Tips for New Teachers: Assigned Seats


Tip #2: Assigned Seats from Day 1

I think I was the only teacher at my school to do this, but I stand by it 100%. Setting assigned seats from Day 1 really sends the signal to your students that you’ve thought things through, and like Tip #1, you know what you’re doing! It also saves you the hassle of trying to assign seats once students are comfortable sitting with their friends. If you’ve ever taken physics, you understand the concept of inertia.

So now the question – how do you assign seats before you even meet your students? If your classroom has desks in rows, that’s easy. You can do alphabetical order, or even random assortment if you want. But who does that these days? Most classrooms I’ve seen have grouped desks. I had tables that each sat four students. So what do you do then? I’m sure you’ve heard about the idea of heterogenous grouping in your education coursework. I would use that technique. Here’s an example of how I did it, again for a classroom where students sat in groups of 4:

  • Get some sort of data on your students from your principal or whoever can provide that information. I taught 10th grade so I used 8th grade test scores. If you teach in middle school, you can use the previous year’s test scores. If you teach higher grades in high school, use grades from 9th or 10th grade, etc.

  • Separate each class into four groups and assign them a number based on their performance – the top 25% would get a “1”, the next 25% would get a “2”, etc.

  • Make groups of four (assuming that’s how many students sit at each table) where each table has a 1, 2, 3, and 4.

  • Do a sanity check – make sure tables have a mix of genders, check absenteeism to make sure one table isn’t going to be empty every day, ask last year’s teacher if you have a bad mix at any particular table.

Once I’ve made the groups, the next step is to execute it on the first day of class. Here are two ways that I’ve done it. Both work fine:

  • Have students line up in the back of the classroom on the first day. Call each individual student up and show them where they are sitting. This takes a little longer, but gives you a chance to meet and greet each student briefly, which could be good.

  • Display a seating chart on the projector or board and have students figure out where to sit. This is faster, but make sure everyone knows what they should be doing.

Some important things to watch out for when executing this. Prepare an explanation for how you made the groups. Don’t lie, but don’t give the full truth either. I usually said something like: “I grouped everyone in a way where we can all help each other” or “your teacher from last year help me make these groups.” Have a plan for complaints about seating. You can’t allow anyone to switch seats immediately, or everyone will try to get out of it. My favorite way to address this is to tell students that they can submit to me in writing a request to change seats with an explanation. That eliminates all the people who just want to sit with their friends, but the people who really need to (e.g. for vision problems) will do it. Good Luck!


Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.