During my CELTA, I did two writing skills lessons. The first was a disaster: every time I walked in front of a student they would cover what they were writing. Why didn’t I just walk behind them? Well, the room was arranged like this:
so that option was off the table. Needless to say, if you conduct a writing class and can’t give any feedback the lesson is a failure. However, as Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
What did I learn: always arrange the class for the activities your students are doing. If you are lucky enough to have desks/tables that aren’t bolted to the floor, move them (just put them back for the next teacher).
For example, the u-shaped/horseshoe arrangement (pictured above) is fantastic for pair work and activities like “Sprint to the Board” and “Writing Races.” Additionally, the arrangement of the desks provides a large central area for mill drills/mingles/surveys and role plays.
But what if you want students to work in small groups instead of pairs?
If you are doing projects, group work or playing a board game, the cluster arrangement is ideal: it focuses the students’ attention on the members in their group and creates a common space for them to work communally.
But what if you want students to work individually?
When you need students to work individually (like when giving a test/practice test) or focus on what is going on in the front of the class (presentations) the traditional arrangement really is best:
- no one has their back to the front of the class (cluster arrangement)
- no one has to crane their neck to see the front of the room (horseshoe arrangement)
- students are spaced further apart so the temptation to cheat should be lower
- additionally, if you only use the traditional arrangement for exams/presentations, the arrangement reinforces the purpose of the days activity – students know this set up is for “x” not “y”
One last thing,
As for my second lesson, I kept the horseshoe but asked the students to:
- stand up
- grab their desk
- drag it one step forward
- sit down
By having the desks one step away from the walls, I was able to walk behind the learners and monitor while they were writing without making them feel self-conscious. Why do I mention this point? I’ve heard people say you can’t do “x” in such and such environment. Truth of the matter is you can do lots of things in several environments – you just might need to tweak either the activity or the arrangement a bit to make it work!