Classroom Seating Patterns for Children

When I was a kid, teachers assigned you to seats based on your last name. The result was a mix of kids sitting next to each other who probably shouldn't have been sitting next to each other. Why? Because the personalities and level of learning of each child should be taken into consideration before permanently assigning seats -- you don't want to stick the class bully next to the shyest kid in the class; nor do you want to stick the smartest kid next to the one who struggles the most. I've got a lot of teaching experience from ages 5+ and while I realize every teacher has their own methods, I'd ask you to at least consider these suggestions, all of which are based on personal experience.

Week One

  • Let them sit where they want to -- Kids will naturally gravitate toward other kids they get along with, or want to be near. You don't know most of these kids yet, but they probably know each other, so let them choose their mates the first day. Give them time to do this in a natural setting -- if you rush them you'll end up with kids who are forced to take seats they don't really want to be in, which would defeat the whole purpose.

  • Make it clear their seats are not yet permanent -- Let them know in advance that you'll be tweaking the seating chart over the next week or so and that the tweaks will not be meant as punishment, but rather for more effective groupings.

  • Observe -- See who gets on well together, see who doesn't. See who is very shy and see who is loud and obnoxious. See who works independently and who needs more direct encouragement. See who picks things up quickly and see who doesn't.

Subgroups

Once you've got your basic groups sorted, you'll then want to create subgroups according to learning style. Kids who work independently and don't need a lot of encouragement should be grouped together, and kids who need more of your time should be grouped together as well. Why? Two reasons: It's far more productive and time efficient to give extra help to a small group, rather than have to pop round the room continuously. Also, when a group of kids don't understand something, they feel less intimidated when a teacher is explaining to a group instead of singling them out for a solo explanation, which leads to feelings of insecurity, lots of head nodding for the sake of appearances and little in the way of actual learning. Do not stick slower kids next to kids who can do everything from the start -- it's not their job to teach their peers, it's yours.

Week Two (Or sooner, depending on how fast you sort it)

Now it's time to sort the kids into seating arrangements that will be most conducive to learning. Incidentally, this will also be most conducive to a stress-free teaching environment for you the teacher, as well. The atmosphere of the classroom is extremely important when it comes to learning and teaching, both.

  • Shy Kids -- These are the invisible kids; the kids you barely notice because the boisterous kids are always vying for everyone's attention. Shy kids may be shy for a number of reasons and it's unlikely that you'll know for sure what the cause is -- could be benign, could be the result of overbearing parents, could be the result of other environmental factors, etc. etc. These kids tend to enjoy being with other children who are shy as well and I highly recommend pairing them up in this manner. I say pair because shy kids tend to do well in pairs and often become more confident and far less shy by the middle of the school year.

  • Boisterous Kids -- This is a very generalized categorization and can include anyone from the class clown who constantly wants everyone's attention, to the cheerleader who's more bubbly than a bottle of seltzer. Many teachers will want to keep these kids separate to contain noise levels and reduce chatting, but I find that these kids do very well together once the class rules are established and respected. (More on how to enforce class rules in a future article.) As long as the kids get on well together, I say let them work together -- as long as they do work together.

  • Middle of the road kids -- These kids aren't overly shy or overly energetic and loud. Occasionally you'll see some of these kids gravitate toward kids in the other groups, sometimes because they've got friends in those groups and sometimes simply because they want to be with the more popular kids, or more invisible kids. Generally speaking, I think this is perfectly fine, as long as they want to be a part of that group and aren't being peer-pressured into it. You don't want a miserable kid stuck with a group of kids they can't relate to: learning and sulking rarely go hand in hand.

  • Single/Double desks Herringbone -- This a fabulous way to break up the energy a bit and provide secure pockets of a comfortable atmosphere for kids. It's also usually a fun change from the usual classroom arrangements, without being disruptive.

  • Circle/Square -- I am not fond of this seating plan *at all* and hated it myself the few times I experienced it as a kid. If you are going to use this arrangement, do not stick your boisterous kids directly across from your shy kids. This plan often makes sky kids feel like they are on the spot, and often gives boisterous kids too much stimulation. Middle of the road kids tend to do well with it, but unless you've got a class full of them, I don't recommend this setting.

  • Horseshoe -- Not as bad as the circle and square, but still not one I recommend. If you do use this one, put your boisterous kids in the rounded bit and your shy kids at the ends of the horseshoe -- this will help your shy kids to feel like they're not cornered or under direct observation, as well as helping them feel like they're not being smushed together.

Best Seating Plans?

Where you situate the kids will depend on your seating plans and what sort of desks they've got.

  • Double desks / Traditional rows -- This is what I work with (two kids sharing one desk/table) and in my humble opinion, this is best sorted like this: Shy kids in the back rows, Middle of the road kids in the middle and boisterous kids in the front. The reasons are as follows: Shy kids don't enjoy scrutiny and work best when given some space. Let them sit in the back where they get some margin of insulation away from the boisterous kids. Boisterous kids are prone to chatting when left in the back which could disrupt the whole class -- sticking them all in the front allows you to control them with a glance instead of a loud voice. It also makes it easy to spot exactly who is being disruptive. Middle of the road kids do well in the center as they act as a buffer between the other two groups, particularly as many of them have some characteristics of both groups and tend to feel more comfortable there than in the front or in the back.

  • Single desks / Traditional rows -- Same as above, except in this case you can be more relaxed on who exactly sits next to who, since there's less direct contact.

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