On the first day of back to school, my principal gave to me, one cluttered classroom with a mixed-up set of TEs.
As a classroom teacher, when I head back to school for a new school year, the first thing that always do is arrange the classroom furniture. I know it may seem strange because it is much easier to move around the room with the desks still stacked in the corner, but there is something about getting everything in its place to match the classroom blueprint that I had been creating and modifying in my head all summer before decorating the room that calms me.
To begin, I place my teacher desk first. I like to face the door so that I can see everyone who enters or exits the classroom. In addition, because our classroom doors have a window, it allows anyone who stops by to see me. When I am working with students individually or even in a small group, I work close to my desk so that I can be seen from the door. (See picture to the left.)
Next, I place the student desks in little pods around the room. Because I utilize cooperative learning on a frequent basis, I like the students to be sitting in cooperative groups from the first day of school. I typically use a rocket ship type arrangement because I want all of the students to be able to see the front board at all times. (*See my blueprint below.)
As much as possible, I like to group students in groups of four. Even though I frequently use groups of different sizes in the classroom, my table groups are set for four students. After arranging the pods of student desks, I assign each group a table number. Sometimes, the table number is based on a theme. For example, one year when I just taught math and science, I had an African safari theme and each table was a specific safari animal, like a giraffe, lion, zebra, hippo, elephant, rhino, or secretary bird.
I also attach a number to each desk in the table group. The numbers allow me to make instant groups, such as one-of-each-number groups, same-number groups, and even/odd-numbered groups. I also use the desk tags to designate helpers. For example, I may ask students in the desk with the number one to pick-up game materials and then ask students in the desk with the number four to return them. Recently, after teaching at a campus that implemented Kagan’s Cooperative Learning structures, I began adding the letters A and B to the desk tags so that I could further vary my grouping capabilities. Now, I can also group by same-letter or different letter.
Freebie Alert! Grab a free download of my desk tags by clicking here or on the image left.
Why group at the beginning of the year? I often hear many teachers say that they begin the school year with the students in a more structured setting, like rows, and move into a less structured cooperative seating arrangement later in the year. However, I want to emphasize my classroom expectations right away. Those expectations include how to work cooperatively as a community, so I want my students to feel comfortable and get used to sitting in a group. This allows me to begin teaching my cooperative learning expectations and structures from the first day of school.
After I place my desk and the students’ desks, I arrange the rest of my furniture. I always attach a rectangular or trapezoid table to my most central table so that I have a place to store materials during the lesson. (You can see the corner of my table in the picture below just behind my watermark. )
I also have a rectangular table near the door so that I can store student materials, such as an electric pencil sharpener, a stapler, a tape dispenser, and class pencil cups. Additionally, I keep baskets of notebook paper and scratch paper (extra copies of papers that I no longer need) on this table. Beneath the table, I keep baskets of spirals and composition notebooks for use throughout the day. (*See the picture to the right.)
I then place my kidney table near my desk facing the students– this is not only a space to work with small groups of students during instruction but an additional location for my station rotations.
That’s it! The furniture is all set! I’m ready to begin working on my favorite part—the bulletin boards!
Sound Off: What is your favorite piece of classroom furniture?