Setting up your classroom: Displays

Independence displaySetting up your classroom

It is easy to be overwhelmed by how much there can be to do when setting up your first classroom. Here are a few starting points, based on my experiences in primary classrooms:

DisplaysHistory of games

  • Back your display boards and maybe fill some that are necessary all year, e.g. an independent learning board and a notice board.
  • I like to use bright colours, rather than pastel colours as I like them to stand out.
  • Use clear fonts – my favourite font website is – and make sure the font size is large enough to read from the other side of the room.
  • Back all writing. I like to have a border of at least 0.5cm but that is just me! Sometimes it is beneficial to laminate work for boards, particularly if it is in an area where people will walk closely past it, e.g. a corridor.WP_20150413_002 1
  • Laminate the letters for board titles, as you can always use them again in the future.
  • If your display will be filled gradually throughout the term with pupils’ work, perhaps adding some generic information about the display work that will eventually be produced (e.g. the topic being studied) or some images can make it less empty. It also provides pupils with an initial idea of topics that they will be studying so even adding only a title to the display is a good starting point.
  • Try to make your displays interactive where possible – my top tip is Velcro! I have a behaviour chart where pupils move themselves (a name or a picture of themselves) across from a smiley face, to a sad face, to a yellow card, to a red card. These fit in with my school behaviour policy and I find that pupils moving their name across means that they are fully aware of the consequences of their behaviour.whiteboard 2
  • I like to stick up a mini whiteboard on my class notice board so that I can add any important reminders (or pupils can). I do this with double-sided tape but I’m sure there are other ways. I also attach a whiteboard pen next to it using Velcro.
  • I also have a folder that I attach with Velcro to my notice board where any spare letters are stored. This means that if a pupils loses a letter or didn’t receive one, there is usually one that I can get hold of easily.

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.

Setting up your classroom: Class Behaviour Chart

WP_20150413_002 1Class Behaviour chart

It is important that your classroom systems are in alignment with the overall school behaviour policy.

I like to have a visual chart that all pupils can see clearly in the classroom. This helps them to take responsibility for their actions. They are aware of their progress across the chart and as a result, the consequences do not come as a shock.

It is important not to have an overly complicated system. Pupils need to understand how to be successful within the classroom environment and a clear class behaviour chart will help to support that understanding.

How my system works:

Behaviour chartMy system starts with a smiley face. All pupils begin the day on a smiley face so poor behaviour does not rollover to the next day. Each day is a fresh start. A first warning results in pupils moving across to a sad face. A second warning results in them moving to a yellow card. This has a consequence in line with the school’s behaviour policy. Moving to a red card results in a more serious consequence. It is important that pupils know what the consequences for each stage are. I have these displayed clearly above.

My chart is made with Velcro. I like pupils to physically move themselves across the chart as this means they are fully aware of the stage they are at during the day.

This works for me and I have found it to be an effective way of monitoring behaviour. You may find something similar also works for you. I like to reward children who remain on a smiley face all day with house points so that it isn’t only for tracking negative behaviour.

It is important that as well as clear sanctions, you also have clear rewards and although you will want these to fit in with your overall school behaviour policy, you may also want to have additional reward systems within your classroom, e.g. table points or raffle tickets.

Individual behaviour systems:

For those children who need a more personalised system, a lesson-by-lesson weekly chart with an appropriate award can be beneficial. This is helpful for younger children or those who need to be able to see a more short-term view, where they are being successful sooner and not over a long period of time. I find that a system like this is appropriate for a handful of children in my class. They get it signed or commented on each lesson before taking it home each night to get their positive behaviour reinforced at home, or the additional opportunity to talk about any issues with their families.


Setting up your classroom: DIY Registration

Interactive register

This is a simple way of registering your class on your interactive whiteboard. It is quite a visual way for both yourself and the pupils to see. They like to interact with the whiteboard and as long as they understand that they only ever move themselves across the board, then it is an accurate way of registering the class.

What you need to do:

  • Using your whiteboard software, create a new whiteboard that will be your daily interactive register.
  • Split the board in half vertically.
  • On the left side, write every child’s name. Alternatively, you could add a photo of each child. Remember to put the names or photos of shorter children lower down otherwise it leads to jumping to reach their name!
  • On the left side, write something to signify that those children aren’t in school (e.g. ‘Away today’ or ‘Absent’).
  • On the right side, write something to signify that those children are in school.
  • Save the file but don’t save it every day, as you will have to move all the names or photos back!

What the children do:

  • As they enter the class, the first task they do is to move their name or photo from the left side of the board to the right side of the board.

Pupils could be directed to do a task once they have registered on the board, e.g. read their book, or other early morning work (EMW) as part of their routine.