When I first started teaching I was all about the seating charts. As I’ve progressed through my career I’ve refined how and when I use them. How do you create a seating plan in middle and high school science classrooms?
How should you create a seating plan in middle and school classrooms? Should you draw numbers? Do you group them based on ability? Do you let them choose their own seats? How does having a specific type of seating chart facilitate what happens in your classroom?
This article is full of advice I’ve curated from other teachers. However, you need to keep in mind that your seating chart will depend on both your preferences as well as the class you’re dealing with. Can you handle a little socializing? Some classes need to be treated one way while others differently. Grade level plays a big role. Older student are theoretically more mature and can better choose their seats. However, this isn’t always true. Class size changes things also. Therefore it’s important to keep in mind that even if you come up with a good plan, be prepared to change it based on how it works with your class. Be flexible.
What do I do?
At the start of the semester for grades 9 and 10, I seat them alphabetically. This allows me to randomize students but more importantly, create a system whereby I can more easily learn their names. I have trouble with names and this helps. I change their seating regularly based on behavior but also so they can learn to work with others. As Marylnn Elliot Fulton stated, “The physical arrangement to seating and the assignment (or lack thereof) to such is basic classroom management.” In grades 11 and 12, I let them choose their seats but quickly move people who shouldn’t be working together. This is done throughout the semester.
No matter what kind of seating plan you use, develop a system that works for you and allows you to manage your classroom behavior. Managing your class is one of the most important things you can do to promote student learning. If you’d like to learn more about managing classroom behavior, acing that interview, using technology, etc., click here for free access to my book – Teach Well and Maintain Your Sanity.
How to create a seating plan in middle and high school science classroom – Teacher-To-Teacher Advice
“When creating a seating chart I think it is important to create mixed groups with your students. If you put all of the high performing students at one table and the low performing students at another, they will know who you consider “smart” or “dumb”. Using a random system can be beneficial. I would recommend using cards. Have each student draw a card and depending on the card, that is their group. But, switch up how the playing cards are used. You can organize groups by numbers, colors, hearts and diamonds, spades and clubs, it’s up to you. This will also stop students from switching cards as they will not know how you organize the groups.”
“My favorite seating arrangement chart is when the teacher had what she called “learning pods.” In these pods, the students were in groups of four and at the end of their desks was a storage unit for each subject where they would place their materials for that subject in. By doing this the students were much more organized and knew where everything is. How she picked who sat where was based on different abilities. Each group had a student with different abilities, which I love. This allows students to learn from each other and sit with people they might not usually sit with!”
“I personally choose my students seats. Their seats are based on a variety of factors. Students who have trouble with their vision sit closer to the front. Students that I need to work with one-on-one near the front. I make sure that I put students next to students that they do not speak with to reduce unnecessary conversations. I rearrange them as needed throughout the school year. If I see that two students do not get along, I will move them apart. I will also move students if they are constantly talking.”
“One method I observed was having the desks all bunched up in the middle and having the students create their own seating arrangement and seating choices. At the 7th/8th grade levels, I believe students are mature and independent enough to pick their own seats, and if they’re not you can move them. Since they are seating themselves you can remind them that they are accountable for their choices and will be treated as such. A positive of doing this the first day is that you can evaluate which students are leaders, tendencies (sitting in front=more attentive, etc.), and other behaviors. As you get to know the students further, you can move them as you see fit.”
“Sometimes you want to put them in groups where they can teach each other, and if you get a group where they are all lost, that doesn’t always happen. So for some assignments, I will go through my list and mark the low and high people and try to make sure there is one of each in every group and fill in randomly with the people who are left. That way there is a leader in each group who can help with keeping the group on-task. Not every A-B student is a leader, and for those, I may put more than one in that group. It also depends on the group sizes because I do not always have students work in the same size group – depends on the assignment. But that can also be accomplished at your tables (random or not).”
