Last summer, June 2014, after the students had finished and gone home, I had one work day in my classroom to finish grades, clean my room, etc. etc.  But when I turned the key that morning, I knew the first thing I had to do was get those desks out of my room. So, for the first hour of that day, grades incomplete, stacks of papers all around, I pushed the desks to the designated “Free to a good home” location.

Desks free to a good home.
Desks free to a good home.

I had been mulling it over in my mind for a while. I had emailed back and forth with Anny Ewing, a TCI teacher in PA and admin of the TriState TCI Facebook group. She ultimately and relatively unintentionally reassured me that I wouldn’t die if it completely failed. Dr. Louise Walker and I had discussed it later that summer at NTPRS Chicago. By the time Louise and I talked, I knew I was in it to win it. But I hadn’t thought out how it would affect all aspects of class. I was scared, even as I pushed those desks into the hallway. I got lots of looks from my colleagues and not a few of the quintessential Minnesotan assertion “Well, that’s interesting…”.

I really didn’t have much of a plan. I knew I’d be using the standard plastic chairs. I knew I would have to find a place for kids’ belongings. I knew this shift would throw a wrench into how I’d managed spaces and bodies in my classroom for the previous 13 years. But I knew I wanted more genuine human to human interaction. I knew I wanted fewer barriers to authentic conversation.

So there I was, pushing. Pushing desks. Pushing the boundaries of the traditional classroom. Pushing my students to understand the experience of school in a new way. Pushing my own limits of comfort.

And I knew if I didn’t get completely rid of the desks, they would creep back in and find a way to keep me from really growing. So out they went.

The first year has been challenging and I wrote a little bit here about how I dealt with some chair and body management issues.

But I’m ready to be more thoughtful and intentional about where and how my students sit (when they’re sitting). I’m ready to think more about what they sit on and why. I’m ready to embrace the #desklessclassroom in a way that says “this isn’t an accident or experiment, it’s how we do things here.”

My next area to explore is special seating.

What I started with:

The chairs I started with are your staple school chair. Hard plastic. Some were blue and green. But there were a few red ones sprinkled in. I had the idea early on that the red ones should be special chairs. In the echelon formation (read about that here) I put one red chair per group of 6. That person, I thought, would be the paper collector for her group. I tried this right away at the beginning of the year. But I was stupid. There were two main issues that impeded success:

1) I was deeply engaged in relearning how to manage a classroom without solid desks. I simply wasn’t able to sustain the special chair idea. I was too focused on other management issues.

2) If you’re going to make a special chair and give a special job to the person/people that sit(s) on that/those chair(s), make it a job a kid wants to do!

So with my energies focused elsewhere, I let it go. But throughout the year, during times of lower stress and preoccupation, I played with this idea. I brought in my English teacher’s green suede wingback chair, temporarily, for when I read pictures books to my students. I brought it in again on what I call “Oprah Day” when I interview students about their families, favorite activities, likes/disklies.

I borrowed another colleague’s zero gravity chair when I taught Anne Matava’s script Lazy. The student-actor kicked back and, you guessed it, was lazy.

All of these experiences created a novel experience in the classroom and served to heighten my students attention and attentiveness.

Simultaneously, I’ve been refining the way in which I assign student jobs. I’ll post more on that later, but suffice it to say, I’ve been more… what’s the word… intentional about giving students jobs that empower them and make my daily job easier.

So, that brings me (finally) to the topic of the day – making seating matter.

My latest acquisition are two sets of five nesting boxes a friend of mine made. These two sets were left over from the order. Here they are:

FullSizeRender (1)


As you can see, these boxes are about 20″ high, each have sanded handles for easy manipulation and range in size from small to large. I see a lot of potential with these.

Here are a couple of my immediate thoughts regarding how to use them in class:

  • Make the biggest one a stage.
  • Let the kid who incessantly drums play it like a cajón as we chant a phrase.
  • Assign the biggest box to the smallest kid and the smallest box to the biggest kid.
  • Line them up and have students guess under which one is the Oatmeal Cream Pie.
  • Paint rejoinders on them and assign the student who sits there with the job of shouting out their particular rejoinder at the right time and with the right tone.
  • Story narrator stands atop one.

My plan this summer is to stain the tops and varnish the sides. I may be dissuaded if I become convinced that there should be words on the sides. It’s fully possible that these boxes do want words on their sides.

But, I’m currently thinking bright primaries, a la La Boca. We probably all need more color in our rooms.

Once their distinguishable by color, I can further assign them to specific people. Perhaps my quiz writer sits on the red one, my secretaria sits on the blue one, the door knocker sits on the loudest one, etc.

