps them in a large bucket-type container. Students are free to move out of their seats, grab rugs, and plop down on the floor wherever to work and read. (When the rugs get dirty, Ms, Sneed simply throws them in her washing machine.)

Do what’s best for you.

Ms. Sneed’s needs may be different from yours. Here’s the moral of this story: Match your seating chart with your own teaching style. Don’t try to follow the latest fad – or the teacher next door.

To match your seating chart with your style, take this quiz:

Seating Chart Quiz

Embrace your style! To be the best teacher possible, the seating chart needs to work with your personality.

  • Traditional – You like an orderly classroom – and your kids do better with structure. To shake things up, try different configurations of front-facing desks. You might try pairs – or even a u-shaped plan.
  • Blended – You prefer a mix of activity each day. Sometimes, you’re on stage, directly instructing the students. Other times, they’re working in pairs or groups. You’re okay with purposeful movement. Therefore, your room needs to reflect it. Desks in pairs or tables, rugs for sitting on the floor, and other seating options for independent or small group work will work well for you.
  • Flexible – As a guide on the side, you may not even need a seating chart. Your room reflects activities currently in motion. Kids move from place to place to achieve their daily goals – and you’re okay with that!

Consider Student Seating Chart Needs

Once you have a structure, it’s time to organize your students. When you were in school, kids with learning or behavior issues sat in the front row, right? And those who were well-behaved sat in the back. Maybe it’s time to rethink conventional wisdom.

Learning Issues

Students with learning issues many times behave and pay attention just as well as others. For this reason, they can sit almost anywhere in the room.

Serena – When the class started working on place value, Serena was lost. Ms. Sneed noticed. For this reason, Serena now sits on the side of the room. Here, the teacher can simply pull up a chair to work one-on-one.

George – Dyslexia is a problem for George. Therefore, he moves to another classroom during reading. To make George’s comings and goings less noticeable, Ms. Sneed placed his desk on the side of the room nearest to the door.

Max – As soon as their insurance kicks in, Max’s mom will get him new glasses. But who knows when that will be? Ms. Sneed knows that Max needs to sit in the front row.

When you make a seating chart, organize students with learning issues first. Why? Because learning is the number one goal of any classroom.

Attention Issues

Although each child is different, most with attention issues do better in the front of the classroom.

Marie – Here’s a classic dreamer. During instruction, Marie seems to float to a faraway land. ADD? Maybe. Ms. Sneed teaches from the front of the classroom, slightly to the right. And that’s where she places Marie. Ms. Sneed has learned to engage Marie by touching her desk lightly and telling stories that include Marie.

Behavior Issues

As you can see, students with learning and attention do best along the front and sides of the room. Surprisingly, kids with behavior issues do well toward the back.

Caleb – This is one friendly boy! The problem is – you guessed it – talking. He will talk to anyone at any time. Ms. Sneed found that a back corner (preferably sitting next to someone quiet) helped minimize Caleb’s talking.

Mickey – A full-time aide accompanies Mickey. This helps with his autism. Sometimes, Mickey gets frustrated and throws himself on the floor. This may escalate. At that time, Mickey goes on a walk with the aide. Mickey also hates change. For all of these reasons, Mickey has a permanent seat in the third row on the side of the room nearest to the door.

Ariana – While she’s a great student, Ariana has a hot temper and frequent melt-downs. She’s been known to kick other students and damage their materials. Ms. Sneed has to watch her all the time. For this reason, she puts Ariana in the hot seat. In this corner, the student is near to the teacher desk – and as far away from others as possible.

Classrooms are full of students with special needs. Tune in to what’s going on with each of your students. To practice, try placing each of the students above in this seating chart.

Be Flexible – Seating Charts Are Always Changing

With that said, students’ needs change. Perhaps a student’s parents are getting a divorce. Or someone may not understand a new concept. A child may have a broken leg.

As you become a more reflective teacher, you learn to react to students’ needs.

Know yourself. Know your students. And let this knowledge dictate your seating chart.

Would you like to go digital with your seating chart? Read more on how to create one with Google Slides – and receive a complimentary file.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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