August 13, 2008

Seating Charts?

The seating chart: some teachers love them and use them, others do not. I find them essential. Many teachers seat their students alphabetically (either A-Z or Z-A) in rows. Others use groups of desks, or tables and assign seats after allowing the students to find a chair of their personal preference. Seating charts are VERY USEFUL for the mundane everyday tasks of taking role or handing back work. The biggest benefit is that it helps to learn all of the students’ names quickly. Plus they add a method of organization to the classroom management plan that is tested and proven to work. Here is an innovative and highly effective strategy for creating a seating chart with the kids on the first day of school.

I teach heterogeneous (9-12 grade) high school classes. My classroom contains 36 seats grouped around computer tables (or pods) of 6 workstations each. When teaching groups like this that contain experienced high-schoolers right alongside newbies I believe that it’s important to take advantage of the schism. Therefore I do not allow all the upperclassmen to coalesce, nor do I allow all of the underclassmen to mill around not making eye contact with anyone else. I believe in the strengths discovered in a diverse group so I work hard to take advantage of the diversity in my classes. If you teach strictly homogenous age or subject-alike groups then this seating method might be challenging to implement (but at least it might be fun to give it a try.)

The first item on the first day of school is the taking of role. Second is the seating chart, yes before the reading of the curriculum paper. I like to do the seating chart next because it can disrupt class for a time and I want them settled and paying at least some attention to me when I read through the class rules. Actually the “reading of the rules” takes a couple of days in a computer classroom. Using computers to teach can be very rewarding for both the students and the teacher, especially when plugged into the Internet. However, this also means that there are far more ways to get into trouble, and therefore far more rules then in a standard course.

The first step for setting the seating chart of six students at six pods is to take some class data to the whiteboard. I start by counting up the number of boys and write that number on the board. I then count the number of girls and write that number of the board. I then count the number of students at each grade level and write those numbers on the board. Then we do some math. We divide the number of boys by six to figure out how many boys should sit at each pod. We then do the same with the number of girls and with the four class levels. Eventually we come up with a description of a balanced and diverse group of 5-6 students for each pod. Simple, right? I love math for its logic and clarity. However, applying mathematic results is an entirely different task.

The next step falls solely on the shoulders of the students. They must now arrange themselves in the groups we described. This exercise requires the kids to do something they are very comfortable with in most every other situation, but not on the first day of school with a group of unknown peers: they must TALK to each other (cue the scary music). I actually love watching this part because I get to stand back and enjoy. Most of the time, a senior or two will take control and begin to organize. Sometimes this sorting-out can take a few minutes, sometimes longer. Eventually they settle in and I go around to check accuracy. Only very rarely does a class get it perfect. Most of the time there are one or two tables that I need to balance myself.

Setting the seating chart this way has multiple benefits. First, no one student can argue about their seat, they picked it. Next, it’s a great icebreaker. I encourage peer tutoring throughout the projects we complete in the course. Finally, it also establishes the authority of the seniors in the classroom. I believe that it is important for the senior students to take ownership of their leadership role during their senior year. Senior students can and should be wonderful mentors to the younger students in the classroom and on campus.


  1. Your system is awesome! Great way to set a certain classroom atmosphere from the very beginning!

  2. Hello!

    Your description of how you use seating charts is excellent because it shows a thorough system that is fuelled with your lesson plan. That is great! Many teachers I worked with in Israel used seating charts for two purposes: to know the students at the beginning of the school year and as a "discipline tool."

    You've shown us that there are other sides to viewing seating charts.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    The New Teacher Resource Center

  3. Excellent Idea. I would like to try it, but but I only have one class that is heterogeneously mixed, and my groups would have to be in three because of my lab benches.

  4. Great plan. I just changed all my seating as I usually do in the first few weeks. I like to stay flexible, in case I erred.

  5. I agree that seating charts can be very useful. Personally, I think that by letting the students pick their seats for the first week before making a seating chart would be most beneficial. You can get to know which students work well together and which don't. Also, I completely agree with the part of your system where you put students together with different skill levels. I love the idea of students helping each other with difficult assignments. Each one has their own strengths and are able to help each other. Seating charts also let the students know that you are in charge. It is definitely easier to keep good disipline in the classroom when you have control of where the students sit.

  6. I believe this is a wonderful setting chart! All teachers should try this out! It gives students the option of where to sit at tables but knowing only a certain amount can sit at one table. Students like setting charts and some don't but I think all students would agree that this is a good plan. Other setting charts may not work but this one sounds like you have it all figured out! Great job!

  7. Wow. Thanks for sharing your great system with us. You've given me some great ideas for a site I recently started with the NIFB Young Entrepreneur Foundation.

    If you get a chance, stop by our site and give us some feedback.



  8. I have to admit, as a student I hated seating charts. I was always separated from my friends because our last names were so far apart alphabetically. However, as a future teacher, I now consider them as a great idea! Making a seating chart will not only make it easier for me to take roll, but it will also help me to remember the names of my students more quickly. I probably wouldn't make a seating chart right away because I would like to see how the students interact with each other first. This would help me decide on the placement of my students, since some students may act differently when they are not partnered up with their friends. But overall, the seating chart now has my vote!

  9. I think seating charts are a great idea. As you learn more about your students you will know which students can seat besides other students. Some students will set bedside friends and never pay attention in class. Having seating charts is a good way to create a nice atmoshpere from the beginning of school. This helps other students to talk to more than just they children they are use to talking too. This helps in their social lifes too.