But I’m not going to make the same mistake I made last year. I’m not going to start the year with these boxes in my classroom being used as seats. If I do that, I can guarantee that by October they’ll be old news. Nope. It has to evolve. It has to surge organically at the right time, with the right kids, in the right context.

In fact, as I write this, I realize that turned on their sides they could stack and form a unique shelving unit. Imagine, six weeks into class. Kids are beginning to make sense of (and thus be bored by) some of your routines and rituals. You identify the need for a new student job (read up on student jobs here until I can post about how I use them)- the King/Queen of Gestures. You hold an impromptu competition to see which of your students has mastered all the gesture words taught to date and break out the plastic crown. All students applaud and you begin to direct this student to their normal, boring, hard plastic chair. “Oh! Wait! You are deserving of a special chair!” You then grab one of these beautiful boxes currently housing your novels or student binders, carefully remove contents, and set the box down for the King/Queen to sit on, displaying simultaneously the colorful top that had, heretofore, been unseen, pushed up against the wall.

Now that is the way a special seating arrangement should happen. All of that positive emotion of winning the competition, becoming named King/Queen of Gestures, being recognized for the brilliant person s/he is – it all gets reinforced and almost codified by the fact that I’ve torn apart my classroom shelving to create a new, beautiful, and proprietary seat for this special person.

Yes, yes. That’s how I want it to happen. But I also have to remember to be ready to defend that space by not allowing anyone else to sit there. And if they do, I’ll smile and say, “I’m sorry, but that space is designated for the King/Queen of Gestures. Perhaps you could do a special job for me and earn a special seat too. What will it be?”

And, finally, what I love most about these, and why the custodians argue over who gets to vacuum my room in the evenings, is that they all stack up so neatly.

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So, what am I missing? How would you use these? How would you paint them?

Planning #Desklessclassroom Year 2 – Making Seating Matter

16 thoughts on “Planning #Desklessclassroom Year 2 – Making Seating Matter

  • June 18, 2015 at 9:33 am


    Thank you for your post, and I like what you had to say. However, I will start my 3rd year of TPRS and am seriously considering going deskless to promote better communication. But in my effort to learn more, I read very little about the dynamics of the classroom and activities from experienced teachers. (And, yes, I’ve scoured the internet looking for insight). So I would love to hear more on your summary of the year and the adjustments teachers make to this strategy.

    Here is a suggestion for boxes, though. After a month or so into school we have “Happy Unbirthday” or “Feliz no es tu Cumpleanos” (no Spanish characters when in email mode). A student’s name is drawn, and that person is king/queen for a day. That person is honored with un-gifts of praise and compliments and gets the special chair in class. That person also gets special privileges like running errands, passing out papers, etc, if necessary. The king/queen then, after class, pulls the next name and writes it on the board for the next day. My Spanish II students do this activity in Spanish. My rule is “3 students must give compliments about the person and not their clothes, hair, etc.” Then I go last. Sometimes 10-12 might do the encouraging. At the end of the year when we evaluate several students state that this is their favorite activity in class.

    Another box could be for the “It’s your fault today” student. Anything that doesn’t go right in class is that person’s fault. And I use it periodically to help keep accountability for procedures and conduct. The kids beg for it to be their fault. This box is easy to keep in the target language. This is huge when I’m tired of correcting or reminding. The class just howls.

    I also have a “pega la mano” chair as a humorous discipline. That student must pegar la mano and then sit in the chair of shame until someone else does something deemed wrong. Then the students must give commands to the culprit and have a 4-utterance conversation as they switch seats. As long as the interactions are in Spanish I don’t mind the 15- 30 second delays. It’s great for getting the reticent speakers to participate.

    I hope this helps. But I would love to hear more specifics about how you adjusted your instruction and curriculum.

    I am going to the NTPRS conference in July, if you are going to be there. I hope to learn a lot, for sure, because I have no one to bounce things off of here in my district. I’ve been winging it for two years, but I’m loving it.

    God bless,
    Ron Wilber

    • June 18, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Hi Ron, I just finished my second year too. It sounds as if you have done a great job embracing the fun aspects of TPRS. I hope to do better at that next year! I have been too occupied with story-asking and coming up with activities and brain breaks. I would like to hear more about how the “es tu culpa” seat works, in particular how it relieves you when you are tired of reminding?

      I went deskless middle of the year this year and really liked it. Some kids complained because they wanted to slouch. I was able to purchase half-depth 6′ folding tables to put around the perimeter of my room for mochillas and for writing (and for study hall). I had 75% metal folding chairs which made rearranging super easy. I did have a problem with some boys tipping back. I also had, from year 1, a red exercise ball but had trouble managing the boys fighting over it. Thanks to you and to Grant for sharing your class job ideas. I think with better management next year I can figure out how to use the exercise ball appropriately. I also like the idea of the jobs coming about organically instead of assigning them all at the start of the year.

