Classroom configurations

Light chairs and fold-away tables make it easy to reconfigure rooms quickly.
Consider the following layouts:

Cabaret Style

Standard Cabaret is the default layout for the University’s teaching rooms and sets a new benchmark for room density (space per student).Protocols encourage staff to leave teaching rooms in this configuration at the end of class.

The standard cabaret style typically uses clusters of tables for 4 or 6 students. Extra chairs can be added for when classes are full. The configuration allows for the lecturer to work from the front of the room for key interventions and also to work amongst groups.

The approach emphasises students working together. The table space is ideal for students using personal IT, having small group discussions, running post-it note or card sorting activities, or for making flipchart posters.
The use of flexible seating ensures that students can position themselves easily towards other focal points in the room, for example following the teacher for introductions, briefings, clarification, short presentations and demonstrations.

This layout is well-suited to Resource-focused discussion, Flipped classroom, Critiquing and Problem-based learning teaching approaches.

Active Learning Lab

This active learning classroom “X”-shaped configuration can be achieved easily. In this view, the classroom seats 32 students who can work in groups of 8 or 4. It supports a variety of teaching methods and learning preferences.
There is no teaching wall and the teacher’s primary position is the centre of the room, but as with other active classrooms, the teacher moves between the lectern, the whiteboards, the students working in groups, and this central position. The technology in the room is best controlled via a handheld Blutooth controller.
Everyone has clear sightlines to digital and analogue content.
In this view, two portable LED screens have been included and situated across two corners of the room through screen or projection options will depend on what is available in a particular room.
Whiteboards are shown on three of the four walls and table orientation creates space for whiteboard working.
Small team (4s) breakouts occur at each table cluster in the classroom. Options for comparing workings across expanded groups of 8 can be achieved without the need for students to move to another location. Face-to-face seating encourages student engagement and team collaboration.

Boardroom Style

The boardroom layout is formal and should be used with care. The density of the room is not as great as in most of the layouts. It has two purposes:

  • Simulate meetings, especially to support decision-making activities;
  • Create a central space in which to discuss objects or large artefacts.

The space creates a suitable place for student groups who are involved in decision-making.

The whiteboards and other components in the room do not come into play as much. Attention is drawn to the table-based activity itself. The teacher’s role may be at the table ‘chairing’ the activity or may be observing the central activity.

Options – to leave the central space free of tables or to create a fully filled in table surface.

The benefit of leaving the centre free of tables is that participants more easily focus on the table-based activity. The table surface can dominate the space. It is also easier to reset the room after the session.
Extensive table surface is good for laying out drawings and flipcharts; however, this is not a requirement in most teaching situations.

If the centre of the table space is filled in it creates a space on which to place objects for scrutiny and discussion.
The boardroom arrangement can also be incorporated into large project-based learning activities as a briefing, demonstration and plenary space.

Consider whether some students will be disadvantaged by having an obscured views. Participants should be comfortable with the setting and should not normally have to orientate themselves to hear or see what is happening in a discussion. Note in particular, students with hearing impairments are likely to be at a disadvantage in this setting. Circular arrangements can be more effective depending on the numbers in the room.

Discussion Circles

An inward facing circle has similarities with the Boardroom style but immediately loses it formality and confrontational feel. It is ideal for class discussions. Tables will be moved out of the way to the edges of the room to increase the central floor space. Encourage students to leave bags and coats on the tables or hanging up.

The circle can be quite extensive – 25 chairs is not unreasonable. Consider carefully whether you introduce a double layer. If necessary arrange to have students standing or sitting on table edges so that they can easily see into the activity space if students numbers require it. It becomes an be effective layout for role-plays, demonstrations, and ice-breaker type activities.

Consider how note making will take place. Without tables it will be difficult. If necessary assign one or two participants to be observers or note makers recording the activity or discussion using the whiteboards. They can ask for comments or summaries from their peers at key points.

Horseshoe Style

The horseshoe configuration leaves one side of a rectangle open. This is useful in two ways. It provides access to the centre of the group and is useful in pedagogies that use socratic questioning methods with the leader challenging individuals in the group from the central position.

In this model the teacher, or other lead, enters the horseshoe space to engage participants who sit around the perimeter.

This can be confrontational if not used well. However the Socratic method can also be powerful and exciting. While renowned for putting participants under pressure, it can be highly challenging and formative.

The second reason for using the horseshoe layout is to give the speaker a prominent yet open position keeping them close to the learning group. This is ideal for student presentations, seminars, debate, role play and performance, master class or invited speakers therefore.

The layout makes full use of the room encroaching into what was the traditional teaching space. It affords a medium density layout.

Fishbowl activity

Cirlce-Fishbowl Layout with discussion area in the centreThe fishbowl technique involves creating an activity in the middle of the room involving a small group. The activity can be semi-scripted or the ‘players’ can be assigned roles and a problem or situation to discuss. Other students observe the activity and prepare to respond to it.

In this way the small group of students can be asked to adopt opposing perspectives or different roles. For example, they can be asked to debate a particular question or role-play a client-patient type relationship.

They can be given instructions from team members observing the activity (i.e. have seconds to support the main player). It can involve students arguing a case or responding under pressure and observation of their reaction to problems can provide a rich learning point.

Didactic Style (rows)

This is the traditional classroom configuration. Here, the desks are arranged in rows. This is well suited to activities that require the attention of the students to be directed towards the front of the room, such as for lecture-style content delivery, to watch a demonstration / role-play, or view a video.

This layout is well-suited for Teacher-directed learning, Role-play, and also to support Reflection.

 Share Yours

Do you have other ideas about classroom configurations or a link to information you think would be useful?

Key pages on Classrooms