Designing a History Classroom to Maximize Learning

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

The layout, design, and decoration of your history classroom can enhance the learning experience for your students. This lesson will provide some initial ideas to get you started.

Setting the Stage for Learning

As all history teachers know, the study of the past is much more than just memorizing a lot of facts from a textbook. If this is how your history class is conducted, not only will your students lose interest, but you will find yourself wondering why you ever wanted to teach history in the first place!

But this does not have to be your fate, or that of your secondary school students. In this lesson, we will explore some ideas to spark discussion and engage your students in learning about history. Remember, the more engaged students are on a personal level, the more they will learn and carry with them throughout life.

The Physical Space

Realistically, you may not have much control over what type of classroom you have to work with, or what type of furniture you are allotted. If you are lucky enough to have input here, consider having individual table-type desks with separate chairs.

Best Desk for Flexibility of Arrangement
Student Desks

This type of desk offers several possible set-ups for different activities. Individuals in rows, a large horseshoe set-up, four desks forming a table for group work, and even a circle of chairs without desks. If you have the room set up each day for specific activities, the students will move more smoothly into whatever you have planned.

Depending on the maturity level and behavior of your particular group (and class size), think about having an informal discussion area with beanbag chairs and large pillows. You can set it up so that using this comfortable setting for a group discussion is a reward for exceptional behavior or effort. For a small class, this might also be the area where students watch an occasional curriculum-related video. You have to decide if this much student freedom is workable in your setting.

A separate area for student presentations is a bonus; a small raised platform can serve this purpose nicely. An easel to hold posters made to accompany oral reports is helpful as well.

Computer Access

The study of almost any subject today involves computer access for students. Ideally, you have computers with online access in your classroom. If you can, set up a few computers as private study areas (almost like a study carrel in a library) and a few others as group stations.

Classroom Computer Space
Computer Access

If possible, you want students to be able to work on researching a topic individually and collaboratively. Again, you will need a system to determine who uses the computers and when, and keep tight control over online activity.

Some Extras

This particular lesson addresses the room setup and not specific activities. But there are a few extras that are almost always a hit with students.


One nice extra is a timeline (or multiple timelines) placed around the room. This serves as a visual reference for events students read about in their text. It can be particularly interesting to coordinate multiple timelines, like The Industrial Revolution and The Slave Trade, or The Surrealist Movement in Art and Culture and the rise of the Communist Party. This type of visual resource brings depth and texture to topics that can seem disconnected.

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