Seating Arrangements and Cliques

Q. It seems that every year I have an annoying group, a clique of about four students who just won’t stay quiet. They’re not mean kids, and often they are very bright, but they visit too much. Ideas?
A. It is advised that we do not implement a seating chart until about the third or fourth day of class. Why? It is because when we allow them to sit anywhere in the first week, we can identify any cliques. We must know who the cliques are before we can do anything about them.
We advise sitting students alphabetically after we have identified the cliques, starting with that usually on Monday of the second week of school. The alphabetical seating sends the message that the cliques are not being broken up on purpose by us, which can breed animosity in teens, some of whose middle names are Animosity. There should be no visible planned attempt by us to separate kids in social groups from their friends.
If the alphabetical seating still allows two loose cannons to be in close proximity of each other, I pull the plug and just seat them in places where they cannot see each other, in the four corners of the room. When they complain, I just look them in the eye and smile and say that I have worked too hard at teaching to allow students to talk while I am teaching, and to not take it personally.
Clique Member 1 soon forgets about Clique Member 2 if Clique Member 1 is in the furthest most out-of-contact seat in the room from Clique Member 2. By the end of the second week of school, the clique kids are so far apart as a result of my meticulous pre-emptive planning that they are a non-factor. Any social group that tries to hang together after a few weeks, thinking that I have forgotten about the seating chart, meets the same fate – the kids become separate entities in my classroom and any new group that tries to form is broken up immediately.
Of course, the best way to make this plan fail instantly is to forget your seating chart amidst all the other stuff we have going on in those first weeks of school. Many teachers change seating charts periodically, at the end of grading periods, for example, but we advise against that if the class is happy and well-behaved. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. You don’t want to invite new problems.
It is also a good idea to make sure that we can put a name with a face as early as possible in the year by studying the student pictures in the grade book pages of the computer. Classroom Management 101 is to know all the students’ names by the end of the first week of the year. When you are the first teacher to greet them that year as they walk into their various classrooms, it makes an impact, especially in many of the faceless school cultures that exist these days.
It is also a good idea to learn at least one thing about each kid from their Card Talk cards or Matava questionnaires (kept in class), and do that also by the end of the first week of the year. Each little mention by you of something they do might be the only time in their day when someone expresses an interest in their lives. When we send the message to kids that each one of them is important to us, we contribute to the idea of our classroom as a community and not just as a place of learning.
Focusing primarily on who the kids are and what they like to do at the expense of content during the first weeks may seem somewhat off the mark to some teachers. But I maintain that if it is not done there will be little teaching of content later on. Conversely, if it is done, the academic atmosphere is assured.

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2 thoughts on “Seating Arrangements and Cliques”

  1. I have done birthdays from Jan to Dec from left to right. I have them in little sections but not labeled or anything. I have had to do this to reset a class a few times.

  2. I don’t tell them but I put on my thinking face and seat boy/girl in elem. Then I reseat/shuffle every so often claiming that I want everyone to get a chance to rotate to the front row!

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