Classroom arrangement ideas

August 9, 2012

in classroom management, classroom photos

Ideas for classroom arrangement and set upSetting up a classroom and choosing a classroom layout and design is one of the most fun parts of returning to school in the fall, at least for me. I thought I’d share a few tips for classroom design to get you thinking, and share some classroom photos that teachers have submitted with their ideas.

When setting up an elementary classroom, I generally plan for the following areas of the room:

1) student desks
2) instructional area in the front of the room
3) teacher’s desk area
4) computers
5) group work areas (tables), including space for small group instruction
6) classroom library
7) whole class meeting area on a rug or carpet (optional)
8) centers (optional)

I’ve listed each space in the order I think is most important. For example, I prefer to plan for the student desk area first, because desks take up the most amount of space and their placement will either enhance or detract from instruction. (Check out the Classroom Seating Arrangements page for ideas on setting up student desks.) The teacher’s desk area is critical because in order for you to stay organized, you have to provide yourself with easily accessible storage space around your desk. And of course, you should plan for computer placement before determining your layout for other elements, because you will probably be limited by the distribution of outlets and internet jacks in your classroom.

Once those elements are in place, you can plan an area for the children to sit on a rug or carpet, if that’s a management strategy you like to use. (I highly recommend it, because the rug can be a great place to read a story, have a class problem solving meeting, or teach a lesson in which you don’t want students distracted by materials in their desks.) You can visit the Setting Up Your Class Meetings Area page for more ideas.

If your students will be completing partner and group work activities, it’s also helpful to have tables and open floor space around the room for them to meet with each other. This also prevents students from having to sit in the same seat all day long. Not everyone has the luxury of that much space in their classroom, but you can tour all my classrooms from 2003 on to see how I made it work in different places.

If you have a large collection of children’s books, then a library area is important to consider. The idea of a cozy reading area with a rug and bean bags is appealing but not really necessary unless you plan a structured time and method for students to utilize it. The library may be part of your center areas, if you choose to include these in your room. My Classroom Library page talks a little bit about that.

Centers are an option that you may want to begin using later in the year and you can plan space for them. However, most teachers do not have extra room in their classroom for separate and distinct center areas, and if they’re not an integral part of your curriculum, it’s not necessary to design your room that way. The Setting Up Centers/Stations provides some different space-saving ideas.

After you’ve got the furniture in place, you can start to think about decorating and hanging posters. The Bulletin Board Solutions page has tips for that, and talks about how to deal with classrooms that have too little wall space or too much wall space. You can also check out Creating a Cozy Classroom, which gives you ideas for using lamps, plants, and other accessories to make your classroom more comfortable.

There are a limitless number of effective ways to set up a classroom, and it’s nearly impossible to copy someone else’s ideas unless you have the exact same materials and classroom layout, so please don’t feel like there is one right set-up that you have to discover. The process of arranging a classroom is closely related to your own intuition and creativity. Try drawing a few arrangements on paper first and see what works for your needs. Also, keep in mind that your classroom arrangement is really a work in progress that will probably be changed multiple times throughout the year as you adjust things for your students’ evolving needs. That’s good news, because it means you don’t have to have everything perfect right away!

I love to see how how different teachers choose their classroom set up and work with the limitations of their classroom layout. This month, three teachers have sent me pictures of how they’re setting up their classrooms and I’ve added their photos to the site:

 Mrs. Partin’s kindergarten classroom set up

Mrs. Moorman’s 5th grade classroom set up

Ms. Esparza’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classroom set up

You can see more teachers’ classroom arrangement photos on the pages below:

Kindergarten Photos: Mrs. Amoson
1st Grade Photos: Mrs. Alsager
1st Grade Photos: Mrs. Bennett
1st Grade Photos: Ms. Sheets
3rd Grade Photos: Mrs. Alexander
4th Grade Photos: Ms. Edelen
6th Grade Photos: Ms. Jung

More classroom arrangement ideas (including desk arrangements and detailed explanations of how to set up each area of your classroom) can be found in my book, The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable.

We’d love to see your classroom photos! Email me if you’d like to submit your pictures. Or, share your classroom arrangement tips in the comments.

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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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kris August 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Ms. Esparza’s desks are in *gasp* rows…I was hoping to see a more collaborative model. I do like Ms. Jung’s, as a start.

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2 Angela Watson August 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Thanks for commenting , Kris! I’d like to see a more collaborative model with those types of desks, too. I haven’t really seen it done, because you can’t put them together like you could with the separate desk and chair set up that Ms. Jung has. In bigger classrooms, I’ve seen teachers set up circle and U-shape arrangements, but in small classrooms like Ms. Esparza’s , that would be tough. Surely someone’s figured out how to do it…but rows seems like the most manageable solution. I’d imagine that Ms. Esparza’s students simply slide the desks around when they need to work in groups.

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3 Annie August 12, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I have only figured out one way to set up middle school desks in groups and it does take up a lot of space. You can set them up in a “windmill” shape, where the front of one child’s desk sits up against the right side of another desk. Four desks could fit this way in one group. I hope that makes sense. It’s kind of hard to describe.

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