Tips for Creating a Functional Classroom

Sep 20, 2018 by

Environment is everything when it comes to education. Without the proper room arrangement and classroom set-up, students can easily become distracted, overwhelmed or bored. Desk placement, materials, display, and lighting all play a role in creating a productive work environment for students. Here are a few tips on how to achieve the right atmosphere for learning.


No two children learn exactly the same. If you’ve seen several different elementary classrooms, you know that not all seating arrangements are the same. Some teachers opt for individual desks. Others place several children at one table. Some tables are long and skinny while others are round. A new option for seating that accommodates all types of learners is flexible seating. Flexible seating is exactly that, non-traditional ways of allowing children to sit and work throughout the classroom. This could mean using bean bag chairs, large cushions on the floor, exercise balls, and some traditional chairs. One important aspect of flexible seating is to help students determine which seats are best for which activities. For example, a reading lesson can easily be done in a bean bag chair or on a cushion. If the student is drawing or completely a writing or math assignment, they should choose a seat near a table or other hard structure for writing. These are things students will learn and discover in time and you can facilitate this process by making suggestions and using trial and error. Flexible seating is also perfect for students who have a hard time sitting still or work better in different situations and positions.


The best way to keep students engaged and interested is through the use of the materials in your room. It’s important to rotate these materials regularly. After a month or even several weeks, try moving some materials out and bringing new things in. This keeps students curious and engaged in what’s happening. It’s also ideal to have materials in easy to reach places and clearly labeled so that students can use and return items to their proper place. Try incorporating the theme or lesson into the materials you use. For example, during fall, add small pumpkins, gourds, and apples to the science center. Let students weigh and compare these items. Utilize these same materials in art by having children draw them or use cut apples as stamps for painting.

Choose a Focal Point

No matter what seating arrangement you choose or how many interest areas your classroom has, it should have a focal point when it comes time to instructional teaching. For many teachers this is the white board in the front of the room. It’s the area where most of the student’s seats are facing and its where you stand to display important information, show examples, and display instructions. Other classrooms may have two focal points being the front of the room and another meeting area. This is often true in younger grades where teachers still have a morning meeting or circle time. This is usually where a teacher hands out daily jobs, discusses the calender, weather, and days events. These focal areas should be obvious and clear for students to see and get to.


When discussing classroom arrangement, the physical spacing of the furniture and materials is also a key component of a functional room. Students need ample space to walk around and navigate the classroom. If your students are young enough to engage in block play, this interest area should not be placed in a high-traffic part of the classroom. Block play is reversed for a place where students can freely create and build without foot traffic or distraction. Are students desk too close together? Are they too far from the focal point in your room? Shelving units should be large enough to hold the necessary materials but not so cumbersome that they take up too much floor space. You should examine your classroom floor plan the same way you would your home. It needs to be functional, while also appearing welcoming and attractive.

Address Individual Needs

The entire premise of classroom arrangement is to create a space that meets the student’s needs. This might mean adjusting or accommodating students with individual needs or concerns. If you have a student that wears glasses or contact lenses, they might need a seat closer to the focal point of the room. For children with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), flexible seating might work best. This allows them to get up and move around at will or when they feel the need for a mental break. Other students with sensory disorders can easily become overwhelmed or overstimulated by too much activity in the room. This means choosing neutral, calming colors and minimal displays. Store additional materials in closed cabinets, out of view. Simply seeing an abundance of materials can create confusion or anxiety in some students who are easily overstimulated. Creating a quiet space for these students is another great way to accommodate their individual needs. Try a comfortable reading corner with soft pillows and minimal noise that can act as escape when they feel overwhelmed.

Be Flexible

Seating isn’t the only thing that needs to be flexible in a classroom. You need to be open to new and different ways of arranging your classroom. What works one year won’t necessarily work the next. Different students have different needs and learning styles. You may need to transform your classroom to accommodate those needs. If the school’s curriculum changes or you adopt a new method of teaching, this might mean getting rid of old materials and bringing in the new. It’s important to be open and flexible to change when it comes to creating a functional, beneficial classroom environment.

Creating a functional classroom environment is more about just the physical arrangement of the room, although that plays a huge role in student productivity. It’s important to examine the classroom as a whole, consider the individual needs of the students, and be open to change and new ideas.

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