Seating arrangements in the classroomA comfortable, friendly, and colorful classroom establishes a very positive learning and social environment for your students. A dark, grey, cluttered classroom can immediately cause anxiety in more spatially sensitive students. When I worked as a english
teacher at a boys high school in Korea, I was given a grey, drab, small classroom that had a computer, projector, and only one flat whiteboard without moveable panels. In the middle of the room was an old style one meter high butane heater that would fill the room with noxious gases in the winter time, forcing us to open the windows to let in the cold winter air, defeating the purpose of the heater in the first place. The metal chairs of the students seated near the heater would become uncomfortably hot, while those students seated farther away would be freezing cold. The room was too small for a classroom of 35 high school boys, and fitting them all in was a challenge, especially if I wanted to walk between tables to check on their progress, but it seemed the only layout possible without impeding the vision of students seated behind the heater and all of its pipes.
I transferred to a girls middle school that had a large space, smaller average class sizes (and smaller sized students as well), and big bright windows with no butane burners. I was given almost total control to design the desk layout as I wanted, but how should I do it. I found that putting them in table groups of 5 as I did the previous school year was a bad idea as only one or two students would do all the work, while the others just watched without contributing or did homework for other classes.
Before making a desk arrangement plan, a teacher has to consider a number of factors:
1. What will the teacher/student relationship be in each case? What influence will it have on the classroom dynamics?
2. Which arrangements are the most affective in allowing the teacher to maintain effective control over the class? Effective control doesn’t mean dominating the class necessarily.
3. In which situation will the teacher dominate most? Is this what you want as a teacher? As you get more experience as a teacher, will you change the arrangement as you know how to maintain class discipline better?
4. Which arrangement is the most suitable for the students to e able to talk to each other?
5. Which arrangements allow the students to communicate without interference from the teacher?
6. How will the size of the group affect the arrangement?
7. What activities would best make use of the different possible arrangements?
I considered some of my choices:
Orderly rows: This has been the traditional form of seating for many years in most schools. The teacher has a clear view of all the students and all the students can see the teacher, making lecturing and keeping eye contact with students easy and may at times.
Circles and Horseshoes: Often used in smaller classes where the teacher and board are at the open end of the arrangement. I find this works best for either advanced students that didn’t need to reference their notes when speaking or doing study phase activities, instead being able to work freely. I also preferred to use it when teaching english
teachers who were my coworkers at the school. It made the atmosphere more casual and intimate.
Separate tables: When students are seated in small groups at individual tables the classroom becomes even more casual. The teacher can work with one group while another group works at a different table. This is useful for group work but can result in discipline problems.
Positioning desks and chairs so that students can look at each other, as well as grouping desks in separate areas, stimulates discussion which encourages motivation and classroom participation. Eventually the students will be required to socialize and work with all types of people later in their lives, so the teacher may as well prepare them for it now. I don’t know if I can do this now in a EFL classroom as I am still a relatively inexperienced teacher but I would like to transition to this from what I currently do, orderly rows where students are in groups, which allows for pair work and discussion.