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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour. Tom is the author of The Behaviour Guru, a specialised behaviour guide which includes content from the TES forums.

Seating plannning

‘The loudest boos come from those in the cheapest seats.’Chinese proverb

Where you place your students will have a profound effect on how they learn. Of course, that’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation, demonstrable by the simple experiment of nailing them to the ceiling and see how well they conjugate verbs. But assuming you let them sit at desks, on the ground (you softy), the best thing a teacher can do with a new class (and sometimes, with an old one that has learned bad habits) is to put them in an order that assists the lesson rather than ruins it like woodworm. Cooking a fried breakfast will illustrate this: break an egg in a hot pan, and scrambled deliciousness follows. Break it a few inches to the left of the pan, and your dear spice rack will suffer a glossy anointing. See? Seating plans are just like that.

  1. Have a seating plan. - Don’t think that you’re being groovy and inclusive by allowing them to sit where they please: their pleasure will often revolve around talking to people they like. Children will be delighted for a fraction of a second at your undemanding behaviour regime- and then, forever after, they will simply howl whenever you then attempt to adjust it to suit your needs. Start off with a seating plan, because chidren are only human.
  2. Speak to people who already know them - form tutors, SENCOs, probation officers etc- and ask them for their advice. Then remember that it is only advice, not an instruction. You do as you jolly well please if you feel you can make improvements; but tread softly. Check out the SEN register to see if there are any kids who present challenging behaviours or have special needs. Talk to the member of staff in charge of more able students, if your school still possesses such a thing. Failing that, have a look at their tested data, to give you an idea of what you’ll be walking into.
  3. If you don’t, or can’t do that, then draw up a sketch of your room - (and I’ve seen these range from computer-aided masterpieces that looked like a storyboard from Avatar, to napkin after-thoughts) and then allocate names to each station. I find that boy/ girl is a useful combination, breaking up friendship gender groups instantly. This is harder to do in single sex schools. Alphabetical seating plans are a fair and easy way to ensure some degree of randomness. Don’t forget that you can change the seating plan at ANY time throughout the lesson and the term.
  4. Never let them decide where they sit. Never let one person move because they’ve been nice for a day, or as a bargaining chip for a naughty pupil. The rest of the class will howl at your weakness.


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