8 Quick Tips to Achieve the Best Seating Plan

The humble seating plan is a small but essential component of classroom practice and an invisible behaviour management tool. Here’s a few tips to make the most of it.

  1. Use data to inform your thinking (ability groups, pupil premium, etc.) but allow practical experience to override it. In particular, it is worth letting go of the ideal that all pupils are able to work together if it sidesteps a term of fractious infighting.
  2. Pupils constantly adapt and develop so it is not a sign of failure for a seating plan to do the same. Laminate and use a dry-wipe marker to avoid constant reprinting. Better yet, use PowerPoint and go fully-digital to save printing at all.
  3. Organise tables to best suit your teaching style; no two lessons are the same but if you favour classroom discussion then the horseshoe shape works well, whereas the traditional rows and columns promote independent focus. However they’re laid out, make sure that you can see all pupils and they can see you, and that your movement around the room is not obstructed.
  4. If possible, configure your classroom so that it is easy to switch between single desks and group work, like an Olympic stadium transitioning from athletics to football mode. Mixing things up occasionally is exciting and helps to keep everyone on their toes.
  5. What to do with troublemakers? There’s no single solution. Keeping them close is tried and trusted but placing them front centre, in the eye-line of all their peers, often has a detrimental effect. Instead, try placing them on a front periphery, where it is most difficult to interact with those around them. Reserve the other front seats for those who need most teacher input.
  6. Remember that there are no prizes for artistic value; clarity is king. You might wish to colour-code gender or use shorthand for PP, SEN and EAL but critically question the necessity or usefulness of any extra adornment.
  7. If your school doesn’t already have one, suggest creating a bank of classroom templates for seating plans. Trainee teachers, cover supervisors and all other nomadic teachers will consider you a hero for doing so.
  8. “So-and-so’s away, can I sit next to ______ today?” is a slippery slope. It is sometimes tempting to let pupils devise their own seating plan, thereby saving yourself the hassle, but research suggests that this leads to lesser outcomes for all but the highest ability. However, it can prove instructive as a starting point, on the condition that the teacher will re-assess the plan at a set time so that working with friends is a privilege to be lost. Conversely, it can be dangled as a reward for positive outcomes at the end of a unit. Once a plan is established, be rigorous in upholding it.

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