Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Like thousands of other teachers, I find the idea of flexible seating intriguing. Watching students squirm in uncomfortable chairs each school day is reason enough to see that a shift in the way that we design classrooms is necessary. However, like so many other promising ideas in education, being in a rush to implement can create even more problems. In fact, there are some serious pitfalls to be considered before tossing out student desks. In this except from the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I offer some suggestions about creating flexible seating. 

"Although the idea of providing flexible seating options has customarily been more common in the younger grades than in secondary classrooms, it is a concept that is gaining in popularity in all grade levels as school districts recognize the importance of activity and student choice in promoting student achievement. In classrooms where there is a flexible seating arrangement, teachers create student work spaces in place of the traditional rows of student desks.

            Just a quick search of online images for classrooms with flexible seating arrangements reveals the endless possibilities and variations available to teachers interested in flexible seating. In a typical classroom with flexible seating you could find arrangements such as:

·       Soft cushions, bean bags, and chairs of all types

·       Work tables for students to share

·       Cubbies and bins for shared materials as well as for individual student storage

·       A small work space area for the teacher

·       Rugs and carpets to delineate specific work areas

·       Balance balls, wobble chairs, stools and other options for student seating

            Instead of being expected to sit quietly for long periods at a desk, students in classrooms where there is flexible seating can choose to sit, to kneel, to stand, to lean, to lie on the floor, or select another option their teacher designs for them. There are several unmistakable advantages to flexible seating arrangements in classrooms.

In classrooms with flexible seating, students can

·       Choose the work space that appeals to them

·       Learn to make good choices about how to work efficiently

·       Move around and be more active as they work

·       Be comfortable instead of restrained as they learn

·       Remain on task while working because they are engaged and focused

            While the benefits of flexible seating arrangements are unmistakable, there are some important negative aspects to consider, especially for first-year teachers:

·       Other teachers may not be as open to change as you are and therefore not able to offer help and suggestions based on their experience.

·       Switching from a traditional classroom arrangement where the furniture is already provided for you can create storage problems as you eliminate furniture.

·       Your school district may not provide you with the funds to purchase the new equipment that you need, and the cost for many teachers (even those who are thrifty and inventive) can be significant.

·       Classroom management problems may be an issue at first as you and your students adapt to new spaces and ways of thinking about how to work productively.

·       Flexible seating requires experimentation, tweaking, and careful planning at a time when you are already dealing with many other classroom issues such as instructional planning, building positive relationships, and classroom management.

            Despite these negatives, the advantages of flexible seating arrangements are unmistakable. If you decide to use flexible seating, here are a few suggestions to make the process a bit easier:

·       Make changes very gradually and after careful consideration. Add in a shared work space. Provide a comfortable chair or two. As students adjust to these and as you learn how to manage them well, you can then make other changes.

·       Safety should be a first concern. Furniture that has been purchased by a school district has been vetted for safety issues, while furniture you purchase has not. Some districts do not allow teachers to use classroom furniture that has not been purchased by the district. Check with your supervisors about the changes that you are planning to make before you begin implementing them.

·       Expect to rethink classroom management. Different spaces require different behavior. What was unacceptable behavior in a traditional space may not be unacceptable in a space where there is more student movement and interaction.

·       Continue to make your classroom as transparent as possible. Make sure your supervisors and the parents or guardians of your students are kept apprised of the changes you make in your classroom.

·       Consider assigning spaces and rotating students through the different options at first to reduce student conflicts (they are likely to argue over seating choices), to expose students to the various work spaces, and to reduce student anxiety about having to compete with classmates for spaces.

·       Help students make sound decisions about how and where they are most comfortable working. Student choice still requires teacher guidance.

·       Students with special needs, IEPs, 504 plans, or other accommodations that require preferential seating need options that allow for those accommodations. You cannot disregard this when planning new arrangements.

·       Enlist other teachers who may want to create flexible seating arrangements in their classrooms so that you can share ideas and resources.

·       Don’t overspend your own funds. Instead, be patient and look for bargains. If you are committed to flexible seating, work with your district to fund your classroom changes instead of paying for them yourself."

Monday, July 9, 2018

Super Easy Games to Play in Class

Playing learning games with your students can be fun for everyone involved. Students love the energy and change of pace and you get to watch your students engage in the material in new and meaningful ways. Games provide opportunities for interaction, offer immediate feedback, make the work relevant, allow practice, and motivate students to behave appropriately. The time and effort that you spend getting your students ready to learn through games is well worth the trouble.

