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Students in classroom with a linear desk layout

The Top 3 Classroom Seating Layouts

Teachers put a lot of effort into helping their students take away as much as possible from the lessons they teach each day. This effort can come in the form of making lesson plans more engaging, trying to make information more simplified and digestible, incorporating fun and games into the curriculum and even rearranging the furniture to adhere to different ways of learning.

One of the most effective ways to increase student comprehension is by introducing active learning to the classroom, a teaching method that uses mobile furniture and interactive seating arrangements to encourage productivity and engagement. When students are engaged with a lesson and are attentive to the information, they’re more likely to remember what they learned.

Lessons that involve exploring and investigating are great ways to engage students. All students need opportunities to think critically, share ideas, debate and collaborate on solutions. When they’re given these opportunities, they start forming the mental connections that make information relevant to them. Not only do they better retain the information, but they’re also able to recognize ways to use it “in the real world.”

Many teachers plan these opportunities for critical thinking but forget an important factor; classroom seating layouts can just as heavily influence how students work together, enjoy classwork and retain lesson information. The wrong seating plan can mean the difference between actively engaged students or bored daydreamers.

Rows of desks and chairs in classroom

Classroom Design and Active Learners

For many years, classrooms adhered to the same standardized seating arrangements of rows of desks facing the front of the room where the teacher would deliver a lesson. Students were typically expected to sit quietly in these rows listening to their teacher before being handed an assignment to work on independently.

This method of direct instruction is still sometimes used and has its own benefits. However, it doesn’t lend itself to lessons that engage students in learning as well as other methods of teaching do. Similarly, the layout of single desks in rows works well for direct instruction but doesn’t encourage the type of learning that challenges students to actively use their critical thinking skills.

Desks in rows and columns focus student attention at the front of the room, which causes them to stop students from looking at one another directly and make collaboration much more difficult. 

Active learning lessons involve students interacting with one another to exchange and explore new ideas. Teachers can encourage students to participate more in their lessons by arranging classroom furniture in ways that make this kind of collaboration easier. 

A wide variety of classroom layout plans exist that work better for actively engaging students than the standard rows and columns, each with their own benefits that complement specific types of lessons. By using adaptable furniture plans that vary depending on the lesson, teachers can encourage their students to use different strategies for exploring, understanding and remembering the material.

Teacher engaging students in collaborative learning in classroom

Table Groups Encourage Social Learning

Table groups, also known as clusters, are likely familiar to anyone who teaches in an elementary school setting. In this layout, there are several tables placed around the classroom and groups of 5-7 students are arranged around a specific table.

Table groups work to foster discussion and collaborative work, and since students are working in small groups, they naturally start to engage in social learning. The small group setting helps students who are less confident to feel safe expressing their ideas and opinions. Students have the opportunity to develop their communication skills, hear other people’s perspectives and ask for and receive help from their peers.

If your school furniture design doesn’t lend itself to groups of students at tables, you can replicate the idea with desks or other mobile classroom furniture. By turning four desks towards each other so that the desktop areas are touching, you can achieve the same effect as a larger round table.

Table groups are best for interactive lessons and any sort of “hands-on” learning. Not only do students help one another in completing the lesson or the assignment, but they also share resources — this can be a huge benefit for lessons that need a large number of supplies.

Students in classroom science lab looking through microscope and notetaking

Workstations Accommodate Varied Needs

Another effective seating layout to engage students in critical thinking is the workstation model. In this layout, different areas of the classroom are used as workstations to practice different tasks and mini-lessons. A teacher may set up 3-5 different learning stations in addition to a section of more traditional seating where students can work on tasks in between going to the stations.

Workstations are an excellent way to incorporate discovery learning. An individual student or small group can do a task or engage in a mini-lesson at a station and, once they have the concept, they can return to their seats to complete the task on their own or in pairs or groups. 

One of the biggest benefits of this model is that it accommodates different learning styles and ability levels, allowing students to choose for themselves depending on how they work best. Workstations can be set up with varying levels of difficulty. They can also be used as a place for one-on-one or small-group instruction. 

Teachers can create workstations in a variety of ways depending on the resources available to them: Classroom computers or mobile laptops work well as stations; tables or desks pushed into a square configuration can hold supplies for experiments or other discovery tasks, and also can encourage group cooperation; a section of desks in rows and columns can give students the space to work on individual assignments once they have gone through all the stations.

Students working at long and collaborative classroom desk

Horseshoe Configuration Facilitates Group Discussions

A horseshoe layout looks exactly as it sounds; desks in a classroom are arranged in a horseshoe pattern or a U shape. In classrooms that use this configuration, the top of the U is typically used as a “center stage” during presentations, while still allowing the presenter to move freely around the room and make demonstrations easier for all students to see. 

Horseshoe layouts allow teachers to shift from a presenter-centered layout to a discussion-centered layout without having to move the furniture or the students. Since students are facing each other, this kind of desk configuration also easily enables large-group discussions. Students can interact across the U with other students as well as with the presenter. 

This layout also helps to create a stronger connection between the students and the teacher, since, thanks to the openness of the horseshoe, teachers are able to move to any student who needs help while still being able to address the entire class.

The most important factor to remember when determining the most appropriate classroom seating arrangement is that the layout should serve the needs of both the teacher and the students. Keep in mind that classroom seating plans have the ability to both encourage and discourage specific behaviors and have their own unique benefits. By changing classroom seating layouts as needed, teachers can help their students to actively engage in the learning process and leave the classroom with information they won’t forget!