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How-To: Get Started

Setting Up Your Middle School Classroom Rand Briggs

Tables or Individual Desks
What you start out with has a great deal of impact on what you are able to do in your classroom. Tables often limit the flexibility that you need to quickly and easily change groupings. You can usually move the desks around quite easily and put them into various clusters or arrangements as the classroom activity dictates. If you are doing a discussion activity it is sometimes useful to have students face each other from opposite sides of the room. At other times, when you are doing a demonstration or presenting new material, having all the desks face the same direction is the best approach.

Seating Charts
One of the most difficult parts of arranging a middle school classroom is the matter of seating charts. I have found that it is best to start out with an alphabetical seating chart. This gives me time to observe the students and get a handle on the personalities both of individuals and the group as a whole (it also allows me time to learn the names of my students). I generally learn the names of the most verbal students first, and it often takes me longer to learn the names of the quieter students. Since middle school students tend to feel that they are in school primarily to socialize, it can be difficult to find the particular arrangement that gives the students some measure of closeness to their friends, without allowing them a proximity that causes them to be disruptive or distracted during class. It generally follows that when you arrange students, they will be focused for several weeks, until they get aquatinted with their nearest seatmates, at which point they begin to lose focus. This is the point at which I make a few moves to mix the pot a little bit.

I have found it best to make the changes myself, rather than allowing the students to choose their own places. Giving the students too much say in their seat location may have an adverse effect on your ability to keep the class moving in the direction that your would like.

Visuals and Posters
One of the things that I have noticed in my classrooms is that students really like to see things on the walls and bulletin boards. If you are teaching biology or natural science there are many very nice posters available from the USDA Forest Service as well as from your local and state Environmental and Natural Resource agencies. Additionally, many science supply companies have a wide selection of display materials, as do curriculum suppliers for math, social studies, and language arts. Other excellent sources of display materials for your classroom are your local and regional zoos, arboretums, art and science museums.

Extra Books
Sooner or later, one or several of your students will forget to bring their books to class. Creating a consistent classroom policy to handle this situation early in the year is the key to success. I generally try to keep several copies of the text in my room for classroom use only, however when things are going well, I sometimes find that these copies walk out the door. I have known teachers who trade a shoe for a book at the beginning of class, but I'm not sure how well that would work with a group of eighth graders, some of whom are usually looking for a way to disrupt things and get some attention from their classmates. Whatever approach you decide on, set it up early, make it simple and manageable, and be consistent.

 

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