“We use a modeling physics approach so every three to four days we finish our lab activity and discussion/lecture, which is then followed by a quiz. After each quiz, I let one student from the previous lab group pick their lab group for the next lesson. This year lab groups generally contain three students. Caveats for group choice include you may not pick only your friends and you cannot have the same people that were in the previous group. It has worked splendidly because students realize that they can work with anyone for a couple of days (especially if I insist). Also, no one ends up feeling left out because everyone gets to be the leader at some point. My physics class contains primarily seniors so they are mature enough to handle this responsibility. It has been so successful.”
“I agree that seating arrangements are a big part of classroom management. You have to make sure that the students are able to learn and succeed in whatever seat they are in. I like your idea of changing the seating arrangement after every unit. This allows students to work with other people and not get too comfortable. I like seating based on talents, allowing each group to have a good speaker, leader, record keeper, etc.”
“I also use seating charts very actively at Middle School level and change my seating charts every unit to give students a new perspective on their learning environment. This also encourages students to meet and interact with other students.
students a new perspective on their learning environment. This also encourages students to meet and interact with other students.
Our 8th-grade science units are approx. 4 weeks long, so about 4 seating chart changes per semester – Students seem to look forward to the changes and ask prior to the next unit when they will get their new seating chart. Another important consideration in seating charts is IEP mandated priority seating accommodations for students with learning disabilities or physical disabilities. This is my first consideration when designing a seating chart.
In addition, if you can it is also helpful to change the physical arrangement of the desk/table placement occasionally. Again, students seem to appreciate the rearrangements of the space and some even suggest creative desk arrangements. The one caveat in making changes is to consider carefully your students who do not adjust well to changes (OCD, EBD, etc.). I generally talk with these students and their classroom aides before making any seating change or desk rearrangement so they are prepared and comfortable with the changes.
If the student wants to “stay put in the same place”, you can creatively rotate the rest of the arrangement around their fixed point. Students start their class day at their assigned seats for quick attendance and any short direct instruction. Then we often “rearrange” into work groups for labs or projects.
I also teach high school science and use a teacher designed seating chart at the beginning of terms to learn names and accommodate IEP considerations. However, I soon let these young adults choose their seats and only rearrange if behavioral/learning issues require adjustments. These student seating choices are recorded on a seating chart for substitutes.”
“I used to start alphabetically, sometimes with the end of the alphabet in the front (they would be really grateful for the reversal). I needed to seat them alphabetically so that I could learn their names. After the first test, I’d put weakest students in front. Research into sound fields supports the need for weaker students to be up front. It also makes you more likely to have eye contact with them. Seating charts are a way of conveying expectations- and control of the situation.”
“Whatever you do, DO NOT let them chose their own seats. I learned that much in my classroom management class in my teaching credential program. Seating charts should be us to help classroom management and keep talkers separate and to help with student focus and attention. The ability grouping can be arranged during reading time or a group work time but not necessarily during class seating.”
“I believe a seating chart is the foundation as to whether the students learn in the classroom. If they are placed with students whom are their “friends” and are consistently socializing, then they will more likely not be paying attention during the lesson. If a student is placed in a group that is either more advanced or behind than they are, then that gap could take effect them in the long run. I believe it’s important to get to know your students before placing them in a seating chart.”
“Once a month, the teacher asks the students to write down three to five people they would like to sit by for the new seating chart. The teacher does this to try to sit at least one of the people on the list next to the student. However, the teacher also looks to see what student is not having his or her name written down, what student has always written down the same names and suddenly there was a shift, etc.
This helps with trying to have an understanding of the social aspects of the classroom and things you might not see or hear. I think this is a really cool way to do the seating plan, because it shows the students you value their opinion but also keeps you aware of revolving friendships, students being isolated from their peers or potential bullying.”
What do you find works best in your classroom?
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If you’d like to learn more about managing classroom behavior, acing that interview, using technology, etc., click here for free access to my book – Teach Well and Maintain Your Sanity.