Classrooms do not make the teacher, but the teacher should make the classroom.
Something about a space, the way it feels, either helps or hinders a class. When it’s just right we think, “something works about this room”
Here are five standard set ups and accompanying pros and cons:
The Cozy is a semi-circle of chairs with you standing or sitting so that everyone is facing you.
This is great for a combination of discussion and lecture. If you like a bit of to and fro but not too much then this is the set up for you. It works with groups no larger than you can fit in one semi-circle.
Avoid having a back row. Any seating plan with a circle, even a semicircle, has people in it and people outside of it.
You also have to work to create a semi-friendly atmosphere. Too friendly and it will become pure discussion, not friendly enough and everyone will wish there was a back row.
The traditional classroom set up in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a bad rap. This set up can be used well, but requires motivated students and an interested teacher.
Everyone in the Ferris is next to someone but has a personal space. The space should be big enough to fit a person–you–between each chair.
The Ferris gives students options. Friends drag their chairs closer to each other and loners have an excuse to remain in isolation.
If you like lecture and have highly motivated students the Ferris works, but the trick to the Ferris is movement and personal attention. You can move among people entering their space and personally answering their questions. In other words don’t copy Ben Stein.
Set out tables in a large square with you at one position and everyone else around the tables looking in.
The UN set up encourages large group discussion, focus on the text, and allows for note taking.
It can be, well, a little serious.
Set out several separate tables and organize students into small groups each with their own table.
The best use of this set up is discussion and project work, but it does not work if you need to talk for any length of time.
The Den is a set up of minimal order, should use various furnishings, and be as comfortable as possible. Sofas, beanbags, benches and just a spot on the floor all count as learning stations.
Dens work because they are informal, relational, creative and allow teachers to teach to the soul.
The downside of such informality is that it can create a cliquy atmosphere and make a visitor feel excluded.