Classroom Layout Tips from Experienced High School Teachers

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Setting up your high school classroom can be a challenge, but these veteran teachers have figured out how to appeal to their students and make learning engaging on a budget.

How to Find a Winning Classroom Layout

Setting up your classroom layout is as much an art as it is a science. You must keep the students engaged and interested, while limiting distractions and ensuring you - and they - can move about easily. If you've been struggling to find the right layout for your high school classroom, don't despair. We tracked down some veteran teachers who had great ideas for classroom design on a budget. They've set up winning classrooms without fancy equipment or big bankrolls and kept their students engaged and learning.

Flexibility is King

Pernille Ripp, an upper elementary teacher and author, emphasizes flexibility and freedom when planning her classroom layout. Students can move their chairs as they need to in order to focus on the lesson and work in groups. She also recommends tables instead of desks to facilitate those large discussions. This gives her students the space they need to work independently while allowing plenty of room for projects.


She also has an entire bulletin board dedicated to artwork, news stories about former students, and inspirational quotes. This spotlighted section of the classroom makes it clear to her current students that she is invested in more than just the lesson plan for the day. They matter to her, and they are important. This format is also easily adapted to the high school classroom.

Think Outside of the Lineup

Diana Ellis, an English Teacher at Chantilly High School, makes the most of her tight space with a non-linear desk placement. Her layout allows her to move between the desks and encourages students to interact with one another during class discussions. By placing the desks in a rough Chevron shape, students can make eye contact with most of their classmates, discuss lessons, and see the board when Diana moves to the front of the room to lecture.


Diana's unique setup also lets her take students aside for individual instruction as needed without disrupting the rest of the class or losing sight of what's happening. Because of this, she can provide extra support and still respond to other struggling students when the need arises.

Brighten it Up

The team at EdTech Review provide a simple and inexpensive tip for better student engagement: lighten it up. Bright colors and unique textures in the room, as well as more light, helps reduce student eye fatigue and can help perk pupils up. The site also provides a helpful infographic showing several desk layout designs that they say can increase student engagement by as much as 45-percent with no more effort than it takes to slide a table to another part of the classroom.


Simple adjustments, like reducing clutter when and where you can, they claim, can also help students stay focused and get the most out of the limited classroom time they have.

Have Fun with Décor

Elizabeth of the website Sam and Scout, a mom, teacher, and blogger, is enthusiastic about keeping the classroom fun - even for the upper grades. Elizabeth uses bright, fun decorations, clever storage ideas, and useful planners to keep her classroom tidy. With her approach, it's easy for students to get the supplies they need as they need them throughout the day. Her plan keeps the classroom friendly and, while it might seem geared more towards younger learners to some, she enjoys being able to change things out and add a little whimsy to the classroom environment.


Plus, with the brightly colored organizational totes within easy reach of the students, they can grab a lab's worth of supplies and take it back to their pod to work. Returning it all when they're done is as easy as picking up the bin and putting it back on the shelf. This organizer keeps the supplies together, ensures that each pod has what they need, and prevents the classroom from becoming a chaotic mess as everyone tries to find the materials for the assignment.

Don't be Afraid to Experiment

Angela Watson, in a post for The Cornerstone for Teachers, offers several flexible examples for classrooms of all sizes and for students of varying ages. Her photos allow us to see the plans in action while she discusses the pros and cons of each, including which are most likely to foster healthy discussion, and which can lead to student misbehavior. Angela encourages experimentation with your space until you have a workable plan that suits your needs. She rotates between four favored plans for her classroom:

  • Stadium Seating
  • Groups or Pods
  • Horseshoe Configuration
  • Combination

Don't worry if the one you like doesn't work for you; desks are movable and rearranging them costs you nothing. Providing your students with the best experience that encourages discussion, cooperation, and growth is the key to success.

Because your students may differ from class to class and year to year, you might find yourself changing classroom layout often, that's okay too. Just because a plan didn't work today, doesn't make it, or you, a failure. Enjoy the process and your students will too.

By Patricia Willis
January 2017
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