Classroom Layout and Staying on Task

Change is constant; Children are Constantly Changing

Our classroom layout accommodates us, not us to it. Learning happens when children are comfortable in their surroundings. Stools at a high table, pillows under a canopy, traditional desk and chair, privacy screens, nooks and crannies to crawl up all foster children’s individual learning styles well.

Classroom Layout

The arrangement of the furniture in the classroom is not stagnant; it is fluid. No one has a designated seat or desk. Children may have a coat hook and/ or tray to place their personal belongings into, but even at that, there can be a designated location for all school bags and or jackets that can change as the design changes; the classroom ethos is fluid. In an ideal world, the classroom is for everyone to share equally.

The Set-up & The Rules

Scenario: CT brings children into the classroom and have them sit in a cleared space on the floor.

CT: “Every time that you come into the classroom you may choose where you want to sit. “ Some people like to stand or lie on their tummies or sit at a desk by themselves or at a table with other people when they are doing their work.

CT: “Whenever it is appropriate you will have the choice of where and how you want to work.”

Ch: “So, we can sit with our friends?”

CT:“Yes, if you are working and getting along. If you are distracting your friend or not staying on task, I have the right to move you. You are in control of your behaviour, what you do and what you say; therefore, you are in control of where you work. Now, sit where you want.”

Children immediately sit beside their friends. I have found, hands down, that children behave and are more productive when they sit with their friends (especially with the threat of being moved hanging over their heads - boundaries and rules are followed well here.) The children that do not have friends (every class has a few), will sit with the other friendless children or at the extra chair at the friends’ table or on their own; all choices are acceptable. Believe me you, that while you are nurturing a cooperative classroom, new friendships will ensue.

The Distracted Ones

Scenario: Most children are staying on task, but two friends are chatting about some computer game.

CT, “What are you talking about?”

Ch, “A computer game.”

CT, “Are you on task?”

Ch, “No, but we will go back to work now.”

Sadly the class will have to be interrupted to review rules, but this is still a very good investment for future scenarios.

CT chants, “One, two, three, eyes on me.”

CT holds up her hand, one finger, two fingers, three fingers then makes a ‘peace sign’ with two fingers and points at her own eyes.

Ch respond, “One, two, eyes on you.”

Ch hold up one hand, count one -holding up pointer finger, two - holding up middle finger, make a peace sign, point at their own eyes then with their index finger points at the


CT, “I am sorry that I have to interrupt your work, but would anyone like to share what you remember about the rules about sitting with your friends.”

(Role model manners - what comes around goes around.)

Ch, “You can sit with your friend if you are working and not being silly.”

CT, “Thank Jessica. Anyone else wants to share?

(Teacher Tip: always ask for more than one person to share because different people use different language to explain the exact same event; their interpretation of what the rule is and children love to share.)

CT: Were you two working?”

Ch, “No.”

Either the CT can move one child or they can decide who moves, your call. Reviewing the rule with the whole class compounds the idea that the rule is for everyone. Being firm with the rule compounds the ideal in all of the children’s minds that you mean what you say and you follow through with what you mean; no idle threats, if you don’t want to enforce a rule that don’t make it.

Ch, “How long do I have to sit over here?”

CT, “For the remainder of this work.”

Be careful not to make the punishment too long or harsh; give the children every chance to redeem themselves.

Expect the Unexpected

I set up a university exam style area with 6 desks spread far apart thinking that I would use that space for the children that needed to be far apart from others so that they could not disrupt others in an unwelcoming manner. As the children entered the room and chose a seat, my angel children went directly to the 6 desks area.

Ch, “We really like the desks like this, it’s like being in university.”

Plan backfired.

Provide a variety of seating arrangements. Along part of a wall, the room had three built in open, cupboards with a countertop surface. Great for storage; however, I kept them empty. Children flocked to these cozy, cubby holes with pillows, friends and their required working tools. They loved squeezing into the tight, secure place. The children were problem solvers as well, they would take along a big book to place their paper, clever kids.

Groovin’ & Movin’

Every Twenty Minutes get the Children Groovin' & a Movin’

How? Now. Teach the children how to move the furniture.

Why? Children want to help and they like to move; they need to move. Children want a place to belong to, moving furniture cultivates ownership of their classroom. Most importantly, many hands make light work (it would take you your whole lunch break to set up the classroom). An aside, the children have to be problem solvers (have you ever moved your new couch in? Ever taken a mattress up the stairs?).

A Problem rears a problem solver.

Depending on the size of the tables and desks in your classroom you may want two or three children moving the furniture. Take one end, and a child the other end and if big, a third child in the middle. Set against a wall. A second table can be flipped over and put on top; you have just doubled your floor space. Children will start stretching out, walking - running -dancing around the free space; breathe. Find two partners and let’s move the rest of the tables. Hopefully you have stackable chairs or you may want to form a circle around the perimeter of the classroom.

The Cozy Corner

Capture the essence of a cozy corner

Have an established cozy corner. Hang sheers, drap a large piece of material or sheet or tablecloth from the ceiling to form a canopy. Place overstuffed pillows, a blanket, large stuffies. Ask the children if they could donate any cozy items for the corner. (Avoid spending money on your classroom, spending money can very quickly get out of hand and into . . . avoid IKEA!) Generally, the cozy corner does not change throughout the year.

Moving Children

“Sharon, come sit right in front of me, please. Best seat in the house, right in front of the teacher. The smartest children sit closest to the teacher. Look at all you smarties.”

Explain, “When you sit beside your friend you might be tempted to chat; choose your seat wisely. You can still chat to your friend later ,but for now, you need to listen. When can you talk?”