Monday, 4 January 2016

Teaching 101: Setting up your classroom.

So you've landed your first teaching job! Congratulations!!! But now reality is setting in and you can see the seemingly endless tasks that need to get done before the kids walk in to your class on Day 1! So where do you start? Setting up the physical space is the logical place, as this is where all the magic happens - but after trawling through Pinterest you're overwhelmed!!! As someone who has set up a new classroom 4-5 times in as many years (and in as many schools!!!!!), here are my tips:

Your classroom is where you'll be getting to know the individuals that you'll be educating, where they'll learn a thing or two (hopefully) and where they will get to know you! The organisation of your classroom directly affects how students behave and learn and it sends a message to the students, parents and anyone who enters your classroom. Through furniture, books, desk placement, learning stations and general organisation you can communicate the values and 'tone' for your class. To create a positive classroom environment you are going to need to consider the following: desk arrangement, equipment placement and decoration.

Desk Arrangement:

"Seating arrangements which allow the teacher to see the faces of all students at all times have been associated with increased academic engaged time" (Askew. 1993. et. al. cited Konza, Grainger, Bradshaw. 2003. p25). 

When considering the arrangement of desks/tables, you will need to ensure that it meets the needs of your students and compliments your teaching style. Tables in rows, small clusters, large group and U-shapes all have their advantages and disadvantages; each will encourage certain behaviours and discourage others. 

Single Rows
Single rows are useful for teacher demonstrations and independent table work. This is a more formal style of seating arrangement, and encourages less students-to-student interaction. I HIGHLY recommend this style in the first few weeks of teaching your new class as it allows you to easily engage with eye-to-eye contact with all of your students, provides easy monitoring of students and is recommended until students learn to develop greater self-management skills.

 U-Shape desk arrangements offer students the chance to engage in eye contact with one another and group discussions can be facilitated, but the distance CAN mean that there will be less chances of private conversations. Tables can be easily moved for group work when necessary, yet seating plans can still be implemented.

Double Rows

Doubles Rows, of groups of tables where students are facing each other provide more opportunity for student interaction and talk - while some lessons require this type of interaction, off-task interaction is more likely to occur and it can be harder to gain eye contact with students. This layout ensures that students don't have to physically turn around to see the board or teacher.


 Clusters, or work station arrangements, require students to have a high set of self-management skills. It is a great set-up for creating a cooperative or 'group' feeling amongst the class. It is harder for a teacher to engage eye-to-eye contact with all students and monitor student activity, and students loose their individual space, which can be an issue for some students. This arrangement is NOT RECOMMENDED if you have a difficult class or management problems are an issue.

Some things to consider when deciding on desk placement:
  • Make sure ALL students will be able to see you and the board from their desks;
  • Allow aisle space so that you can work with individual students if required;
  • Create as wider walkways as possible so you and the students can move around the room easily;
  • Place centres, work area tables and storage around the perimeter of the classroom;
  • Consider where students will keep their personal belongings;
  • Where will student notebooks, folders, stationary etc. be kept and how will it be accessed.

Student Placement:

When you begin the year or term, seating students in alphabetical order and/or in a boy-girl/boy-girl order will give you the opportunity to establish control over the class as well as the chance to get to know your students. Once you feel there is a good sense of control and self-management by students, you can start letting them choose who they sit with - this gives ownership and responsibility back to the students. If they muck up, then they loose the privilege of sitting and working with their friends.

Changing the seating is an excellent way of re-establishing control or when you want to establish new working patterns when commencing a new unit of work. 

Equipment Placement:

Before rushing out in the post-Christmas sales and buying a tonne of stuff on sale, check with your school with what equipment and resources you'll have access to. You may have a SmartBoard or you may have to stock up on the chalk and whiteboard markers! You may have access to a class set of iPads or laptops, or you may have to book in time at the computer lab. Contact your supervisor or grade partner and see what you will be getting and what you need to get yourself.

The next thing is to then consider HOW and WHEN you'll be using each piece of equipment or resource. You may want to store certain things out of the way for occassional use, such as art supplies, maths supplies and sports equipment. But other things you may to have out on display and within easy reach for you and your students, such as notebooks, books in your class library, and stationary items such as rulers, a sharpener etc.

Organising your equipment is just as important as organising the students'. Your first year will probably seem the hardest because you'll be creating lessons from scratch and establishing your style. Create a filing system that will hold your programs, lessons, worksheets, assessments and extra materials. This filing system will offer two benefits: you'll be able to draw and add to them as needed, and you'll also be able to access them quickly and easily if you or a colleague are planning the same unit. 

Finally, locate the electrical outlets, internet point and technological devices such as projectors in your room so that you can decide where to store and best utilise the equipment - the location of your desk may depend on where the connection for your computer and the projector is. 

Room Decoration:

As a new teacher, you may feel pressured to prove yourself by creating an elaborate looking room with some bright, bold and unique room decorations. BALANCE is the key here! Create a room that is visually appealing and stimulating but doesn't take up your valuable planning time or creates a distraction for students. 

Bulletin Boards are a great way to create wonderful visual displays in your room - but remember, they should serve an instructional purpose by illustrating a lesson concept of display students work relating to the unit being explored. Consider the following to get the most out of your wall space and boards:
  • Plan what will go on each board. Take measurements and gather materials you will need (i.e. borders, paper, velco dots or tacks etc.)
  • Have several boards to house permanent displays and important information such as class rules, class jobs, the calendar, rewards, behaviours, schedules and announcements, birthdays etc.
  • Consider using one or two boards as areas for maths, literacy or a unit of work, but leave the rest to display student work.
If you want to get some room set-up and decoration inspiration, check out The School Supply Addict as she's put together a great selection of some amazing rooms, and check out my Classroom Displays Ideas Pinterest board for inspiration.

My next blog in this series will focus on Behaviour Management, so be sure to come back and see what strategies work for me, and read about others that may work for you! And remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!


  1. Thankyou Christie, great information in your blog. I love looking around at what others are doing this time of year in their classrooms. Im new to blogging and I am enjoying reading other teachers blogs..really enjoyed your classroom decorating tips!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Francine! Glad the information was useful! :-)