Singles, rows, horseshoe, or groups? What’s the best classroom desk arrangement?

During my first year teaching, I switched around my seating arrangement on a monthly basis…not just the student placement, but the entire setup!  I would switch from short rows, to single desks, to groups, back to longer rows, then into a horseshoe, and so on until I finally settled back into small groups.  Why was I constantly switching stuff around?  Well, as a new teacher, I really didn’t know what worked with my students and my teaching style, but since then, I’ve come to see that using small groups works well in my classroom. What works for you?

Debbie Diller goes through the four main types of desk arrangements in her book Spaces & Places (read my review here). Let’s look at each setup:

  • Traditional classroom: desks are arranged individually in rows with all desks facing the front.  Although this arrangement may deter students from talking to one another during work time and lessons, it also causes problems when students are supposed to interact with each other, complete group tasks, and work together as a team.  I personally don’t like this arrangement, as it takes up a lot of floor space (as you need room all around each student desk) and we are constantly moving desks around when group work is needed.
  • Connected rows:  desks in my classroom were arranged in rows with each grouping consisting of 3-5 desks.  This arrangement was a bit better for me because students were able to interact with one another (e.g. a student struggling with a math problem could discuss the question with a classmate sitting next to him/her), but it caused some logistical issues for some students, as student sitting on the inside of the rows struggled to get out of their seats.  Students still had to move their desks around for group work because they were not facing one another when sitting in rows.
  • Horseshoe:  desks are arranged in a U or C shape with the horseshoe pointed at the front of the room.  I liked this arrangement a bit better because there is more of a community feel to lessons, discussions, and work time.  Students are able to see one another and interact, but again, desks need to be rearranged when group work is needed.  I liked how students are focused on the front of the class, but that’s also a reason why I don’t like this arrangement as well.
  • Table groups:  desks are arranged to form a working group where students can collaborate, discuss, and learn together.  Even though not all my lessons are group based, I like this arrangement because students can focus on the front of the class during lessons, focus during independent work time but still discuss problems with their group, interact during group activity, and students are all visible to one another during whole class discussions and activities.  The only problem this arrangement creates is that we need to separate and spread the desks out during testing times; however, this is a small imposition considering how well the arrangement works for our class. Debbie Diller does have a whole group and small group instructional area in her classroom setup using table groups.  I have a small group instructional area where I can meet with both individual and groups of students, but I don’t have a whole group area.

When planning out your desk arrangement, what are some things that you consider?  If you want to rearrange your desk setup but are afraid to take the plunge, here are two websites that allow you to create a virtual floor plan:

Classroom Architect

Class Set-Up Tool

What have you tried in the past?  What’s your favourite seating arrangement?  How are you planning on setting up your seats for the new school year?


Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>