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Types of Seating Arrangements for Classrooms at the Elementary Level

After you have your class meeting area, a small-group instruction area, your classroom library, any technology requiring outlets, and your teacher workspace in place, you can begin to determine where you will have your students sit. Typically, an elementary classroom comes furnished with all desks, all tables, or a combination of both. Teachers now are showing interest in alternative or flexible seating as well. Read below to get the pros and cons of the different types of seating arrangements for classrooms!

Are you a TEACHER who wants ideas for Classroom Seating Arrangements or strategies for student desk organization? READ THIS POST to learn about both.

Classroom Tables

Tables create my favorite types of seating arrangements for classrooms. Below are the benefits and challenges that come with having tables in your classroom so you can see why!

Pros of Having Tables

In my experience, I have found tables, even in the upper elementary grades, to have many benefits.

  • Tables take up less space.
  • They provide a community feel.
  • They don’t shift and drift apart from one another.
  • Children don’t waste time looking for books, folders, and other materials.
  • They give you flexible seating options because students can easily relocate to a new table.
  • They provide a space for inquiry-based, hands-on learning.
  • You’ll never find a moldy snack “in” a table.
  • They support cooperative learning.
  • They provide spaces for aides / volunteers to work with small groups.
  • They’re easy to clean.
  • Not all students are naturally organized and have strong executive functioning skills. They won’t have to struggle to organize and manage books and supplies.

Cons of Having Tables

There are lots of benefits of having tables, but they have some limitations as well.

  • They limit classroom configurations. 
  • Without consistent expectations, they do tend to make for a louder noise level in the classroom.
  • You will need to get creative during assessments.
  • You must find alternative ways to house the student books, journals, notebooks, and supplies.

10 Tips for Classrooms with Tables

Below are 10 tips for teachers with tables in their classroom.

1. Assign Table Numbers

Assigning table numbers helps everyone navigate around the room more easily.

2. Use Plastic Drawers or Containers on Shelves

Using plastic drawers to hold items for the table mates helps keep everything organized.

3. Color-Code Everything

Color-code each table and then use bins that coordinate with each table’s color.

4. Assign a Table Captain

The table captain is responsible for making sure everything is put away correctly. They are also responsible for getting the materials as needed.

5. Use Chair Pockets

Some teachers like to use chair pockets that slide over the back of each student’s chair. Consider using them for holding individual supplies and books.

6. Use Plastic Shower Caddies

Plastic shower caddies work well for making student supplies available at the table when needed, but off to the side on a shelf when not in use. If you opt to use table caddies, use them to hold individual ”community supplies.” However, in my experience, I have found that children take much better care of the supplies when they are their own. Also, I noticed a dramatic increase in illnesses (cold and stomach viruses) during the years when I used community supplies.

7. Give Each Table a Cup

Place a sturdy plastic cup on each table for the students to keep their pencils in. 

8. Number your Students’ Pencils

Write their student numbers on the top of the pencils. This eliminates conflict over who each pencil belongs to and makes it easy for lost pencils to be returned to the proper cup when found. 

9. Create an Art Box for Each Student

Purchase a sturdy plastic pencil case for each child and use them to store students’ scissors, glue sticks, markers, colored pencils, and a hand-sharpener. You can call them “the art boxes” and each table can have a basket that holds all of the art boxes for that table. Students can easily get their own box for individual projects or the entire basket could be brought to the table if you are working on a whole-class activity that requires those supplies.

10. House All Folders, Notebooks, Journals and Textbooks Together

Keep journals, notebooks, and textbooks all together. If I had a class of 25, I would instruct 5 children to “take 5.” Those 5 students would take the top 5 journals from the container and pass them out to their owners. This process takes less than a minute.

Are you a TEACHER who wants ideas for Classroom Seating Arrangements or strategies for student desk organization? READ THIS POST to learn about both.

Classroom Desks

Many classrooms have an individual desk for each student. Desks lend themselves to an endless amount of possibilities for different types of seating arrangements for classrooms. If you are working with desks instead of tables, you will have several things to consider when setting up your classroom and planning how they will be used. Read below to get some helpful tips!

Pros of Having Desks

Below are the benefits and challenges that come with having desks in your classroom.

  • Students learn important organization skills.
  • The classroom configurations are unlimited. 
  • You will be able to spread them out with ease for assessments.
  • Desks can house the student books, journals, notebooks, and supplies.
  • They support independent learning.

Cons of Having Desks

There are lots of benefits of having desks, but they have some limitations as well.

  • Desks take up more space.
  • They shift and drift apart from one another.
  • Children waste time looking for books, folders, and other materials.
  • You might find a moldy snack in a desk.
  • They’re not easy to clean.
  • Not all students are naturally organized and have strong executive functioning skills. They might struggle to organize and manage books and supplies.

10 Tips for Classrooms with Desks

Below are 10 tips for teachers with tables in their classroom.

1. Turn Desks into Tables

I didn’t always have tables. I began with a classroom full of desks and one table. Over time, I accumulated more tables by writing grants, trading with colleagues, and scavenging around the building. Even when I didn’t have mostly tables in my classroom, I always treated the desks as if they were tables. I clustered them in groups of either 4 or 6.

2. Don’t Have Students Keep Anything in Their Desks

Consider not having students keep anything in their desks except for their independent book bags. Although each student can have a “home base” to start the day, they can also then move around the room for guided reading, guided math, and center work. This resulted in no class time ever being wasted by students looking for assignments, books, or supplies in a messy desk. Most importantly, no children ever felt embarrassed because they didn’t have the developed executive function skills necessary to manage a desk full of materials.

3. Move Desks as Needed

It is highly likely you will rearrange your students desks throughout the year. The key is to find an arrangement that works well for this year’s cohort of students. Some classes do best when spread out a bit, while others work well in multiple combinations.

4. Use Small Containers within the Desks

Using small containers in the desks will help your students to compartmentalize items. 

5. Slide Flat Cardboard Boxes into Desks

Sliding flat cardboard boxes in desks that open from the front creates a drawer and makes sorting and organizing easier. 

6. Designate Time for Students to Clean Their Desks

This is an important one! Schedule regular times for desk clean outs. 

7. Create a Poster Showing what an Organized Desk Looks Like

Show what a clean desk should look like by drawing a diagram of an aerial view, a cross section, or both. Label the contents. Instead of a drawing, you could take an actual photo of a neatly arranged desk. Project this image when the students are doing a desk clean-out or print a large version to display as a reference. 

8. Print a Photo of an Organized Desk

If you have students who require extra support, print an individual photo showing how the desk should be arranged and allow the student to keep it in his or her desk to reference regularly.

9. Print a Desk Organization Checklist

Another idea for students who need extra support is to create a written checklist to be used when organizing.

10. Partner Students Together for Additional Organization Support

A third idea for students who need additional help is to assign a peer to help keep the child on track. Not all students are comfortable accepting help from classmates, so always check with the student first.

In closing, we hope you found this information about types of seating arrangements for classrooms helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in the resources in our Clutter-Free Classroom Teachers Pay Teachers Store, as well as these posts:

Are you a TEACHER who wants ideas for Classroom Seating Arrangements or strategies for student desk organization? READ THIS POST to learn about both.

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