My number one, go to, gotta have it classroom management tool is the humble seating chart.
Why don’t some teachers use a seating chart? Sometimes, I think they are afraid of being “micromanagey”. Or, they want to make sure students feel comfortable in their classroom. Maybe they think it’s not “cool” to dictate where students sit. Or, the most likely reason of all, they simply underestimate the importance of a seating chart.
Here are three reasons I believe every teacher should have a seating chart:
- A seating chart establishes that the primary goal of a classroom is learning. A seating chart is a physical cue to students that the purpose of the time spent together in the classroom is not to improve your social game. This is a different environment with a specific desired outcome of learning. Students choose who they sit with at lunch, where they congregate to talk before school, and who they text after school. A seating chart signals to students that this environment is different, and encourages them to adjust their behavior accordingly.
- A seating chart is a tool to redirect student behavior. Let’s face it, where students sit matters. Some have a substantially easier time focusing when sitting in the front of the room. Some need to not be sitting next to so-and-so, because the two of them together leads to mischief. And students don’t make their own seating decisions with the goal of optimizing their learning opportunities. That’s not typically what students are looking to optimize, if you know what I mean. So, as the adult in the room whose goal it is to ensure students are learning, use the gosh darn seating chart as a tool. Seating charts are easily adjusted as dynamics change.
- A strategic seating chart makes students interaction and group work easier to facilitate. In my classroom, we do a lot of partner work. I am constantly asking students to work through a problem with a partner, explain what they understand to a partner, check answers with a partner, etc. Getting into and out of partner work needs to happen smoothly and quickly to prevent loss of class time. The seating chart is a big part of making that happen. When creating a seating chart, I strategically plan for partner work. Having the right partners makes this time so much more effective- if I put two students who don’t talk much together, that’s probably not going to work out. Likewise, if I put two students who lack confidence in math together, partner work becomes less effective. A fast finisher with a slow processor, another recipe for potential disaster. But, when students are thoughtfully placed together, it just takes an initial set up with students and after that they can quickly get into their appropriate group for group work , and easily transition back when that task is finished. I can’t even imagine spending time each time I want them to work with partners to find who they’re going to work with, move around the room, and then finally get started. Way too much down time for my liking!!!
Tips for a seating chart that works
A few things that help me in making my seating charts:
- Understand that you’ll need to make adjustments, and that’s okay. Despite the most thoughtful planning, sometimes the seats you’ve so carefully selected for your students just don’t work. Make the necessary changes quickly and without regret.
- Change the entire seating chart periodically. Changing periodically allows students to work with different students and can keep things from getting too comfortably casual.
- Plan for group work. What will group work look like in your class? Set seat assignments with that in mind. As I said earlier, I plan primarily for partnerships, but that may not be how you organize your class. Invest the time while planning the seating chart in setting up groups for group work, and save yourself the time with the class roster the night before each group work assignment creating and recreating groups for group work.
- Number the seats. This helps students quickly find their seat the initial time it’s assigned. Plus, in my classroom this allows me to quickly get students into larger groups for games/projects, etc. There are six groups, each bearing the number of the first desk in the row (1-6). One other great option is to use desk numbers to call on students using a random number generator. By using desk numbers, you don’t need to import multiple lists of names for different sections, and you won’t need to worry about updating it when students move in or out of your class.
I can’t imagine teaching without a seating chart. Even when I work with a group of students who will only be with me for one week (as part of our reteach time- groups rotate among teachers) I still make sure to take the time to create a seating chart. Maybe there are some that think that’s excessive, that I’m a little over the top, or that it’s not really necessary. But, I didn’t start the year doing it with these groups and quickly regretted it. I can’t even tell you how much better things flow now that I have a set seating chart for the week, or how much teacher stress it takes off me. I really believe that investing time up front with this simple tool frees me up to spend more instructional time doing the work of teaching and giving feedback.
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