Ah, the seating chart. Spawning many a sleepless night for the teacher and many an enmity among students. Okay, okay, or friendship.
Maybe you've got rows. Maybe you've got a bunch of desks side-to-side in a great big semicircle. Maybe you've got groups of four-ish. Maybe you listened to our physical classroom advice and you have a room that can adapt to all of the above.
However the desks are arranged, things get more complicated when the time comes for students to sit in them. So we're here to tell you the single, sure-fire way to ensure that the way your students sit will be quiet, conflict-free, and conducive to learning. And when you're done lobotomizing them, we know a good lawyer or two you may want to get cozy with.
But for real.
There may not be one way that's guaranteed to make your seating arrangement go off without a hitch, and hey, there probably isn't just one arrangement that'll work within your class. So what we're really here for is to run through a few ways other teachers have done it, with the bottom line that it all comes down to your classroom, your students, and your preferences.
And if your preference is the lobotomy route, then, well, you're on your own.
Assign Seats Alphabetically
Going the alphabetical route is a good way to show that you're the one in charge of the seat map, but you're not playing any favorites in the way you divide up the young 'uns.
The pro: you still get some semblance of order by taking control of where people sit. And if all the B's work really well together, bully for you.
The con: There's no changing the alphabet. So if Tommy Tucker and Tucker Tomson can't stop shoving each other, you're kind of stuck.
Sure, you can always start off alphabetically and make adjustments as needed. But then you're just moving closer to the behavioral model. So let's dive on into that.
Assign Beats Behaviorally
At first this seems like the golden ticket. Keep the class clowns separate, create groups (or pairs, or lines, or whatever) that won't clash, and all that's left to do is teach. Easy, right?
Well, is it ever? The first complication is this: do you group together all the quiet kids in one spot, the mathletes somewhere else, and try to keep the noisy folk as dispersed as you possibly can? Or is it better to even it out?
Oh, also, you may get accused of playing favorites (or least favorites) based on some students loving their spot and others feeling like they're isolated from friends, near a bully, unable to have their voice heard, or next to the AC that they swear is the reason they couldn't hear you assign the homework on Wednesday.
So you could mathematically determine the ideal arrangement of a couple hard-workers to balance out a troublemaker and inspire an introvert—and that theory will just flop in practice. Why? Because students are human. And if they think they're being seated unfairly, they just may find a way to rebel.
Assign Seats Groupally
Divide 'em up into three, four, five, or as you see fit, and tell them where in the room to mosey on over to. To mute potential mutiny, add a semblance of free choice by letting them choose how to sit within the group. If you present this as an opportunity, call them teams, and let each come up with a team name (or color, animal, Backstreet Boy, you name it), you head off some of those potential behavior probs at the pass.
What have you just done? You've created heterogeneous groups in way that'll keep discipline problems distributed across the room (we hope) and provided fun little distractions so no one can get too huffy about having their friends across the room.
The cherry on top of group seating arrangements? Switching them up.
Which brings us to…
Every month. Every two weeks. Every time a kid calls you bae. Whatever.
The point with constantly shaking up the assignment is to be sure that the students have a chance to work with all of their peers. And to avoid some of the problems that came up in the behavioral section, just don't let them stick around long enough to be a thing.
You already created a team, let them pick their own seats at their team table, and had them come up with a team name. Awesome. Bonding sauce. Chances are, even the ones who were whiniest about their team in the first place will be at least a little sad to disperse. But by keeping it moving, you provide the ones who got a little sick of their pencil-tapping teammates a sigh of relief. Plus, we can't over-emphasize the thing of letting them work with all their peers throughout the year.
That way, however many teams you go through during the school year, by the time it ends the whole class'll feel like one big team.
Assign Seats at Different Times of the Day
Especially if you're working differentiated instruction into your classroom, you want to have a space that can adapt easily to a range of projects, working arrangements, and group vs. individual study. If that's the case (or if it's not, but you like this idea anyway), come up with something like "home-base seating" (or something less dorky-sounding) that you can call out to get your youth in order—and quick.
Whether they start and end each day that way, or it's just a way to do a thing quickly (for say, attendance), or it's something you rarely use because you're so gung-ho with the student-choice model, it can be a good tool for your back pocket.
Option Z: Don't Assign Seats
Yeah, even after the brilliant shifting team idea. And the home-base thing, which we know you ignored.
We still have to play devil's advocate. Or at least, you know, go through all the options.
Let's be real. Assigning seats is kind of increasingly optional as the students get older. Sure, you may have some disciplinary reasons or a range in ability (whether in concentration, calculus prowess, etc.) that gives you a reason to keep assigning all the way up. Or maybe you just like the power. We just say the age thing because we're assuming high school seniors are a lot less likely than kindergarteners to turn on the waterworks when they don't get seated by their bestie.
So what if you're the free-love type and want to let them pick where to go? We're not going to judge. Do your thang. You just want to keep your eyes peeled for the whispering, the note-passing, and the check-out-this-hlarious-tweet-I-just-posted-when-Teach-wasn't-looking.
Your options: separate the culprits, revert to assigned seating, or be willing to keep your eyes open and your reprimands flying if necessary.
And if you're lucky, it won't be necessary. Giving students the chance, and the trust, to make that choice on their own can be the incentive they need to stay on-task.
We know you believe us. But here's a line from Fred Jones' Tools for Teaching and the matching website just to show that we've done the research to back it all up: "When students as a group are given the freedom to sit wherever they want in a classroom, they will always choose the location for themselves that is to the teacher's greatest possible disadvantage."
Uh oh. Is that really what we've been saying all along? But wait:
"What about the belief that those students are actually people and that none of us likes to be controlled? There is research and experience to show that students who have a voice in establishing the rules are much more likely to internalize and truly support/follow those rules" (source).
Whew. Thanks Fred.
So, maybe you let your students have free reign, or maybe you find a balance so that you still feel in control, but they don't feel too much like they're under your thumb. It's all about figuring out what works with your class dynamic so that your students sit still, and are happy to do it.
No lobotomies needed.