AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Arranging Your Classroom

Have you taken a good look at your new classroom? Is it arranged to permit the best environment for learning? Can you and your students live and learn with the configuration of furniture, equipment and accessories in the classroom? Educational researchers who studied the practices of effective teachers concluded that classroom designs greatly enhance the opportunities for student progress.

Keys to Good Classroom Arrangement​

  • Avoid unnecessary congestion in high-traffic areas.
  • Consider potential distractions: windows, doors, etc.
  • Always have a clear view of students.
  • Verify that all students can see you, instructional displays (e.g., chalkboard) and daily assignments (weekly, if possible). Use walls and bulletin boards to display rules, procedures, assigned duties, a calendar, schedule, student work and extra-credit activities.
  • Place learning areas so students can move from one to another with little or no disruption. Leave walking space around students' desks.
  • Avoid placing learning centers and work areas in "blind corners."
  • Place storage space and necessary materials so they are easily accessible.
  • Arrange students' desks in rows facing instructional areas until you've learned their names, work habits and personal traits.
  • Check all electrical equipment to be sure it works and learn how to use the equipment before using it in class.

Try It! Quick Chart
Fourth-grade teacher Holly Butler of Santa Cruz, Calif., creates classroom seating charts by using thin magnets (available in office supply stores) to which business cards can be attached. She then buys blank cards and attaches them to the magnets, one for each student. When it's time to rearrange students' seats, she just moves the magnets around on her metal wall. Because they're all the same size, she can arrange them like real desks and easily view what her new arrangement will look like.

Tips on Storage Space​

  • If you must use tables or desks with inadequate storage, consider storing student materials in "tote trays" where they will be easily accessible but out of the way.
  • Provide adequate, conveniently located space for students' belongings.
  • Provide easily accessible bookcase shelves for everyday books and materials not kept in students' desks.
  • Use ceiling space to hang mobiles, decorations and student work; use windows for displays or decorations.
  • Keep long-term, seldom used or special-occasion items in a location outside of the classroom.

Try It! Paper or plastic?
Rather than buy bulletin board paper, which is expensive and prone to fading, Chicago elementary school teacher Michelle Knight uses inexpensive plastic table cloths from a discount store instead. The table cloths are more durable, don't fade and look great, she says. Big enough to cover even large bulletin boards, the cloths still cost much less than paper.

Easy Border
Decorative borders for bulletin boards can get expensive, so Bronx, N.Y., fifth-grade teacher Ruth Lyons uses adding machine tape to do the job. The tape comes in long rolls, is inexpensive and is perfect for decorating. Lyons has students measure the boards and decorate the tape throughout the month in their art center.