Top Tips for Creating a Responsive Classroom Environment
There are many important things for an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher to consider when designing a seating arrangement for the classroom. Every teacher desires to create an atmosphere where good interaction can take place between the students as well as an atmosphere where attention can be focused on the teacher during times of teacher instruction. Of course, many limiting factors can affect the seating arrangement of the classroom, and the teacher may not end up having the ideal seating arrangement due to these factors. The two primary limiting factors that affect seating arrangement include the class size and the room size. Here we will look at the positives and negatives of a classroom arranged by rows, by group tables, by circular seating arrangements, and by semi-circular seating arrangements.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jennifer N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
To begin, we will look at a classroom arranged by rows. Most American students have grown up in classes that were primarily arranged in rows. This set up is designed so that the attention of the students is on the teacher and the whiteboard. This arrangement minimizes student attention on other students, and in many classroom settings, this is ideal because the teacher would like to minimize distractions. However, in the ESL classroom, this can be a major hindrance to learning. ESL students must be able to interact well with each other. Students need lots of talk-time to master the language that they are trying to learn.
For this reason, ESL teachers design their lesson plans to include quite a bit of group work and student-to-student interaction. A classroom arranged in rows makes it difficult for students to be able to interact well with each other naturally and may require lots of movement around the room when the time comes for group activities. This movement may end up leading to the discipline problems that the teacher may have been trying to avoid by choosing this seating arrangement in the first place. For these reasons, a classroom arranged in rows is not ideal for most ESL classrooms.
Secondly, we will look at a classroom arranged by group tables. This classroom arrangement is less formal than rows and does allow for students to interact with each other. One thing that the ESL teacher should bear in mind when designing a classroom arranged in group tables is the formation of ‘cliques.’ If the same students are always sitting together, then they may only be comfortable working with the other students at their tables whom they are familiar with.
Therefore, it is probably a good idea that the teacher changes seating assignments regularly. Another thing to consider when looking at a classroom set up with group tables is the potential lack of focus for some students on the teacher. Nearly every ESL lesson includes a period when the attention of the students should be directed to the teacher and the board. In this seating arrangement, some students will need to adjust their seating position to focus their attention on the teacher during teacher instruction time.
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Thirdly, we will look at a circular seating arrangement. A major positive of a circular seating arrangement is that everyone is visible to everyone else. However, this seating arrangement is not very good for board work. In a lot of ways, it makes the teacher almost an ‘outsider’ to the rest of the class, because the focus of the students is directed towards the center of the circle. During times of teacher instruction, students will need to adjust their seating positions to focus their attention on the teacher. Despite this disadvantage, this seating arrangement does allow for good rapport among the students and maybe a good option to consider for the ESL teacher.
Finally, we will look at the semi-circular seating position. In many ways, this seating position is the most ideal for the ESL classroom. Like the circular seating arrangement, it provides an environment where the students are all visible to each other, making good student-to-student rapport a likely possibility. It is also easy for students to get up and move about the room when it is time for group activities. Unlike the circular seating arrangement, in this seating arrangement, it is easy for the students to see the teacher and have times of focused attention onboard work. The only major disadvantage of this seating arrangement is that it may not be feasible or possible for large class sizes in smaller classrooms.
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All in all, each seating arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the teacher to assess their classroom, their class size, and the potential discipline problems or distractions that may occur when designing a seating arrangement. Thankfully, the teacher can always make adjustments as needed to their classroom seating arrangement to provide the optimal atmosphere for teaching English as a Second Language.
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