      • June 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm

        Hi, Laura:

        The blame chair is very random. I might do it in every class one day, or it might not happen for two weeks. Students will even come to me before class and ask for it to be their fault for the day. Sometimes if class is dragging I invoke this strategy right away, and engagement increases immediately. I can also make a person the “blame spotter” so that I’m not always the bad guy. It’s really funny when that spotter hollers out “Pega la mano,” and explains why. Then when el culpable protests, the class will often start chanting “Pega la mano, pega la mano” until el culpable accepts responsibility for the actual offender’s gaffe. It is never taken seriously, but at the same time order and participation is maintained…..and “ja-ja-ja” takes over.

        I really don’t remind students a whole lot. At the beginning of the year I stand at the door like Michael Peto preaches, and I repeat the routine with every student until they get it. It slows down the beginning of class, but the students understand who is in charge in no time. This way reminders aren’t necessary regarding routines for the most part.

        But if reminders are necessary I found that “Pagame Cinco” as Craig Sheehy teaches is my best accountability. The whole class responds after a ‘Pagame.”

        The pega la manos are for very minor offenses that just kinda keep everyone engaged.

        I hope this helps.

      • June 30, 2015 at 9:53 pm

        Laura, thanks for your comments! I, too, this year had to take a step back and focus on some basics like you’re saying. That’s what I love about this. It’s a process that depends on our own skill, which gets better with every mistake we make.
        I applaud your courage in going deskless midyear! WOW! That’s some courage! You’re in the great minority, showing yourself willing to make a change you know will lead to greater engagement even though it makes you more vulnerable.
        Maybe that’s what this is all really about for me – vulnerability – that’s where the good change happens, I think.
        So, how will you start the year? Are you going to keep the tables and chairs? Did Mike’s comment give you an idea for the balance ball use? I think that’s definintely an “every once in a while” seat. What do you think?

  • June 18, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    I have one comfy chair among a sea of hard plastic monsters. When I stopped designating it for special students something interesting happened. The kids who would run through the halls to get to my class first and claim the comfy chair were almost always the ones who otherwise would arrive late, or who would sit in back and disengage, or distract. That comfy chair is always placed in the front row of the semi-circles I have facing the stage. Front and center, in fact, yet they still run to claim it.

    Now, just having the chair goes only a little towards building a relationship… so some days they arrive to find the chair folded up in the back of the room. We exchange glances and I smile comically: la silla cómoda necesita descansar hoy. Sometimes I myself am sitting in the chair with a lo siento smile, but other times after they arrive I take out an exercise ball for them to balance their feet on. Really comfortable! It is the daily game that cements a special relationship, especially because this is something that they have chosen to care about.

    • June 30, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      Mike! Yes! It’s the daily back and forth! It’s PLAYful and authentic – hallmarks of real and natural communication. You create a need and desire for kids to understand and respond to what you’re saying. I love it.
      You’ve got something up your sleeve (balance ball) and you shake it up (day off for the chair today!).


      But it comes down to your last line: This is something “they’ve chosen to care about”. That’s it right there!

  • June 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I had the same catharsis when I jettisoned my tables in favor of a classroom with chairs only.
    I love your boxes!
    As an elementary teacher, w/4 levels every day, flexibility is key. So instead of committing to a particular paint color or phrase on the side of the box, how about pieces of fabric that you simply drape over them? I have a lovely piece of gold Lame that I sometimes use as a cape sometimes as a skirt.. You could use such a fabric store remnant for your cubes! A tablecloth or bedsheet would also work. Also the need for certain phrases will change regularly, so I would just use painter’s tape to affix posters to each side.
    For me anyway, I don’t think using the cubes as storage shelves and props all in the same class period would work .…but cubes like yours are common elements in flexible children’s theater- together w colored scarves/fabric…so experiment with them and think invention, imagination, creativity! They could be: chairs, table, building/door, cave, fort, monster/robot, closet, mountain, elevator, stage, shower, bathtub/pool, oh the possibilities are endless!

    • June 30, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      Alisa, thank you for this comment! I love this! I can see my own imagination was limited! A bathtub? LOVE IT. I can just see now the biggest kid in the class with a tiny rubber ducky in one now!

  • June 24, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Great boxes, Grant! I like the idea for giving them to the kid who keeps leaning back in the regular chairs. That’s enough to give me an infarcto :). Did I tell you my chairs now have tennis balls on their feet? Quiet.
    I am also looking at new ways to arrange the chairs. 40 is tough in a small room…love your ideas!

