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Tips and Suggestions for Open Seating Plans

By Kriscia Cabral on August 14, 2014
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Starting a new school year brings forth such exciting feelings! As you welcome students to your classroom, consider implementing an open seating plan, and offering the kids a choice about where they do their learning.

Last year, I shared briefly about transitioning from desks to tables in my post, "Setting Up with Students in Mind." This was the best decision for the student-centered teaching style that I planned to implement in my classroom. The change opened up my classroom space, while offering students the opportunity to choose where they would like to sit daily.

I convinced a number of my colleagues to do the same. We all felt like the change made a world of difference in our classrooms. We also received a number of questions about what worked and what did not. I wanted to follow up and share questions, concerns, and some tips that might be useful for you when making the switch.

What do you mean by open seating?

The open seating policy can mean a number of things, from choosing where to sit at a table group, to deciding to use a portable desk and sit on the carpet. Open seating puts the choice in the hands of students. I am asking students to choose a working environment where they feel powerful learning can happen.

Did you have any parameters about who sat where?

Yes. When the last school year started, I had a “rule” on the board for the seating policy of the day. For example, “Sit boy/girl,” or “Sit by a birthday pal.” By the middle of the year, and after a continued effort to model and practice the classroom expectations, students were able to come in sit wherever they liked.

What if students could not handle “open seating”?

There are students who need assistance in an open seating format. These students may require more guidance and in responsible decision-making. These students should be partnered next to a responsible peer. Instead of just an open approach, offer these students some limited choices. The option of “choice” still gives the student the opportunity to make the decision of where they will be the most successful.

How do you take attendance if students are always in different seats? 

The first day of school I give each student a number. This is their number for the entire year. I ask them to hold onto the number in their mind, and write it down somewhere so they have it in the event they forget. They need to practice saying it and memorizing it, as well as remembering the number of the person who calls a number before and after them.

We also practice taking a roll call. This is where I say, “roll call” and students respond in order with their numbers. I hear, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . ” If there is a number that is not called, we know that a person is absent, and I can mark it on my attendance sheet for the day. This activity takes about a minute-and-a-half. While it’s not super impressive at the beginning of the year, it’s quite amazing after a little bit of practice. We use roll call outside the classroom as well, for fire drills, field trips, and any other place where I need to check that all are present.

A fun way to practice and encourage students to memorize their number is to turn it into a game. The first time we did roll call I timed the class. I wrote that time on the board. We strove to get faster every time. We also charted our "personal best" for the week, month, trimester, etc. The kids got a kick at how much they improved over time. They also noted those days that they were slower. We discussed possible reasons for this (Monday, after a holiday, lots of absent students, etc.).

Open seating allows students to have a voice in where they sit. The opportunity to choose gives students ownership of the place they believe they can learn best. Imagine never having to make a seating chart again? Think about what you could be doing with that time! It is something to consider.

Do you already use open seating or have questions about it? I’d love to hear from you!

Please share in the comment section below.

Thank you for reading!



Comments (11)

I teach 2nd grade and we have desks in our classrooms. No option to go to tables. Is there a way to do an open seating plan with desks?

I too started open seating and will never go back to assigned seating. When I start to notice students who sit together everyday, I make some changes. I have a bag full of "table numbers" and students choose a number each day and that is their table number. I have also created math equations and the answer will be the table number for the student that day. This just mixes it up a bit and the students do enjoy making the change. This doesn't have to happen everyday, but can be used to mix it up a bit!

Very cool! Please tell me what you do for substitutes, since schools usually want a seating chart available for them.

Love the idea.What about text book or work book storage and distribution? Also pencils, crayons etc.?

Hi Meg,

I put textbooks at the back of the classroom. All the books are numbered in case students need to take a book home. Students also had a storage drawer for their supplies. They would stock up for the day inside a small basket and then leave the rest in their drawer or what they liked to call "locker".

Thank you for reading!

Let me know if there is any other way I can help.

How do you deal with desks and school supplies with and open seating arrangment?

The school supplies are stored in the small drawer spaces underneath the counter. Students gather what they need and then return the drawer. Because the desks are big tables that fit 4-6 students, they don't move much. Students move on a daily basis and the only managing I have to do with the desks is clean them.

Thank you for reading.

Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.


I teach a first and second grade combination class. My classroom had square tables instead of individual desks. Other than for the first few days of the school year or in the (rare) situation when I feel the need to assign seats to establish some boundaries and order - my students choose their own desks.

They choose their "seat for the day" in the morning, and that is their seat for that entire day. The next day they can choose any other new seat, but they need to scramble it up and sit with people they didn't sit with the day before.

At times I'll have two students sit anywhere they want except with each other.

I've had great success with it. When I first tried it, I was worried it wouldn't work. But I love it.

Hi Laura,

Thank you for reading!

This is great! I love that you offer your students the choice every day. I'm sure it makes for a wonderful learning experience for your students.
It can be a bit overwhelming to "let go" of deciding where students sit. Although once you do, there is nothing like it. Students feel like they have a voice in their learning experience which carries over into the effort they put out in their work.

I love how you do this with your class! Thank you for sharing!


I am in love with the idea of "Roll Call!!!!" I will be implementing that immediately.


I love "Roll Call" too! PLEASE come back and share how this went for you. You can also find me on twitter @KrisciaCabral. Students love that "gaming" piece of "Roll Call". It is so convenient and easy to manage after a little practice at the beginning of the year.

Thank you for reading!


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