Tables vs. desks

November 9, 2008

in tips and tricks

I’ve always wanted to get the student desks out of my classroom, and I finally took the plunge this year and had them all replaced with tables. (Clearly, this furnishing decision made me a favorite with our custodial staff.)

So far? I’m loving it, which is a surprise, because I never liked having my students’ desks facing each other. The kids just talked constantly and were always distracting each other. I felt like I was setting them up for failure: putting 6 other kids right in their faces, and then begging them all day to turn their heads and look at me. It’s okay after March, when the FCAT is over and the kids are doing lots of cooperative work and projects, but until then, I really like everyone to be facing moi.

Somehow it’s a little different with tables. There’s no place for the kids to hide stuff, and nothing for them to play with while I’m teaching. Not having their own little areas also makes it harder for them to daydream or not follow along. Granted, I only have 20 kids in the class, which greatly reduces the talking temptation. But I would definitely call my experiment a success.

Here are the bins I keep on each table. (They were $1.50 at Target in August.) I have a small piece of velcro underneath to keep the kids from bumping the entire thing onto the floor. The bins hold pencils, erasers, dry erase markers, highlighters, dry erase boards, and felt squares to use as erasers for the boards. They also hold ‘works in progress’ folders for each child to organize papers commonly used or referenced on multiple days.

All workbooks and texts are stored either individual cubbies (I call children #1-10 to get their books, then #11-20 so there’s not a stampede)…

…and classroom supplies like scissors and crayons are stored at the Supply Station (here are similar ones from Walmart.) Each person at a table has a job, and one of those jobs is Container Helper (retrieving and returning the container of supplies).

Team jobs are determined according to which seat each child sit in. For example, the person at the head of the table is always the Trash Helper (to whom the kids give all their scraps after a project so that only 4 kids are going over the trash can). The person to the right of the Trash Helper is the Folder Helper, who retrieves and returns reading folders, writing folders, etc. from the Supply Station. The other two jobs are Paper Passer (to whom I give a stack of papers for the team to complete during a lesson, and that person makes sure everyone at the team has one) and Paper Collector (who collects the same papers after the lesson is over and makes sure everyone has a name on his/her paper and everything’s facing the right way). Read more about class jobs/helpers here.

Loving it! I’m really emphasizing team work this year (“If there’s someone at your table who is not yet on page 197, please show them”) and the kids are getting impressively good at helping each other out and working as a unit.

Anyone else use tables? Suggestions for making them work?

UPDATE: Check out the classroom desk arrangements page!

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Summer November 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

I’ve always wanted to use tables but we are in a modular with no built in areas and our bookbags are hanging on the walls. We have VERY limited space so I have no where to store their textbooks and such. I’m green with envy!

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2 Angela November 12, 2008 at 7:45 am

Is there anyway you can use shelves? Even regular bookshelves can work if you section them off. A coworker of mine does this, and while it’s not ideal, it does keep the materials organized.

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3 AverageMom November 20, 2008 at 10:35 pm

I just switched to tables this year (I “robbed” the room next to me when that teacher moved away…the new teacher to the room got my old desks!). I love it! High school kids are different, of course, but I still find they are working together more, shouting across the room less, and in general, feeling more comfortable.

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4 Charles Gleek April 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Tables are the only way to go. When I moved from university to a prep school, one of the first things I did was to toss the desks and bring in tables. This works for everything from inquiry-based projects to small-group reading seminars (I teach IB History, IB Geography, and AP Government). My administrators & colleagues (initially jealous) have come to fully embrace the idea. Pics from my classroom (taken just now) are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/cgleek/TablesVsDesks?feat=directlink

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5 Beth July 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

hey mrs. watson! i wonder if you get notification when someone (me) comments on old blogs…more than a year later, do you STILL love your tables? i have the chance to snarf up the old science lab tables that are just a little smaller than your tables in this photo…4 seaters. BUT if i go to them, i can't change my mind mid-year.. do you think i should take the plunge???

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6 Angela July 24, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Hi, Beth! It's never too late to comment on the blog!

YES, I still love my tables, and would NEVER want to go back to desks! I say GO FOR IT, assuming you do have cubbies for the kids to keep their stuff. Feel free to message me on the Facebook fan page if you want to discuss this some more. :-)

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7 knowledge July 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi, I am going to change from desk to tables this school year. My question is what do you do when state testing comes along. Do your students take the state test at the tables?

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8 Angela Watson July 31, 2012 at 10:18 am

Many of my students leave the classroom during state testing (ESE, ESL, etc.) so I have far fewer kids. I let the ones who are still in the room with me spread out and sit in different places.

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9 Anonymous August 10, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I teach second grade and I love my tables. I have had tables for the last nine years and would never consider switching to desk even though a couple of my colleagues have. We have little tubs under the table for each student to store a few things (put in by the custodian staff). Sometimes the tubs fall and that can be annoying. Tables help keep the room neat, groups are already formed, and students learn to work as a team.

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10 Mrs. G August 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm

My tables are new this year. I teach 4th grade and I wasn't sure if they would work, but I really wanted to try it. It's only been 3 weeks, but I LOVE my tables!! I'll never go back to desks. I use cubbies and magazine holders to store individual students things and community boxes for table "stuff". Each child has a small supply box on the table for pencils and crayons (which we use constantly). I have round tables that seat 4, and that seems to work well with my group.

