George Lucas Educational Foundation

New Teachers: Designing Learning Environments

For new teachers, this resource compilation includes tips and guides on classroom design and layout to help maximize the possibilities of the learning environment.

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Graphic of design tools

The Importance of Classroom Design

Why does the physical design of classrooms matter? Mark Phillips discusses this question in "A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms" and offers examples of and resources for turning impersonal spaces into student-friendly havens of learning. For further inspiration, VideoAmy has compiled some videos to help you begin to conceptualize your classroom vision in "Five-Minute Film Festival: Classroom Makeovers." Be sure to take a look at the resource list at the end of her post.

Learning Zones, Seating, and More

For advice about seating arrangements, bulletin boards, and other considerations, Todd Finley has written a helpful overview of some factors to consider related to your classroom design, including information about the research, and links to video tours of exemplary elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Explore all these tips and videos in "Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces."

One specific method you can use to organize classroom space involves organizing the learning space into discrete zones with different purposes. Learn more in Veronica Lopez’s "7 Learning Zones Every Classroom Must Have." Consider printing out the 7 Learning Zones poster as an offline reference.

Other Factors to Consider

Does your classroom design take into account opportunities for student creativity? Rafranz Davis discusses how providing students with manipulatives and art supplies can bring excitement, engagement, and elements of a Makerspace into the classroom. Learn more in "Embracing Student Creativity With a Wonder Shelf." Kevin D. Washburn also explores how a variety of available classroom materials can spark exploration, learning, and enrichment in "Looking Around: Creating a Learning Environment (Even Without a Teacher)," from SmartBlog on Education.

Are there any environmental distractions or issues that might derail student attention or make it difficult for particular students to hear or see classroom activities? Ben Johnson discusses how important it is to think about classroom acoustics in "Auditory Awareness: Are Students Hearing the Lesson?" For some additional tips on environmental factors to consider, including information about other potential distractors and lighting considerations, also see Erin Klein’s "3 Quick Tips for a Beautiful, Brain-Friendly Classroom," from Scholastic.

Already working in a classroom and want to explore options for modifying the layout? Several Edutopia bloggers have explored tips and tricks to rethink and remake classrooms. Check out the following posts for help getting started:

Additional Resources

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Gloria Mitchell's picture
Gloria Mitchell
Middle school teacher

Love these resources. One of the tips that resonated for me: Erin Klein's caution against too many printed/written materials on the walls. I've seen elementary school classrooms that were clean and organized, yet full of visual clutter -- you walk in and every wall seems to be calling for your attention in five different ways. For a young student trying to focus on a lesson or an interaction in the classroom, I imagine that this kind of environment could be quite difficult and distracting.

Michelle's picture
Educational Consultant

Some twenty years ago, I took a class in environmental design at UCLA in order to improve my classroom. When I applied to my district, the LAUSD, to petition for credit towards my salary points (how teachers increase their education and salary), the district DENIED my credit. I guess I was just ahead of the curve. Wonder if they will now give me the credit retroactively? Hahaha.

Cindy Laurin's picture
Cindy Laurin
Home schooling three children in Ben Lomond Ca.

Take a look at how Montessori classrooms are set up......can we have a feature article about that? Feature some other types of educational models besides traditional?

Megan Loiselle Forti's picture

Could someone please help me with my classroom set up. Either in person or through pictures? The cabinets are from the 70s - yes, bright orange. A drawer is missing and the doors don't close! At least we're getting new carpet this summer...because there is asbestos underneath it. The actual physical space needs help but I could use advice on alternative seating and how to arrange desks to maximize interaction. I'm saving this article to look through more thoroughly. In the meantime, if you are willing to help, my email:

Russ Ewell's picture
Russ Ewell
Parent of 3 and Android + iOS Educational App Developer

I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of writing on Edutopia, but the diligence you have shown is impressive. Tackling classroom design at first seems less than a top priority, but your article demonstrates a fact, which is design can set a teacher up for success.

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