Keys to Making Flexible Seating Arrangements Work
by Liz Bowie
One of the ways that educators are making their classrooms more conducive to 21st century learning is by rethinking their seating arrangements. By implementing flexible seating in their learning environments, they’re promoting collaboration, problem-solving, and student choice.
Although every classroom and library is different, there are some keys to making flexible seating work for you and your students. Keep reading to hear the unique ways to address some of the common challenges and questions you might have about implementing flexible seating.
Where will my students put all their stuff?
Flexible seating demands that you get creative with how students store supplies. There are myriad ways you can accommodate supplies, the key is finding a way that works with your space and your furnishings. Below are some ideas to get you started:
- Invest in caddies with carrying handles for each individual student. The labeled caddies can carry essentials like pencils, notebooks, glue sticks, etc., and move with the students to their new seats for the day or as they move around the room.
- Label cubbies, one for each student. These can serve as an alternative to traditional desk space.
- For larger items, such as workbooks, identify a specific bookshelf or mobile cart with pull-out bins where these can be stored, and make it the students’ responsibility to ensure they are put back where they belong. Student helpers can also help pass out resources when they are needed.
- Label the bins in your mobile carts, one for each student, and have them keep their supplies in the cart. Hanging file folders with wide pockets placed in crates can also support student supplies.
- Consider grouping students into teams (red team, blue team, etc.) and creating sections in your room for red bins, blue bins, and so on, so that students aren’t all gathering in the same area when it’s time to get supplies.
- Add clipboards to each student’s supply list so they can write on a hard surface no matter where they sit during the day.
How often should kids be allowed to choose their seats?
There are several options for seating management, and you’ll know best what works for your specific class. Don’t be afraid to adapt the rules midyear if something isn’t working. You can also change your rules from year to year as your class dynamics change. You may find you need to start with some more defined rules and your class can work up to free choice.
Whatever parameters you choose, remember to give students plenty of opportunities to get up and move their bodies throughout the day, the same as you’d do with traditional seating. Here are a few options for when to allow students to choose a new seat:
- Once a day
- Once a week
- Each time they transition to a new subject
- Every time they choose a new activity
A few more ideas:
- Let students choose a new home base seat every day, but tell them they can’t choose the same seat twice in a week.
- Rotate through groups of students, allowing each group a chance to choose their seats first.
- Divide your classroom into zones with specific seating types in each zone. Have groups of students rotate through the zones week to week.
- Allow students to move anytime they feel uncomfortable or have a valid reason to move.
- Consider allowing a two-minute transition time and allowing students to talk during that time to cut down on work-time chatter.
- For younger students, cut down on first-come, first-served seat monopolizing by having them meet at the carpet to begin the day and then choose from there.
How do I prevent arguments over seating choices?
You may find that there are specific seating options that soon become the coveted spots. To prevent arguments, dip into your toolbox of classroom management techniques. There are strategies you probably already use that will work well in helping to stop or prevent arguments over seating choices. Here are a few to think about using:
- Set the expectation when you introduce the seating that flexible seating should be viewed as a privilege. If students misbehave, remove the seating until students can show you they can make positive choices.
- Make the carpet the only seating option during whole-group time.
- Use one craft stick for each seating choice, and have students draw sticks to choose their seat for the day or the week.
- Make it a rule that if students are having trouble picking a spot, the teacher will choose for them.
- Have students record where they sit every day and set a limit on how many times they can choose that seat each day or week.
- Maintain a couple of traditional desks where students can be placed if they are having trouble making good choices. Let them know that they are welcome to use the flexible seating when they show you they can be responsible in their seats.
- Randomly choose student names and let them choose their seat for the next day at the end of class the day before.
- Move students quietly, calmly, and with empathy when they aren’t following the rules: “I’m sorry this seat isn’t working out for you today. Please move to a new seat. You can try again tomorrow.” Direct them to a seat of your choosing.
- Start with a small number of seating choices. Once you’ve determined that you’ve found a seating option that students love, acquire more of the same.
Explore Flexible Seating Options
Take a virtual tour of this classroom and get ideas for creating flexible seating spaces that support the many needs and learning styles of your students.