“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV
Many of us have been anxiously awaiting the day when our classroom will be ready for us after summer cleaning. It is exciting and overwhelming at the same time to walk into a room that could be basically a blank slate staring back at you. How you set up your classroom can help transform the way your students interact and learn throughout the year. It is worth taking some time to plan ahead to make the most of the space that you have. When designing your classroom, there are a few considerations to think about that will help foster a positive working environment as well as making accommodations for those with special needs. Your classroom layout should change each year as you start with a new group of students with their own unique needs. Today we will look at ways to set up that new classroom to support teaching and learning.
Know Your Students
Before you dive off into the land of Pinterest for classroom layout ideas, make sure you know some information about your student. Get with your administrator or a mentor teacher in your building and do some homework on your students. A student’s cumulative file could be a lot of look at, especially for a first year teacher, but not a bad place to start. I would get a list of your students and also figure out who their previous year’s teacher was. Their information will be worth more than your interpretation of the cumulative file. The information is also very relevant and current, which will help you design your classroom according to your student needs today.
Write Down Your Needs
After you have done your homework on your students, it might be a good idea to make a list of the most frequent accommodations that the Individualized Education Program (IEP), or previous year’s teacher recommends for the student(s). Here is a sample with some made of students of what you might expect to find:
- Bob needs to be in the back of the classroom because he needs to move a lot
- Bob also might need a wiggle seat or fidget to keep him focused
- Susie and Sherry are great friends, but also a distraction so do not put them by each other all day.
- Hank is sensitive to bright lights and sounds. Headphones may be needed, possibly curtains or alternately lighting at times.
- Margaret is in a wheel chair so make sure there is enough room for her to get around
- Tom, Hank, and Leslie are easily distracted and may need a seat near the front of the room or by the teacher’s desk.
- Larry is hard of hearing in his right ear. Make sure he is placed in a location where he can hear the best.
- All of the kids enjoyed working in groups this year and got along, consider group stations or tables.
Size of Your Classroom
The size of your classroom will determine how much you can put in there. As a special educator in my first years of teaching, I had a very small classroom. I had to get creative with my seating. My students needed to move a lot but I did not have very much space. To remedy that situation, I was able to get a few stand-up desks for students. This allowed them to move around and still be at “their seats”. I also had some students who really needed to burn off some energy so I brought in an exercise bike, attached a clip board to it so they could work and ride at the same time.
If you have a large classroom, but also a lot of students, you will need to get creative on how you store things as well. Check out some vertical shelving or attached to the walls so you have more floor space for students to work. If you need to install new shelving a certain way, contact your building custodian and they will help you get those installed correctly and safely.
Almost all classrooms come with very bright fluorescent lights that can be blinding and give you a headache after a day in the classroom. Consider any special needs you might have for lighting and work from there. You may want to go out to a yard sale or ask a family member for some lamps they are not using anymore. Putting some covers or a sheet over the fluorescent lights can also mute some of the brightness. For the student above, I would be making some changes to at least part of the classroom to be conscious of his sensitivity to bright lights.
There are so many options for desk layouts that it will be impossible to cover them all today. After you do your research on your students, you will be able to determine what setup will work best for them to start the year. I say to start the year because things change. I would not be married to your seating arrangement because students move out of district, move in, and once kids are actually in their seats you will discover that you might need to move them for a variety of reasons. My biggest advice on desk layout is:
- Only have what you need– If you have too many tables, desks, etc. then it takes up too much room and feels cramped
- Make sure there is enough room for students to access all of the materials they need easily
- Tables or desks? Both work great. If students are very disorganized, a desk may be necessary for them to keep everything in one place
- Rows or groups?– I like to start in groups if possible but I also move my desks around a lot as well for what we are doing in class. Students could also start in rows and when you want them in groups, they can be trained to move their own desks quickly and quietly.
What Should I Put on My Wall?
This can be one of the hardest parts of walking into a blank classroom, and also the most expensive. Talk to other teachers in your building and see if they have some “must-have” items that you will need on your wall to start the year. A lot of teachers utilize a word wall or content vocabulary in their classroom. Others have posters featuring content they are working on currently. This may not work for everyone but here are some ideas that have worked for me:
- Put up what you need– I have overloaded my walls before with content for the whole year and it is overwhelming. Give students what they will need for the first couple weeks of school
- Social Contract- Many classrooms put up a social contract or classroom rules. I like to build this with my students and put it up after the first week school.
- Consider your content– If you teach multiple subjects, it might be wise to have a wall or two dedicated to those topics. When you are teaching math for example, you can drift to your math wall and point out and give examples on the wall from what you are learning in class.
- Leave room for creativity– The great part of starting off a new year is having a new group of students. Leave parts of your classroom open for students to make their own. Elicit their help with decorating, creating a Student of the Week corner, etc. This will help to build a sense of community and culture.
Enjoy these last few moments of preparation before the school year begins. Know that the work you are putting in now will pay off tremendously later on. I hope that as you now walk into your own classrooms that you will not be overwhelmed, but excited and armed with a plan to make your classroom a safe, fun, and an exciting learning environment for your students!