Flexible Classroom Seating Middle School

Flexible Seating in Middle School

While experimenting with flexible seating in my eighth-grade English classroom, I came across a video about how to overcome writer’s block by working in a box castle. I immediately thought of this.

We don’t have enough space for cardboard castles, but I could set up “box castle lights” and allow students to rearrange furniture to create writing forts in their classrooms. It was a huge hit with my students! For an hour, they turned tables upside down, built forts out of their chairs, sat on carpet squares to keep their feet warm, and wrote nonstop. They were delighted to clean it up at the end of class and to repeat the process during each extended writing period. My district made a commitment to flexible seating the following year, equipping every classroom with a variety of seating options, including chairs on wheels.

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The introduction of flexible seating into the classroom can cause confusion, but with careful planning and clear expectations, our students will rise to the occasion and use flexible seating to improve their own learning environment. Here are some of the approaches I’ve used to deal with classroom management in a flexible setting.


In order for me to take attendance, go over the agenda, assign homework, and provide direct instruction, my students begin each class period in assigned seats that are arranged in rows facing the front of the room. With classes of students arriving and departing throughout the day, the seating chart ensures that each group gets off to a smooth start. It is recommended that you have seating charts in your classroom, even if you teach in a self-contained classroom and can easily take roll regardless of where your students are seated. This will ensure that when you are absent, your students will be familiar with the seating expectations and that your substitute will know who is who.

Assigned seats also address a problem that is often overlooked by many students: the social anxiety that comes with walking into a room and not knowing where to sit. Where have all of my friends gone? Who will agree to let me sit next to them on the bus? What happened to that kid who keeps making fun of me?


In order to work in the most comfortable and productive environment possible, students are encouraged to move their desks (or to a different type of workspace) following our start-of-class routine. They are frequently given the option of collaborating with other students. This includes the ability to relocate once more if their current location is no longer suitable for their requirements.

Seating options that are adaptable include:

Traditional chairs with attached desktops or tables are used for working.
Standing in front of bookcases or tall tables
Gaming while sitting on gaming rockers or stools, or on carpet squares on the floor, or even on the ground outside (weather permitting)
At low tables, people sit or kneel on pillows to work.
Comfortable seating such as beanbag chairs or couches is encouraged; however, some fire codes only permit fire-resistant fabric seating, so check with your administrator.
In work nooks—corners created with bookshelves and walls—people sit on the floor to do their work.
You may allow students to use headphones to listen to music while they work if you think it will benefit them (to block out distractions).


It is essential that we are clear about our expectations if we want our students to be successful in a flexible learning environment. Is it true that they can sit wherever they want? Does this include the tops of tables as well? What about under the tables? And what about one’s own actions? Do our expectations change as a result of the seating arrangements? Lessons and activities to introduce my students to my expectations, including those regarding seating arrangements, are part of my first week of school. My students need to be aware of the following after we begin each class session in assigned seats:

They may move to specific options under the direction of the teacher.
They may collaborate with others and converse with them while working under the supervision of the teacher.
During working hours, they may be relocated to more suitable environments for them.
If they are causing disruption or are not performing their duties, they may be relocated.
Occasionally, we must go back and review our expectations, and in some cases, make changes to meet those expectations. For example, I noticed that students would roll their desks back against a wall so that I couldn’t see their computers’ screens when they were working. I didn’t want to assume they were distracted, but I couldn’t assist them with their work if I couldn’t see what they were doing on their screens. Consequently, we implemented a rule that required them to sit in such a way that I could see their devices’ screens when they were working on them.

Desk Olympics are a fun way to teach students how to rearrange their seats into various configurations while having a good time. Furniture on wheels makes it easier to transition from rows to partners to groups to a whole-class discussion circle, but the transitions can be noisy and time-consuming. We practise moving into the various formations while racing against the clock to see how quickly we can complete the task. Extra points for remaining silent!


What about classroom management in a classroom with a flexible seating arrangement? Do some students take advantage of their freedom? Yes, without a doubt. Is it true that some students have some of their seating privileges taken away? Yes, for the time being. However, after three years of working with middle school students at all levels in a flexible environment, I can say that the advantages outweigh any management issues that may arise. Students respond positively to the freedom and responsibility that they are given, and they work diligently to ensure that they retain those privileges in the future. But, of course, we teachers must plan carefully, communicate clearly, and be fair and consistent in enforcing the expectations we set for our students. Plan your transition to flexible seating with the following tools:

A seating chart and routine for the first day of class
Expectations for behaviour are clearly stated.
Guidelines for where and how students may work are provided.
Consequences for abusing the availability of seating