ELT Podcast

ELT stands for English Language Teaching.

ELT Podcast - The Teachers' Lounge

Subscribe free:

Seating Arrangements in Language Classrooms

Bill Pellowe, Kevin Ryan, Robert Chartrand

Podcast Notes

Today's panel is:

  • Bill Pellowe, Kinki University Kyushu School of Engineering, and ELT Calendar.
  • Robert Chartrand, Kurume University.
  • Kevin Ryan, Showa Women's University, the University of Tokyo and kevinryan.com.
Today's topic is seating.

We have all probably seen large classrooms that are two-thirds full, with the front third of the seats empty. Or, when the number of seats is about the same as the number of students, you might have seen students rush in to grab the seats at the back, then watch as the classroom fills up back to front.

Robert offered two reasons why he would prefer having students sitting closer to the front. When the students are closer to the teacher, it is easier to watch their faces for feedback. Also, he does not have to strain his voice to reach the back of the large room.

Kevin pointed out that classrooms with students bunched up at the back indicated that either the students do not care or the teacher does not care. When Kevin has seen this, often the class is very low-energy; sometimes the teacher is sitting down while lecturing.

Since learning a language is an emotional thing, Kevin said, students have to be more engaged by being up close. Bill added that a large physical distance is also a psychological distance; when there is a spatial gap between the teacher and the students, it is difficult to bridge that gap to reach the students.

Dispersal can be worse in communicative classrooms that require interaction among students. When students are spread out in small clumps, it is more difficult to get them to interact meaningfully with each other.

All problems beg for solutions, and this one is no different. One solution is to simply encourage the students at the back to move to the front. When gentle encouragement fails, Robert suggested drawing up seating charts, or using smaller pictures so that students have to move forward to see what is going on. Robert prefers the softer encouragement, though.

Moving all the back-row students to the front is common, but an alternative is to simply ask the entire room to move forward the same number of rows. This preserves the original positions of all the students (thus respecting their choices) while addressing the main problem.

A quick way to rearrange the students is to simply scramble them. Robert likes to move students around so that they can talk with different partners. If the classes are not too large, teachers can line the students up by giving them some criteria for the order; for example, line students up by birthday, alphabetical by last name, and so on, so that they have a task that requires some interaction in English. After the line is complete, those at the front of the line sit in the front row, and all the others sit down behind them in order.

Another way to rearrange students by assigning them to new seats is to count out and give students numbers. If a class has 30 students, then you walk among the students, counting out 1 to 15, and then you repeat that. A more random way is to distribute cards with numbers on them. Then tell the students where to sit. All the number ones sit here, all the number twos sit there, etc.

Kevin recommended an e-book called Learning Spaces from www.educause.edu.

mp3 file
size: 8.4 MB
time: 17:30
Apr 22, 2007

ELT Podcast - The Teachers' Lounge RSS feed

© 2006 ELTpodcast.com. All rights reserved.