Psychology of seating plans

There’s no magic formula in a classroom seating plan, but it's easy to get it wrong. Here are some tips, taking human psychology into consideration.

There’s no magic formula in a classroom seating plan. There’s no such thing as a perfect arrangement – but it is easy to get it wrong. Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Patel, CEO of Innovating Minds, offers some advice to schools…

Classroom seating plans are complicated. But like so much else in education you need to define your objectives. You must think about the individual needs:

  • Is the child with ADHD better sitting right in front of you? That way, you can keep an eye on them. Alternatively, by a wall where they only have one child beside them?

  • Is it best to have a child who experiences sensory overload in a quiet area? Either on a separate single table or put with a small sympathetic group who may provide support?

Seating plans should not just be about dealing with incipient discipline problems. Also make sure every pupil is going to get the best out of the lesson.

Seating plan options

Girl-boy-girl-boy seating plans. These are popular. However, if boys are surrounded by more able girls, they risk becoming more introverted – and will achieve less. Generally speaking, during their secondary years, girls are more vocal and have a wider range of language registers than boys.

Mix up different ethnic groups. At the beginning of the academic year, especially children in year 7, like is drawn to like. In many classrooms you find the louder lads sit together; or an Asian girls’ gravitate to the same table. It is your job to mix it up, so they work together and learn from one another.

The ‘naughty table’.  Grouping together children who are inattentive or, setting a class into ability groups is not good practice. Lumping together the ‘problem group’ of young people who have behavioural issues is a bad idea. This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as they feel labelled and judged from the beginning

Top tip: don’t be afraid to ask a child where they would feel most comfortable in class, especially one with recognised mental health problems. This is not about allowing the child to take control. It is about working together, so the child can access the learning.

The complexities of human relationships in the classroom and who sits where is far too important to be left to chance. Flexibility becomes the key to building a successful classroom seating plan.

There is no single recipe for success, many teachers have had to change their seating plan during the year. See our post on improving children’s concentration.

This is where technology comes to the rescue. Teachers could spend hours laboriously moving bits of paper round a grid. It’s very time consuming and not possible to easily share this information with their wider group, so the effort and results often went unrecognised.

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