Seating Arrangements in the English Language Classroom
2019-04-09 Mark Crocker Alumni Experiences Teaching Ideas
One important factor to consider when teaching English abroad is how you arrange the seating in the classroom. Space in a classroom can be limited at times so it's important to maximize what you have available. There are multiple ways to arrange a classroom and knowing which ones will provide the most benefit is important. To ensure the best environment for the students and teacher it is essential to have an understanding of the options, as well as when and how to use them.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Alex C.
The Basics of Classroom Layout
As a rule a classroom will generally consist of at least four walls, an entrance, a surface to write on and desks for the students. Even with only these resources it is necessary to be aware of a room’s limitations. As an example, the classroom’s desks should be arranged to provide all students a clear and unobstructed view of the board. Otherwise, some students may have trouble comprehending the material because they cannot see what is written. However, trying to create optimum vantage for each student in the available floor space can cause other problems. As an example, students need to be able to get in an out of their desks comfortably. Putting all the desks in the front row might allow everyone to see the board, but could also mean that students aren't able to quickly or easily take their seats for class. The four most common classroom arrangements are Rows, Stadium, Horseshoe and Groups. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to each configuration that have to be considered when selecting one.
The Pros and Cons of the Row Layout
Rows, where each student’s desk is aligned in a grid based pattern facing the board may seem like the obvious first choice. This arrangement allows for larger classes to view the board and the teacher, while using less floor space. Students can collaborate with “neighbors” for pair work within their rows with no need to move. It also allows the teacher to move among the desks if needed. However, the teacher may find that it becomes tougher to manage group exercises this way. This arrangement can also create blind spots for teachers where some students receive less direct interaction with the teacher. This is an important consideration to think about. The students ability to communicate with one another and the teacher is key to learning a language and conversation will constitute much of the course.
The Pros and Cons of the Stadium Layout
Stadium, sometimes called columns, is an arrangement where desks are divided evenly down the center of the room into rowed groups angled towards the front and center of the class. This style is not used as often as the others, but it does have certain benefits. With this style all students can focus on the front of the classroom, whether it's the board, the teacher or someone presenting to the class. Because the desks are divided into groups students can quickly transition to group work, while allowing the teacher to check on individual groups as the need arises. This configuration can also help encourage students to engage, as smaller groups are less intimidating for newer students. A negative point to this configuration is that students can become reliant or too familiar with their own groups and not engage with the rest of the class. The stadium configuration also requires more space for the same amount of students then other arrangements and depends on the location of the board.
The Pros and Cons of the Horseshoe Layout
The horseshoe or semicircle form requires the student’s desks be aligned in the shape of a U or a half circle facing the front of the room. This arrangement can offer distinct advantages for the purpose of class discussion, an essential part of language learning. It also has the benefit of focusing the class's attention in one spot, while also allowing the teacher to easily see and call on each individual student. It can create a space or “stage” for activities and presentations. The Horseshoe configuration isn’t without issues, it requires a larger classroom and a smaller number of students. It can also increase the noise level significantly, and can hinder the ability of the class to conduct small group work or pair work.
The Pros and Cons of the Group Layout
The last of the four most commonly used styles is Groups. In this configuration the desks are divided into smaller groups or “pods”, generally of around four students. This format is generally more suited to older students. These students tend to work in groups on a regular basis throughout the course of the class. This configuration has the advantage of allowing for quickly dispensing work to the pods and allowing for movement between groups to help. This style is more useful to older classes as younger students tend to get distracted more easily. The Group configuration has limited application for lecturing as typically half the students will have difficulty seeing the teacher and board.
Each of these four classroom arrangements offers unique advantages. A best case scenario would allow a teacher the ability to switch between them based on which is best for the goals of the lesson. It's also a good idea to get a consensus from the class and confirm how they best learn and in what arrangement.
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