There are many different schools of thought concerning seating arrangements in TEFL classrooms. For the most part, these different ways of arranging students depend on various factors. What works for one teacher in a classroom in Korea may not work for another teacher in a classroom in Thailand. One of the largest factors contributing to the different seating plans is the style of teaching that best suits the instructor in question. Obviously, by definition, a Suggestopaedia lesson will be different from a lesson based on using multiple intelligences.
Another large factor to consider is the culture of the country in question. One aspect of culture that changes from group to group is that of personal proximity. One must take this into account before laying out a seating chart. It has been suggested that a formation in the shape of a semi-circle, horseshoe, or double horseshoe (depending on class size) may provide the best learning environment because the teacher is closer to the students and can interact with them easier. While there is no doubt that there is some truth to this, this classroom setup may not be appropriate in all countries.
Other factors a teacher must consider while making a seating arrangement for his or her students depends on the students themselves. Some students are stronger in English than their peers and some are shyer than their peers. Unfortunately, it is also true that the shy and those that do not have as strong a command of the English language often sit next to each other. This is not a good situation to be in if you are teaching an ESA lesson that relies heavily on pair work. If this happens, do not be afraid to ask all of the students to stand up and take a new seat. Do not, however, draw attention to the weaker students. If at all possible, make a game of it or try to tie it into the lesson. If you have run out of ideas, have the students sit in alphabetical order.
I would argue that changing the seating arrangements every couple of weeks is good for the students for several reasons. First, the students are perhaps meeting new people and being forced to leave their comfort zone. Second, if one changes the classroom seating chart regularly, the students will get the chance to hear more people talk, work, and study in the English language.
A teacher must take all of these factors into consideration before choosing a classroom layout and, ultimately, a seating arrangement if he or she is to create the best possible learning environment for his or her pupils.
The idea for having students in a horseshoe or semicircular formation was taken from Richard Watson Todd on TEFL.com
Author: Mike Kleber
Date of post: 2006-07-21