K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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A Traditional Classroom (see floor plan)

A traditional classroom is often set with the desks in rows, the teacher’s desk or table somewhere in front of the room, and student desks moved far enough apart to prevent easy wandering of eyes during tests. This arrangement packs desks into the room efficiently and lets student have easy access to their seats, but it certainly does not have to be the default room arrangement. The learning environment should be designed according to learning objectives and desired outcomes not just habit or a janitor’s best guess. However, this arrangement is probably the best for controlling behavior, ensuring that there is space for you to walk, preventing cheating on traditional testing days. Here the role of the teacher is a policeman.

Discussions & Debates (see floor plan)

Discussions, debates, and many other interactive classroom activities, where the whole class is looking and listening and contributing, probably work better if the students’ seats are somehow facing each other. Some teachers find this arrangement of two sides with an isle down the middle (like Congress) works well. Put the teacher’s desk in the back of the room to get it out of the way. It’s still within easy access to grab a stack of handouts, etc. The role of the teacher here is kind of like Speaker of the House.

Variation: Horseshoe (see floor plan)

A variation on the bicameral (two sides) arrangement is the Horseshoe. Remember, though, every arrangement should be made based on what you want the lesson to accomplish. Both the bicameral and horseshoe arrangements work well for handing out stuff. The role of the teacher seems to be coordinator and collaborator in these classrooms.

Centers (see floor plan)

If students need to work with more materials than fit on their desks, or with shared materials, centers are a good option. You can set up the various centers around the periphery of the room while allowing space for students to get back to their desks if necessary. In this model, the students should be able to complete the center activities mostly on their own while the teacher circulates to trouble-shoot and observe. (Adapted from Getting Started: A Guide for Beginning College Instructors, University Division, Indiana University.)