Desks in a row.
Learning Environment

Rethinking Desks in Rows

While the conventional practice of arranging desks in rows forces students’ attention to the front of the classroom, many experienced educators advocate alternative seating arrangements that encourage dialogue among peers.

Seating arrangement is an important element of classroom design that can enhance the way educators prepare students for the world. Once thought to be necessary for teachers to maintain control over the classroom, organizing desks in rows is now being seen as archaic and ineffective. Rather, educators prefer desks arranged into clusters or a semicircle for a more collaborative learning experience.


Why seating matters

A recent study shows just how influential student seating can be on the learning process. It found that when problem solving and analysis is approached as a group effort, students internalize the knowledge rather than just memorize it and regurgitate it for an exam. Additionally, more interactivity in the classroom builds social skills.

Students are not the only ones who stand to benefit; teachers report feeling more involved and connected with their students when seating is more conducive to group discussion. To further the sense of openness and community in the classroom, many teachers have found it beneficial to sit along with their students rather than stand during instruction.


Alternative arrangements

Here are two desk arrangements that teachers have found to be most effective:

  1. Semicircle – Desks in a semicircle or U-shaped formation will allow each student to see every other student. Education World reports that as a result, “each person’s ideas are given value in discussions,” encouraging more students to voice their opinions and take part in the lesson. The more perspectives, the better!
  2. Clusters – Grouping desks into clusters is a great way to facilitate student collaboration. Alisha Sleeper, a Middle School Math Teacher from Ohio, is a proponent of the grouped desk arrangement, referring to them as “pods”. She sets up her classroom with pods of 3-4 desks, aiming for 4 whenever possible as it enables groups to be split evenly. Sleeper said, “The pods are arranged so that I can get around every group. The easier it is for me to get between groups, the better.” Many teachers allow students to self-select their groups and encourage them to switch groups often.


Saying no to rows in the classroom can facilitate a better learning experience for both students and teachers. Experiment with different desk layouts to find what works best in your particular space. Do you have a go-to arrangement you’ve found to work well?

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