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The Pros and Cons of 3 Common Classroom Seating Arrangements

The way you arrange your seats is the first step toward building classroom culture. Here are three ways to do it with pros and cons for each.

By The TFA Editorial Team

January 28, 2016

Whether your students are organized in rows, clusters, pods, pairs or in a semi-circle, the seating arrangement you choose for your classroom will have a considerable effect on the classroom dynamic. With the start of the new term, some teachers might decide to forego traditional rows and try something innovative to engage their class when it comes to seating. The new arrangement may provide opportunities for better classroom management, but not without some obstacles. Check out these three common classroom seating arrangements and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

1. Groups, Clusters, and Pods

Although clusters or tables with ample seating prove easier for group work—and for you to navigate about the classroom—one problem sure to arise is the fact that not all students will be able to face you, leading to “side talking.” To combat this distraction, it’s important to establish a set of ground rules at the outset, such as no side conversations; that all students must face you when you are speaking; and that each group is responsible for keeping their cluster clean and organized. Assigning each cluster a team name and organizing a hierarchy of leadership can also be beneficial, creating a sense of unity and increased accountability among the group.

2. The Semi-Circle

The semi-circle, or u-shape arrangement, eliminates the biggest challenge of cluster seating—teaching to your students’ backs. You’ll still have the ability to move freely about the classroom—and experience less side talking—but the group dynamic may be lost, especially in classes with a lot of students. Plus, it may take a considerable amount of time to organize into and out of small groups. If you have ample space in the classroom, try a variation made up of two small semi-circles. When it’s time to form into small groups, the inner circle can turn and match up with partners from the outer circle.

3. Pairs with Rows

Keeping the traditional row lay out intact, but pairing students together within a row, allows students to work easily with a partner, but with less distraction than in clustered groups. You may lose some of your ability to move around the classroom, but when the need for small groups of four to six students arises, students can quickly turn to another pair of desks and form a group. One thing to keep in mind, teachers, especially for those of you teaching multiple classes, is that while one seating arrangement may prove successful for one class, it might not provide the same benefits for another class. The advantages and disadvantages are not universal. What seating arrangements do you find work the best? Share your suggestions in the comments.