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Setting Up With Students in Mind

By Kriscia Cabral on August 28, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

One goal I made at the end of the school year was to reconfigure my classroom. I wanted every area of space to serve a purpose. My classroom was missing fluidity and range. Over the summer I researched and devised a plan. Here is a tour of the finished product along with highlights to my reasoning. My focus is more on the idea of what can be done to better meet the needs of all students.

Away with Permanent Seating

My team and I are working towards more individualized instruction for our students. While I want my students to feel a sense of ownership in our classroom, I do not want them to feel as though they must hoard and guard their seating area. This year we have created places for students to sit, but no permanent desk space. There are desks throughout the classroom, but they are all facing in. I want my students to come in every day and find a place to sit. This allows for movement throughout the room and the opportunity to get to know each other better. Students have the flexibility to move to a new seat when needed.

Teachable Space for Students

I’ve had a whiteboard in my room since I inherited the space seven years ago. The problem has always been its location. It was at a teacher’s level in an area also occupied by many student desks. Oftentimes, the kiddos who were sitting on the same side as the board had to crane their necks in order to see what was on it.

In many of the learning modules we use with our students, their final step is to teach someone what they have learned. Before moving the large whiteboard, students shared small student whiteboards, which they had to crowd around. They would also use the main whiteboard. This worked, but oftentimes space was limited due to mini-lessons and small group teaching I was doing at the front of the room.

After pleading and a little bribe of homemade chocolate chip cookies, my teammate's husband graciously came in and made the tedious move. Not only did I get the board lowered, I moved it to the opposite side of my classroom. I now have a nook of empty space that is begging for the company of 4th and 5th graders.

The board looks great and serves its purpose. Students have free range to use it when needed. They have complete access from top to bottom with supplies and manipulative at their level. This was by far one of the best revamp ideas for my classroom.

Tools Within Their Reach

I enjoy watching my students problem solve. How wonderful it is to see that spark in their eyes when they have worked out their own solutions! For this reason, and for my sanity (having 35 kids ask me where things are every day would drive me over the edge), I created a place to store the classroom essentials.

On one side of my room sits a long shelf created to house computers. The shelf covers ¾ of the length of my classroom. I love this area because underneath it there is a long and open space large enough for students to access. Originally, used this space to store my classroom center items and used the shelf above for subject materials. Because these centers will now be located in our community room, I now get to use the space for other purposes.

This really worked out in my favor because of the "no permanent" seating arrangement. The drawers act as lockers where students store their tools and supplies. Students have access to portable desks, which they use often for small group instruction and sitting around the classroom. Our classes do a lot of switching throughout the day and the portable desks are key to quick and easy accessible seating.

Another great tool students love are the privacy boards. I made these by cutting science fair project boards in half. These are great for independent work days when kids do not want to be disturbed. This area also houses clipboards, extra art supplies, and reading phones.

Having tools within their reach is a great way to teach students independence and problem solving. If students are aware of the expectation (we go over this often), they use the tools appropriately. It is important to note that these are all things that kids can get and put back on their own without the help of the teacher. This is one way to help students feel as though they are at the center of their learning.

Lexiled Library

My classroom library has gone through a revamping stage every single year that I’ve been a teacher. How do I set up the books? Do I go by genre? Do I go by author? Should I let the kids do it? I’ve tried them all. This year, using the Book Wizard tool I’ve decided to put the majority of my books together based on their lexile. I’ve started from a low to a high and put a sticker on each book to identify what the level is.

One thing I added to the library this year is a large amount of nonfiction and historical fiction books. Besides correlating with Common Core, I want my students to comprehend the difference. We will also be creating book reviews connected with Augmented Reality and QR codes. This is a project that I will share about in a later post.

Again, my library is at the level of my students. The books are both easy to get to and easy to put back. The check-in and check-out procedure is all done on a Google form that I have a parent volunteer check weekly.

Creating a library space where students have full access and understand the layout is essential to their ability to apply what they know.


The last wall I’d like to share with you is my “Weekly Wall.” This wall is where students go to work on activities that are assigned on a weekly basis (Weekly Grammar, Problem of the Week, and Paragraph of the Week). A large portion of work that my students do is at the independent level. The beginning of the year is spent scaffolding and going over procedure, but by October we are getting into the swing of how our classroom works. Last year I posted all three weekly activities on my back wall. It was an area in my classroom with a lot of wall space. The problem with this was there was too much information in one space. Students were scrunched together at the back of the room and there was lots of chatter. It didn’t work as planned.

This year I have made the attempt to spread the weekly activities throughout the classroom. One wall houses each weekly. This gives students the opportunity to move around the room. It also gives students choice. If a student sees more than five kids at one wall, they know they need to choose another wall to work on.

Community Center

Our Community (Common) Room has been the “Flip this House” of the summer. My team and I researched ways to create spaces that were geared toward student learning and success. One area we knew was lacking vision was our Common Room.

The Common Room is shared among four teachers within it and two on the outside of it. It is a great area of space for many reasons: students can use it for group work, parents have ample space for volunteering, and teachers can join classes together and team-teach lessons. We have used this common space for all of these things, but never had much organization to it. The walls were decorated but not with anything specific. There were areas for students to work, but nothing designated or purposeful. Parents had space for volunteering but their location changed often.

Our goal this summer was to revamp this space and we did it! We started by taking out everything that was inside since we all used it as a storage center. We cleaned out every cabinet, drawer, corner, and shelf. We then created a blueprint for what we wanted to use the space for. We wanted a place where students could dig deeper into their learning. We wanted a place where they could access manipulatives and other hands-on learning devices to find a better understanding in any subject they needed to approach.

