A Classroom Seating Strategy

Heterogeneous is to be diverse in character or content while homogeneous is to be the same kind or alike.  It is very important that we understand those two words and know what we are trying to accomplish before we, as teachers, seat our students.

I group heterogeneously, and I do so in a very systematic process.  It is a technique that was conveyed to me by one of my administrators, who had read it in a book.  I have since tried to find the book to give you the direct source, but to no avail.

To correctly utilize this method, you will need standardized scores for your students from any assessment you would like to use.  We take MAPS tests at our school every fall, so those are the scores I use to help group and seat my students.

You will also need to place the desks in groups of four (pods, rows, etc.) and mark the desks in such a way that every four desks have the same demarcation.  I use four colored dots (pink, green, yellow and blue), but there’s nothing stopping you from using animal stickers, planet stickers, numbers, etc.

Now, how does this work?  Well, studies show that I can bring up my lower students by pairing them with higher students.  Being exposed to the higher-level thinking processes, verbal expressions, and greater growth mindset of other students will often rub off on the lower students and result in some positive and lasting effects.  I need to be careful; however, as those same studies show that I can bring down my highest kids if I’m not vigilant and very purposeful in how I match those interactions. 




This is where the real work comes in to play.  If you’ve ever sat back and watched a dinner party, you’d notice that people tend to talk to those right next to them, on their left or right, or those directly across from them.  But what doesn’t happen very often is for conversations to start up diagonally.  Thus, if we place our highest and lowest students diagonally across from each other, they are less likely to affect one another.  Instead the low student makes connections to the two middle students sitting across and next to them, and the high student does the same.  Using the colors on the pod above for an example, the yellow sticker would be a student from the lowest group, green would be a kid from the third group, blue would be a kid in the second group, and the red sticker would seat the student from the highest group.

Step 1 is to list your students from highest to lowest score
Step 2 is to then split them into four even groups.
Step 3 is to take one student from each group and place them together into a pod.
Step 4 is to arrange your pod following the placement guidelines.

Now let me add one caveat here…our classes are already grouped somewhat by ability so there is not a radical difference between the top and bottom students.  If this was truly a heterogeneous group I would probably want to rethink my seating arrangement some more.

But I urge you to give this type of grouping a try and see what happens with your students and their overall abilities.  If you can raise the scores of your lowest learners simply by having them surrounded by higher learners, then it’s a win-win situation.



5 comments

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  2. I know that this is an old blog, however I want to disagree with part of your grouping. Yes, grouping lower with high will help improve your lower students but placing the dots will assign a stigma to that "not yet" student. No matter the age, students are smart and will decode your system. Why not just group them without placing a color code to them.

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  3. I use colour dots to pass out materials. Blue dots come get the glue for your table. Etc

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  4. Your seating arrangement system sounds a lot like Spencer Kagan's cooperative learning. It's very effective if used correctly and consistently.

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  5. After many years of teaching, later in each year, I had students make the seating arrangement. They talked it out together. Ground rules included everyone had to be willing to try it, if someone thought it would not work, they went back to the drawing board. Another, was that it had to be arranged so they would be able to get along with their neighbors and focus. Putting it on them gave my primary students the power, and they always worked it out.

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