    • June 24, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Louisa, tennis balls are great, aren’t they??? My floor in this room is carpeted, but I’ve been on hard tile and even cement… 40? Wow! Teach out of the textbook for a semester, then your numbers will be more manageable! 😉
      Will we see each other at iFLT? I sure hope so!

  • August 2, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Hey Grant,
    Thanks for posting about the deskless class. I’ve long been contemplating this as something big that I need to do, but never had the coraje. I think I’m ready, the logistics at my school might be problematic but not an excuse.
    Without having tried this yet it seems that if students are comfortable they probably have more goodwill in the classroom.
    Would this work with uncomfortable chairs? Or would it be counterproductive? (the ones I could possibly get are stiff and right angled)
    Should I go for only chairs or tables too? (Tables take up a lot of space and are not very mobile to allow for the different configurations according to the activities). I LOVE this. A very creative solution towards classroom management.
    So without tables, would a clipboard be adecuate enough? (I’m not big on writing)

    When I go deskless, it will be permanent. No one will want to give them back to me.

    ¿Largarse o no largarse a la pileta? Esa es la cuestión.

    • August 7, 2015 at 12:22 am

      Hola, Laura!
      I was exactly where you are, I think. I knew that I had to do it. It was just clear in my mind. HOW to was NOT clear. I knew that if I gave up my desks, I likely wouldn’t get them back. Yo salté a la piscina y no la encontré demasiado profunda.

      My recommendation is to stretch your comfort zone to the extent you believe you can. Think about the logistics of the class and what you’ll need to create the environment you want. I kept a table and an open book shelf for students to place their belongings. The chairs I have are all the same typical plastic chair. Not super comfortable, but kids do manage to show bad posture sometimes. I think stiff and right angled are OK. It will encourage better posture and better posture encourages better attentiveness.

      In the future I’m going to look at replacing my chairs with stools to encourage students to sit upright using their core stomach muscles and hopefully eliminate slouching for the majority.

      For a writing surface I use whiteboards that I bought somewhere online. they serve a dual purpose since kids can write directly on them during certain activities. I was going to get clipboards at first, but Anny Ewing talked me out of it.

      It takes courage, Laura, but I’m sure you can do it!

        • May 29, 2016 at 11:45 am

          Hello Russ!
          For an entire year I’ve been living with the guilty feeling of not writing to you to thank you for your support going desk less.

          In late August the principal allowed me to put all the money I had from requisitions into getting new chairs. That meant no books, supplies, nada de nada.
          But oh has it been worth it!!!
          I LOVE the freedom there is in that room and am NEVER going back to the desk barrier again.
          Most kids were OK with no desks. Some really liked it, some complained, but we all got used to it.
          The worst were my colleagues. People who never ever came into my room all of a sudden made up excuses to check it out, disapprovingly shaking their head from side to side, especially the FL teachers.

          Some lessons learned:
          –Next year I’m going to try not having lines on the floor. I think they have limited the flow. I can always put them back in if things get chaotic.
          –Static has become a big problem. I’m hoping that the used tennis balls I ordered for the feet will help.
          –Writing on the clipboards is a bit more uncomfortable for students, especially if they have to use a reader at the same time. It’s not a big deal though, because I don’t believe in having kids write a lot.
          –It’s not hard at all to do assigned seating just as it wasn’t with the desks.
          –No one can hide. How wonderful.

          If you hadn’t posted about your experience, I wouldn’t have had the courage to make the move. I am ever grateful to you.

          Muy agradecida.

  • August 7, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Thank you very much for writing back AND for the encouragement!
    Now I really want to go forward with this. After reading about your different configurations my trepidations have decreased enourmously.
    I am working on finding chairs now. I didn’t put them in my budget and there are none out there in our district.
    The whiteboard idea is very good too.
    “Yo salté a la piscina y no la encontré demasiado profunda”. Does this means you hurt your head because of lack of water? Or there was enough water that it wasn’t too painful?
    Nuevamente, muchas gracias por compartir y por tu tiempo.

    • August 7, 2015 at 8:00 am

      Ha! What I meant to say was that I took the risk, jumped and didn’t find it so deep that I couldn’t handle it. Let’s do this, now, Laura. It sounds like you’re gathering chairs from different places. That sounds hard. Find the positives and sell them to your principal to garner support in getting what you need. Your principal and head building maintenance person should be willing to help. Maintenance and cost are seriously reduced. I heard from the custodian that cleaned my room that he wished all teachers went deskless. It was easier and faster for him to clean. Significantly so. There are extra chairs somewhere. There always are. With stackable chairs it will be much easier and will look neater at the end of the day all stacked up.

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