Before you add games to your mix of pedagogy strategies, however, you will need to prepare your students. Here are a few tips to make sure that the activities work well with difficult classes:

Consider the geography of your room before you begin. Move furniture, put breakable items in a safe place, and plan how you will put the room back in order at the end of the game.

Pay attention to safety. If you see that students are so excited that the competition is becoming too intense, stop play at once.

You should select the team members so that no one will be left out.

Keep a container of numbers or other markers on hand for students to draw from to determine who goes first or to help with other decisions. Dice are helpful as well.

Have students assume the roles of scorekeeper, timekeeper, and master of ceremonies so that you can monitor activities.

Prepare to move your class to a location where they won’t disturb other classes if the game gets noisy.

After a game is over, be sure to ask your students to tell you what they learned.

While there are many sophisticated games available for teachers and students, sometimes it is just fun to have a few reliable simple no or low tech games ready when your students need to experience the material in a different way. Here is a list of some simple, low-risk, unplugged games that students of all ages can enjoy.

Flyswatter Badminton. Use masking tape to mark off a small badminton court. Blow up a balloon and hand each student a flyswatter to use as a racket. Divide students into teams and arrange them on either side of an imaginary net (indicated by a taped line on the floor). As you ask questions, students earn points for moving the balloon across the net and for answering questions correctly.

Quiz Bowl. Set up a tournament of quick questions and answers involving as many of your students as possible. To add interest, vary the level of difficulty, rules of play, way of scoring, and incentives.

Board games. Design your own board game to fit your topic. You can make small boards and photocopy them for students to use in a small group, or you can make a large board for the entire class to use. The tasks you assign your students in a board game can range from simply answering questions to solving problems. Students also enjoy creating and playing their own board games. You can find great ideas for board games at http://www.toolsforeducators.com.

Twenty Questions. Write an answer on a slip of paper, then have students take turns asking a question each until they guess the answer. Keep track of the number of questions that they must ask to guess correctly. In this game, the lowest number of questions wins.

Name That Person, [Battle, City…]. This game is similar to Twenty Questions in that students try to guess answers with as few clues as possible. You should make up the clues in advance. On game day, you’ll call them out one at a time until someone can name the targeted person, battle, city, or another item. x Ball Toss. Line up your students in two teams facing each other. As soon as a student correctly answers a question, that student tosses a soft foam ball to a student on the other team. That student must answer the next question.

Chain Making. This is an educational version of the old alphabet game that small children play. One player begins thinking of an object relating to the unit of study and beginning with the letter A. The next student must repeat that clue and add an object with the letter B. The game continues until students are stumped or until they reach the end of the alphabet.

One Two and You’re Outta Here. Stand at the door at the end of class with a set of flashcards or questions that require quick answers. For a student to leave class, he or she must answer two questions correctly.

Tic Tac Toe. Students advance play on a Tic Tac Toe board by giving correct answers to questions. Make a grid of three blocks across and down for a total of nine blocks. Photocopy so that students can play in small groups. 

Student-Created Board Games. Many students can be very skilled and creative at designing their own board games. Often, they will create games based on such old favorites as Candyland or Battleship using the material they have learned in class.

Sporting events. Divide your students into teams, and use the chalkboard to play games of football, soccer, or whatever sport currently interests to your students. Students advance by correctly answering questions or completing assigned tasks.


Free Power Point Games. One of the easiest ways to find great free games is to browse using the search term “Free Power Point Games.” There are dozens of free templates online for you to download and use with your class. At some sites, teachers even share their own games for other teachers who are teaching the same material.

Boardgames.com (www.boardgames.com). This commercial site offers a large variety of handheld, electronic, and traditional board games at reasonable prices.

Dave’s ESL CafĂ© (www.eslcafe.com). Dave Sperling’s site lists dozens of classroom games, along with rules and suggestions. Click on the “Stuff for Teachers” tab and then the “Games” tab to access the large list. This site has many other resources for teachers, too.

Discovery School (http://school.discovery.com/brainboosters). This page on the Discovery School site offers dozens of brain twister puzzles, activities, and games for all ages and ability levels of students. x Out of the Box Games (www.otb-games.com). This is also a commercial site with a large assortment of games for sale. You can find classic board games, dice games, and word games, as well as newer games