We divided the Common Room into centers. Each of us took on the challenge to bring our assigned center to life. In the end, the Common Room now has a Science, Math, Reading, Writing, Art, Media, and Volunteer center housed inside of it. Every corner has been created with student learning in mind.

These are just a few of the ways I took my classroom space and made it more student-friendly. “How does this help the students in my classroom learn?” is the question I often ask myself before making any decisions on my classroom setup. When the kids are physically in the arrangement, I re-evaluate what I have done. I ask the same question and decide if I should keep it the same or try something else. As with lessons and classroom instruction, you adjust to the needs of your students. The important thing to always keep in mind is only make changes if that change will serve a purpose.

What are your tips for classroom set-up? How do you create a space that is student friendly? Please comment and share.





Comments (18)

I found an interesting article that speaks to making a classroom more student-centered and it has 5 really good points teachers might consider when attempting to refine their strengths. It's @ http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/12/24/ctq_powell_strengths.html


I like the idea of this article, i was wondering what the results over the years are. I believe that teaching students through data is huge. If we take this one step further i feel like this can be even more productive, i like how you track week to week goals and yearly goals. I feel like the next step for this would have to be getting the rest of the teachers in your school to take apart of this. Though you are making great strides if you can influence others it can become an objective that others can follow suit with.

This article is possessed with style and I am giving good compliment.

A year later, I'm looking through ideas for my middle school classroom. Lots of great ideas here; thanks! What do you mean by "portable desks?"

Hi Wendy,

The portable desks are the lap desks that kids can use while sitting on the ground. They sell them at Michael's. I bought mine for $5.00 each. At the end of the summer they mark them down. This would be a great time to go in and see if they are available.
The kids liked the portables because of how easy it made for moving around the classroom and even outside of the classroom. They are made from a plastic material that is light, easy to carry and easy to clean. I felt like they were a great investment.

Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.

Thank you for reading!

Hi James,

Thank you for reading! The room setup was finally where I felt was beneficial for student learning. It was very open with endless possibilities. That chair does look like a time-out chair. How funny! (That is so not me)
It is actually a chair for students and possibly a teacher to use. It is sitting next to a whiteboard I had lowered so students could have complete access to it. That little nook on the side of my classroom was used for small group learning and mini-lessons either given by me or by students.

It is obvious that your classroom is student centered and student friendly. I am going to borrow your concept of the common rooom .

Hi Rhonda,

Student-centered is the theme of the year. I'm glad the pictures are demonstrating the concept. If you'd like me to send more pictures of the Common Room I can. We took quite a few before and after shots.

Thank you for reading!

Wow Kriscia ~ Your room looks amazing! I love how you respect the students and let them choose where they want to sit. I like what you did with your room arrangement. I always believe a little homemade cookie bribe gets the job done! Lol! Great job!

Hi Allie,

Thank you! I love the set-up. There is so much open space and room for on-the-carpet learning. Even the older grades like to come down for mini lessons. Homemade cookies are key!

Thank you for reading!

Your classroom looks great! I love the idea about kids not having permanent seats. Not only will students get to know each other but they will also have to keep their space neater. Are you finding Your students seating in the same seat or are they moving around? I'm interested in how you will use book reviews and Augmented Reality ( not sure what AR is?) Will you be writing about this activity in the future?

Hi Ana,

I love the varied seating. Students are moving around the room for the most part. I have a couple of kiddos that tend to choose the same area. In this case, I've created an expected "choice" around their seating. For example, I might put on the board in the morning, "Sit boy/girl" or "Sit on the opposite side of where you sat yesterday". Augmented Reality is similar to QR codes except the bar code is the actual visual itself. I will be sharing more about this awesome app in a future blog.

Thank you for reading!

Great post--interesting ideas about the seating. The privacy boards that you are talking about--could you go into that a bit deeper? What do they look like? When you said you cut them down from science boards--you mean horizontally or vertically? Trying to get an idea from that?
The rainbow drawer--where did you get that?
Thanks for sharing--great start for the year!

Hi Kate,
Thank you for reading. The privacy boards were a great steal from The Dollar Tree. I bought a few and cut them horizontal. This way they could still have the three fold, which helps them sit on desks and still creates a separation for the kids. There is a huge "expectations" piece that I go over with my students regarding how they are to be used and why.
The rainbow drawer came from Costco. I purchased my sets a few years back. This is a good time to check because of all the back-to-school shopping.
If you'd like a better visual of the privacy boards, I can send you a picture.

I hope you have an awesome school year!

Great post! Loved the pictures and the tips. Can't wait to see what you write about next week!

Thank you Brian! I'm looking to forward to Monday as well.

Great post, Kriscia! I want those lap desks so much! I have the same navy plastic "baskets" from the Dollar Tree that I see in one of your library pictures. Don't you love them?!?!?! How do you like the rainbow-drawer set that I see you have under the counter next to your lab desks? I'm thinking about purchasing one.

Thank you Lindsey. The portable desks are AMAZING! The kids love to use them around the classroom and outside the classroom when we allow for free time. They are on sale right now at Michaels because of the season change. The Dollar Tree baskets are also great. The kids are really getting a kick out of having no desk and it keeps them organized. The rainbow drawer set is great for personal art supplies. I like them because they don't take up too much room and the drawers are easy to take out and move around while students move.

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