What’s the Big Deal about Seating Charts?



School design over white background, vector illustration.

Seating charts are a HUGE deal in the classroom.  They not only help control student behavior but also provide structure that is essential to the first days of school.

When I was a new teacher, students were always begging me to switch the seating chart. They were just dying to sit by their friends, or to move to the back, or to sit by the window, or to “see the board better” (of course they could only see the board in the seat next to their best friend).

In fact, I even let 28 sixth graders pick their own seats at the beginning of my first year teaching.  Partly this was due to the fact that the desks were all different sizes, and they needed to find the “perfect fit”. Partly it was due to my own ignorance! What a ticket to chaos!

Changing seats at the whims of students became a real chore. One reason I caved in was because I wanted students to have some choice in the classroom.  Another reason I allowed it was because I liked the change of scenery, too.  Nevertheless, it was a Pandora’s box that I wish I had never opened.

In high school, I do allow students to choose their seats the first day.  Some teachers, on the other hand, elect to seat students alphabetically, or randomly assign seats so that their seating chart is settled from the start.  I allow HIGH SCHOOL students to choose their own seats because it provides me with the following data (that’s the science teacher in me):

  • Who goes to the back corner?  Hmmm…I  make note of this!
  • Who chooses a seat in the front, middle?  Interesting!
  • What groups of girls/boys gravitate to one another?
  • Who seems to be left out of the group and seeks no particular area to sit?
  • Who is very vocal about their choice of seat?
  • Who is very compliant even though they get what is deemed the worst seat in the room?

The old saying, “You can observe a lot by watching,” really comes into play here.  I can start drawing conclusions very early in the year by watching the behaviors of students who choose their own seats.

I do record the first seating chart in pencil and then watch things play out for a couple of days.  It doesn’t take long for me to separate the ne’er-do-wells from one another and bring the shortest students closer to the front.  Students having difficulty hearing or seeing become obvious fairly quickly, and they are moved also.

Interestingly, I find it easier to make observations of behaviors first and then change the seating chart.  To be fair, I do tell students the first day that the seat they choose may or may not be permanent. Then I pose this question: “What seat would you choose if this were a rock concert and I were the performer?!”  Of course that is met with a chorus of groans. :)  If they want their money’s worth, they will probably want the front seats, right?

Once I find a workable seating arrangement–and believe me, it takes tweaking–we stay that way until necessity dictates otherwise.  No musical chairs for me!  It’s too time consuming and disruptive.

If you teach elementary or junior high, I do recommend a seating chart of your own making, but of course, things have to change as needs arise.  If you want to be the “nice guy”, go ahead and let everyone choose where they sit.  But be ready for the fall out…

Be sensitive to the fact that younger students particularly like seeing “their desk” on the first day of school.  It is comforting and reassuring that they have their own private space with their name on it where they can put their things.  I remember my first day of kindergarten in 1964 asking, “Where’s my desk?” only to find that they only had tables. Bummer!

Seating charts also serve several other purposes:

1.  Substitutes will need one for attendance.

2.  If mom or dad comes in after school for their child’s make-up work, can you locate the      seat quickly?  I once changed the seating chart the day of parent-teacher (evening) conferences.  A mother wanted to get a book out of her daughter’s desk, and we could not locate the desk! The desks had no name tags (6th grade), and in my haste, I had not made a copy of the seating chart.  We looked in EVERY. SINGLE. DESK.  I was very embarrassed.

3.  If you have other teachers come to your class for art or music, or a guest comes in to make a presentation to your class, it is very helpful that you either have a seating chart handy or visible name tags on the front of their desks (lower elementary).  

But the BIGGEST reason for a seating chart–classroom management/structure.  Do not underestimate the importance of this valuable tool–especially at the beginning of the school year!