Setting up your classroom: Seating plans

Seating plans

Children like to know where they stand and structure is important to that. One way of achieving this is through where children sit in your lessons. I always have a seating plan – sometimes as many as 5 (Guided Reading, English, Science, Maths and then a general place for other lessons such as Humanities and Art) but it really depends on the children and it is important to remember that all children and groups of children are different and that what works one year for one group may fail with another group. Because of this, it is important to be adaptable so that you are meeting the needs of those in your class/es.

There are lots of ways to organise your classes and you may want a combination of them for different subjects. The most important thing is to know the children in your class as that will influence the way you teach them and the way you choose to seat them around the room.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Seat by ability
  • Boy-girl
  • Mixed ability

At the beginning of the year, there will probably be two scenarios:

  1. You are inheriting a group of children from a member of staff within your school. You may know some of the children in your new class so may have an idea of characters within them and who should or should not under any circumstances, be anywhere near each other.
  2. Your new class are from another school/schools. You may have data on them so may have a rough idea of ability. Transition meetings may mean that you have been told of their characters. You may have met the group and have started to make your own judgements.

Either way, you can begin the year with a seating plan and you can adapt it if it doesn’t work. Don’t be scared to do this. It is important that you remain in control and that the children know they will have to sit where you choose. If something isn’t working, don’t persist with it, aim to find a better solution and test it out.

Ability groups within a mixed ability class

These have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • It can make life easier when handing out differentiated tasks if the class are sat in ability groups. The learning in the lesson can start earlier if resources are handed out during the lesson. If resources can be handed out beforehand, it means that the lesson requires less preparation.
  • Classroom adults are able to work with a specific ability group in order to support their learning and push their learning forward. This is easier if pupils are seated with others of a similar ability.
  • Other people can easily hand out the work for you, if you have different work for different tables.
  • Sometimes the lower ability pupils will become too reliant upon adult support if they are seated together and will not push themselves. It can be beneficial to seat lower pupils close to higher achieving pupils as this can create a competitive element. This can be particularly effective if you have a supportive group of children, who are capable of this kind of peer support.

Obviously other issues are raised here, such as ensuring you are setting high expectations and how to differentiate appropriately, but these are going off topic slightly and probably more suited to a discussion of their own.

Organising your seating with boy/girl

  • This goes horribly wrong if you have significantly more boys than girls or vice versa.
  • This obviously is not an option in single-sex teaching.
  • It isn’t necessarily beneficial to seat children in this way. It very much depends upon characters. Sometimes an entire table of boys can be effective, especially if you can utilise the competitive element, where boys who are capable but lazy are sat with boys who are higher achieving. Especially if there is a good relationship between them socially, it can be effective as a way of extending their learning.

Mixed ability

  • You can utilise the idea of peer mentoring.
  • Are the highest ability always pushed forward in their learning? One advantage is that higher ability children are able to consolidate their understanding by explaining to others.
  • An effective way of using mixed ability is by creating mixed ability pairs and then seating them in a way that will work socially.

Personally, I don’t know the answer, or even if there is one. I recommend testing out different ideas. If something doesn’t work, change it sooner rather than later.

I would never start a new academic year without having already planned a seating plan of some kind. If it doesn’t work, I will change it. If parents complain that their child isn’t with their friends, stay strong – you haven’t done it to annoy them or their child. You have used your professional judgement to put their child in a position where you believe they are most likely to succeed. You don’t want the parents to think they can walk all over you, or the child to think that they can go running home to their parents about every little thing. This will undermine your authority. Although it is easier to give in, it will be more beneficial to you in the long term to stick to your guns.

How pupils know where to sit

I like to write a name on each mini whiteboard and place it with a whiteboard pen in their place. This means that as pupils enter the room, they have to find where they sit. It also means that you can have a task on the board for them to complete once they have found their seat.

Sometimes, I display the seating plan on the IWB. This is always interesting as you can immediately spot who and who can’t read a plan view. This is probably more appropriate with older primary-aged children. Those who are able to read the seating plan will often help others to find their seat.

Another thing I regularly do is to display laminated versions of my seating plans on the wall. As the term moves on, this is less necessary but it is helpful for any supply teachers who teach your class.