George Lucas Educational Foundation
Learning Environments

Photo Essay: A Flexible Seating How-To

A middle school teacher gives you a peek inside her classroom. Look for ideas on how you can begin to transform your own room.
Multiple images of workspaces in the author’s classroom
Multiple images of workspaces in the author’s classroom
The author has organized a variety of sitting and standing options for her students.
  • 1.3K shares
  • 4 comments
  • read later Bookmark

I was reading children’s books to my eighth graders, using the stories to reinforce literary elements, when a student asked if she could sit on the floor at my feet. “Like story time in elementary school!” her friend shouted. Some students jumped out of their seats, pushed the desks to the back, and crowded around my chair. Others chose to stay at their desks, but pulled them in close behind those on the floor. And so my journey into flexible seating began.

Students sit on carpet squares in the classroom and outdoors.
Students sit on carpet squares in the classroom and outdoors.
Students use carpet squares for comfort, indoors and out.

I had recently replaced some carpeting in my house, so it occurred to me to ask if the flooring store might have old carpet squares we could take off their hands. In exchange for a letter thanking them for the donation, I brought 35 carpet squares into my classroom. I stacked them on a shelf in the back of the room where students had easy access to them. And then I discovered that students know a lot more than I do about where and how they can work comfortably when they have a carpet square between them and the hard floor. They sit in corners with their backs against the wall; they sit (or lie) under tables; and they work outside on sunny days. The freedom to choose and move seems to lead to better focus and longer stretches of time on task.

Students sit on the floor in class while working.
Students sit on the floor in class while working.
Some students find they work best when they build a writing fort.

A couple of years later, when my students were writing for long blocks of time during National Novel Writing Month, I found a video that suggested writing in a “box castle” to get through writer’s block. We didn’t have room in our classroom to build castles out of cardboard boxes, but we could flip some tables and get creative with our space. Turns out eighth graders love to work in their own forts.

Students work while sitting or standing.
Students work while sitting or standing.
Students can use bookshelves as standing desks or as backrests.

And then came the standing desk! I didn’t have the room or the means to bring in real standing desks, but I did rearrange my bookshelves to create standing options and work nooks. Students also like to sit on the floor and lean against the shelves.

Students move their desks to work together.
Students move their desks to work together.
Traditional desks can be organized in rows, in a big circle for a whole-class discussion, or in clusters for group work.

Once flexible learning environments caught on, our district gave every classroom more seating options, including chairs and tables on wheels. We had always moved furniture around when we worked in groups or had a whole-class discussion, but with wheels we now move more easily—so we do just that multiple times a day, depending on our work needs.

Two photos show students in a flexible classroom.
Two photos show students in a flexible classroom.
A flexible classroom allows for multiple seating options at the same time.

I still have 32 desks in my room, so I don’t have space to add many furniture options. More important than changing the furniture, though, has been the realization that given some choices, students can find ways to work that support their individual needs. They sit in desks and face the front in assigned seats for attendance and direct instruction, but during long work periods (especially writing), they have some freedom to move around and get comfortable.

For ideas about classroom management in a flexible seating environment, see John Thomas’s post on working with first and second graders and my post on middle school students.

About the Author
Share This Story
  • 1.3K shares
  • 4 comments
  • read later Bookmark

Comments (4) Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Conversations on Edutopia (4) Sign in or register to comment

MJ Nairn's picture

I was very intrigued by the title of this post and noticed all the different places that the students could choose to work. But then I noticed that with the exception of one photo showing a child holding a pencil, every other photo showed students in front of screens. Even the kids outside sitting by the curb in the sun were in front of screens. I hope that there is a balance of screen time and F2F time in this classroom (there probably is), but I would have liked to have seen some examples of learning in flexible seating options that did not include devices.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Hi, MJ! Most of these photos were taken when my students were participating in NaNoWriMo - they work all of the fall semester outlining and writing novels. They have traditional spiral notebooks and do a lot of their planning with pencil and paper, but when it comes time to write, they use Google Docs. No matter what medium they are using, and whether they are working solo, with a partner, or in groups, they have a lot of flexibility in where they work. We try to make sure our students are learning how to speak face to face, to work in collaborative groups, and to also work collaboratively in online spaces, where they learn safe and appropriate digital literacy skills. Unfortunately a few pictures don't show all the variety.

Brittany's picture
Brittany
Working towards becoming an English teacher!

I love this idea! Reading your post is very inspiring to me as a a soon-to-be teacher. Can't wait to incorporate flexible seating in my own classroom someday!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.