How to use flexible seating to maximize your classroom

Flexible seating is one of the hottest new trends in education today. Teachers around the world have been looking at adding exercise balls, couches, and standing desks as a way to maximize engagement and provide a new environment for students to work in.

But the process can be intimidating, and figuring out how to manage your new learning environment can be overwhelming. Here is how to get started with flexible seating, a few of its pros and cons, as well as suggestions based on my own classroom-tested flexible seating environment.

How to set up your classroom

Setting up flexible seating starts with you brainstorming what you can add to your classroom. There are a number of great guides to getting flexible seating started in your classroom (Edutopia and Pinterest have some good starter ideas), but here are a few suggestions I have found helpful.

To start with, the big question is where to find cheap seating. I looked at places that advertised free office furniture (Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can have some good items) and posted on social media to see what my educator friends had around the house. I got couches, chairs, and a dining room table set all for the price of gas in a truck. I was even able to score two treadmill desks from a law firm that was moving to a new location!

Don’t wait until you have a full classroom set up to get started with flexible seating: Adding a couch, a table and chairs, or even a few exercise balls piece by piece can not only make the process manageable but also build your students’ anticipation for what you will be adding next.

The pros

Flexible seating gives students alternatives that can help them learn more effectively. By allowing different seating options, you are letting students pick what works best for them, and since it also offers freedom of choice on a daily basis, students have an investment in the classroom environment.

Group dynamics and transitions can also be effective in a flexible seating environment. Because students can move and pick their workplace, they can get into groups faster.

Students working in groups

The cons

Problem: Apart from writing a grant, actually getting the materials for flexible seating can be a significant hurdle for educators. The search for flexible options can get costly, and it takes time to find the seating you want for your classroom. It is also important to consider wear and tear for future replacements.

Solution: As mentioned before, there are a number of free options on websites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace that can be a great source of cost-effective seating. Garage sales can be another cheap source of seating. (Make sure to think about cleaning and transportation as you find things.)

Problem: Some students can have a hard time maintaining classroom behavior, and having the extra choice about seating can be too much of a distraction. The freedom to move around can also encourage students to group with friends and get off-topic.

Solution: Classroom management will look quite a bit different with students being more mobile. There is a high need to create clear expectations and to hold students to those expectations.

Having clear expectations is the best thing you can do to avoid this concern. Most examples that I’ve seen start with having students in a home row position at the beginning of each class and then giving them the freedom to move around the room based on the activity planned for that day.

‘Freedom with accountability’

One of the features of flexible seating that makes teachers nervous about getting started is that it can seem to lack structure, and there are potential management concerns to address when you allow freedom to move around the room during work time.

The motto I have kept in mind when having students work is “freedom with accountability”: You are allowing students to have a choice in how they work, but the work has to be there in order for that freedom to continue. When thinking of your expectations, make sure you add a component about the teacher having the right to move anyone at anytime. This will allow you to address any concerns immediately and to keep your classroom running smoothly.

Overall, student behavior has improved mainly because they feel invested in a classroom that offers more than basic desks and chairs. Flexible seating has been a recent addition to my classroom, and the tips in here have helped make it a success.

Photo credits: dotshock, Rawpixel /

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