Designing for educational environments

Choosing a Seating Arrangement

Setting a positive scene in the teaching and learning environment can improve both your own behaviour and that of your pupils.

(Optimus Education)


Different seating arrangements can encourage various forms communication. Expect students to have a range of learning styles; naturally there will be the more outspoken students and the more reserved/quiet students. ‘Using a variety of seating arrangements can increase rapport…allowing students to practice and achieve various learning outcomes effectively.’ (Arntsen, 2012)

Classroom seating patterns

U style

  • Great for getting around the class and amongst your pupils.
  • Good visibility for pupils.
  • A standard pattern so pupils won’t worry about finding seats.
  • Traditional and business like.


  • Rowdy classes will communicate with each other across the room.
  • Not very conducive to group work.
  • Those sat at the front ends are facing the board at an angle.

Herring Bone

  • Works well with a large classroom, as long as it’s not too narrow.
  • Good visibility for all pupils.
  • Teacher can walk up and down the spine.
  • All pupils are facing the front, which is good for ‘chalk and talk’ teaching styles.
  • Those at the edges are less isolated than if straight rows are used.
  • Easy to join desks together for group work sessions.


  • Back row brigade! Need we say more?
  • Harder for the teacher to move along the rows.
  • Favoured by the ‘strict and scary’ teachers?

V style

  • Great for visibility.
  • Great for teacher / pupil contact.
  • Less formal than the U-shape.


  • Takes up loads of space – best with a small group.
  • Not ideal for group work.


  • Great for group work.
  • Informal – encourages pupils to participate in discussion.
  • Easy for the teacher to circulate.


  • Some pupils will have poor visibility and may even have their backs to you.
  • Lack of attention and chatting can be a problem – harder to control behaviour.
  • Encourages pupils to sit in friendship groups, which doesn’t always help create the ability or social mix that you need.


  • Encourages everyone to get involved.
  • Great for debates and discussions.
  • Lots of teacher and pupil contact.
  • Friendship groups less obvious.
  • No barrier between teacher and students – teacher can use their body kinaesthetically.


  • Not easy to set up with rectangular tables!
  • There may be a scramble for seats and momentary disorder as pupils face an unexpected seating pattern.
  • You’ll probably have to move the furniture before and after the activity.

Lecture style

  • Good visibility and acoustics for all.
  • Space-effective.
  • Good for traditional teaching styles.


  • Difficult to have personal contact with all pupils and if you bend over to help someone, your bottom is presented to the row behind you!
  • Restricted views for the back row.


The ADHD Classroom

‘The ideal ADHD classroom combines the seemingly contra­dictory attributes of consistency and flexibility, a consistent predictable setting which provides much structure, limited distraction and flexibility in addressing each student’s individual learning style’ (Detweiler et al. 1995, p. 5). Such classrooms would have the following characteristics:

  • Small class sizes – ten or fewer children – with a teacher and one support assistant.
  • A room with four walls and no open space leading into other classrooms.
  • No changing of teachers. Subjects always taught in the same order.
  • Soundproofing of rooms. Few distractions.
  • Daily individualised programmes and weekly schedules on each desk for easy access.
  • Separate study booths, or offices, for each child.
  • A ‘time out’ room near by.
  • A fan in each study booth, to be used by students to block out extraneous noise.

Multi-sensory rooms

Multi-sensory rooms offer a range of experiences involving sight, sound, touch and smell, and are particularly suitable for students with complex physical, sensory and learning needs (DfE 1992).

These rooms can be used for relaxation. A white room is designed for deep relaxation and offers soothing lights and comfortable music.

 A dark room can offer those visually impaired students with some useful residual vision a chance to react to visual stimuli in a dark environment where the contrast is at its greatest and the visual stimuli can be controlled (Gerald 1998). Light and sound effects are controlled by switches which students with complex needs can be taught how to use, thus giving the student a sense of control over their environment. The use of such multi­sensory rooms can be linked to National Curriculum assessments such as Key Stage 1, Programme of Study: ‘Controlling and Modelling: recognise that controls are integral to many everyday devices’ (Shaw 1998).


Further Reading