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11 Venia Papanikolou December 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

Hello,
I am very interested in the idea of tables. I am in a modular classroom with a homeroom of 27 students as well as a switch class with 28 students. Do you see the tables idea possible? I have access to tables and I have bookcases. However, space is very limited because I need an area for all students to gather.
A few more questions: How are the tables different from desks facing each other? The students are still facing each other.

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12 Angela Watson January 4, 2012 at 1:41 am

I find that tables are better in a small room because they take up less space. It should work well for you!

You’re right that students are still facing each other, so there is still some temptation to talk when they’re not supposed to. However, there are less distractions overall because they don’t have as much stuff in front of them, so they are less likely to play around.

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13 Kathleen Benedick April 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I hope the new year found you happy with your choice. Although it is only my first year in a ‘learning cottage’, I am managing pretty well. I teach fifth grade math and science/social studies to 27 students in my morning group and 26 students in my afternoon group in a modular classroom. It is only 22 x 28 with four walls and four windows and two doors. It did come with a wooden closet, but that was it for storage. I have a collection of book cases I have acquired over the years and I haunt the discount furniture section of the local Lakeshore for super discounts, so I have storage for books and math manipulatives. I also manage to include a trapezoid table that holds a pc and laptop for student use, a round table that holds 4 netbooks and is for student use for small group work, and two trapezoid tables at angles to each other to form a larger table surface at the back of the room that is used for small group with me or for the other two netbooks and student groups, when I am not using the arrangement.
My students sit at six tables. The front two tables are long-side parallel to the front of room/board/projection screen area and four students sit at each. The other four tables are perpendicular to the front wall and five students can sit at each. Each table has a table tote to hold calculators, scissors, glue sticks. Each table has a 3 drawer chest (Walmart, $14 each) that fits under the unused end of the table and holds dry erase materials, paperback atlases, math manipulatives, science journals, VersaTiles tile sets, and more. Each chair has a seat pocket that students use for their folders, agenda, and supplies. I had to do away with binders as there is no space to store them during the day, and I cannot abide the prospect of binders under foot. I do have a rolling cart that I use for housing students’ math texts and social studies texts. Students generally access their math text online when needed so they rarely take home the books.

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14 Gretchen December 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

I love the idea of Velcro to keep the bins from being tossed to the floor. I don’t have tables, but I still utilize student jobs and bins. I like your idea of assigning jobs based on seat position instead on student characteristics. Very fair. Do you allow students to sit in a different seat each day? Or must they remain for a week? Etc. I agree with your “teamwork” focus- kids taking responsibility for each other is powerful!

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15 Angela Watson January 4, 2012 at 1:29 am

My kids always moved around a lot. I would move them if I felt like there were personality conflicts and also just to mix things up. They also individually requested to change seats a lot, and I almost always accommodated them. Everyone got to do each job many, many times in my classroom!

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16 Erica January 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm

I don’t have tables, but I would love them. My desks are set up “table style.” At the end of each group, I have a small bookshelf that holds commonly used supplies (dictionaries & other reference books, marker boards & markers, highlighters, a 3-drawer organizer with paper, behavior sheets, etc., and tissues with sanitizer. I love the shelves at the end because no one has to go far to find what they need. I’m jealous of the tables and may try to find a way to get them in my room instead. Just curious, though. What do you do at testing time?

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17 Angela Watson January 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm

That’s a great tip for organization, Erica! At testing time, I have the kids spread out. Usually a bunch leave to be tested in the ESL and ESE rooms, so I only have half the class.

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18 Katy January 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Desks, I need desks. Tables are just not working. I have 32 students, 23 of them boys and they are too close together. It is too easy to get distracted being so close to someone that is off task….too much monkey see…
The tables are only part of the problem.
I am a veteran taechar of 25 years and this is my most challenging year ever.

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19 Fiona February 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I finally got sick of my individual desks and put pieces of wood over the top of them this year so we have tables (no money in the school budget for new tables). So far I am loving them. I have 4 desks and they are each a different colour which makes it really easy to organise students (blue group go and do this). We are using chairbags to keep their stuff in. I love the idea of cubbies but don’t have the room.

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20 Lorna February 25, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Fiona,
Great idea on putting pieces of wood on the top of the desks. How do you keep the wood from sliding off?

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21 Jessica June 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hello! I am a first year teacher and my new classroom has tables. I am really looking forward to the tables, but I have NO idea how to store the students’ materials. I don’t have cubbies in my room, so I am not really sure what to do. I was thinking of putting a community tub in the middle of each table for basic supplies, but I am not sure what I should so with the notebooks, pencils, etc. Maybe I could put each students’ things in their own personal bin that I keep on a bookshelf? Any suggestions fellow teachers?

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22 Melinda June 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm

You could try making chair pockets so that students have a place to put their workbooks, textbooks, library books Etc.

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23 kristin April 24, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I am exploring the idea of getting tables in my classroom. I was wondering what size tables you had? Thanks!

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24 Becky March 4, 2014 at 6:57 pm

I started using tables last year when I had 33 second graders. Each kid had a dish tub with their supplies in it that they kept under their chair. This year, I bought 5 bookshelves and put one at the end of each table. 6 kids are at each table and their tubs fit on their bookshelf. On top of the bookshelf, I have a bucket with markers, scissors, and glue. When we do projects, the end person puts the bucket on the table and they put it back when done. I absolutely love the tables. My kids have nothing on the tables during teaching time. We also do Daily 5 so my students can move freely around the room and sit wherever they want.

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