A Guide to Classroom Design: Maximize Space and Limit Traffic

May 28, 2021


To maximize space in classrooms of any size, teachers need to be critical of how they design these rooms. Current layout trends are developing into long-term efforts to create functional spaces and reduce infection risks during cold and flu season.

When prioritizing safe design, it can be easy to forget that your classroom can also influence educational effectiveness. While many old tactics for effective and collaborative classroom design are now obsolete due to safety guidelines, we can still use their insights to create better designs for students. Classrooms can support both a safe and effective learning environment.

In public settings, at least 6 feet of space should be the new norm. Teachers need classroom layout ideas that support social distancing and help students achieve academic success.

How to Make a Small Classroom Bigger

Teachers working with a small space often face greater design challenges. Student desks should be spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart — significantly reducing the available floor space for other equipment and supplies. That’s why reducing the amount of clutter is the simplest way to make a small classroom bigger.

Too much visual stimuli can exhaust students and hinder their intellectual engagement throughout the day. When you remove nonessential items from the classroom, you create a larger space where students can focus without distraction. It also becomes easier for teachers to keep their rooms clean and organized. To determine if an item is essential or not, try subtracting it from the space on a trial basis. After a few weeks, you should notice whether the missing equipment was critical for student success.

With more free space, you can better understand what a classroom can become. Pay close attention to the room’s perimeter. In a small classroom, every inch of wall space is a valuable opportunity for innovative design. Determine whether the current fixtures and wall hangings support or distract from student learning.

Each piece of furniture, equipment and even decoration should serve a purpose for students. Make cabinets and bookcases more accessible. Replace simple posters with more educational ones. Remove unnecessary furniture and explore more intuitive ways to organize. Floor space is precious — when this space is limited, your walls can be a significant game-changer.

It’s crucial for students to feel comfortable in the classroom, meaning it’s OK to include some fun in the design! Just avoid letting your overall design become a significant distraction.

How to Arrange Desks in a Small Classroom

In the past, many teachers advocated for flexible learning environments that emphasized mobility and cooperative learning. With social distancing standards, most mobile designs became no longer feasible for student safety. Thankfully, classroom designs can still facilitate effective collaboration — even when teachers must follow safety guidelines.

Teachers who need to maximize classroom space must still create safety-compliant layouts that can support different learning situations. The challenge in most cases is to find a balance between student safety and educational effectiveness.

how to arrange desks in a small classroom

Before the new school year begins, test various layouts and get creative with your ideas. The following tips can help you comply with safety regulations as you map out your floor plan:

  • Maintain 6 feet of space between desks with markings.
  • Follow proper ventilation strategies.
  • Establish reasonable approaches for bacteria prevention.
  • Adopt areas for creative technology use.
  • Consider movable Plexiglas dividers or whiteboard walls.

It is crucial to map out daily routines for your students to design a classroom that’s conducive for the lessons you plan to teach each day. These routines will limit traffic throughout the space, create smooth transitions and reduce infection risks during cold and flu season. Remember, different learning situations may require students to configure themselves in various seating arrangements. Organize your school year so layout changes can still occur, just on a more controlled basis.

While you want to limit day-to-day desk movement to maintain a 6-foot distance, you can still implement changes in the layout at various points throughout the year. Consider the following learning situations that your classroom design can better accommodate with different desk arrangements:

  • Collaborative work
  • Independent work
  • Teacher-centered instruction
  • Small group lessons
  • Large group discussions

Plan your lessons ahead of time so you can arrange desks in the correct position before students arrive. Once you determine an arrangement that fits your needs, place markings on the floor to help students, maintenance staff and yourself maintain desk placement.

When you make layout changes, share how the new design will keep students safe. You may not be able to move desks around as often as you could in the past, but adapting your classroom design throughout the year is still a worthwhile possibility.

Test out and combine the following methods for arranging desks in your small classroom and find a design that’s both safe and effective.

Traditional Desks in Rows

The traditional approach to education places the teacher at the front of the classroom and students in rows of desks. With time, this teacher-centered method became outshined by more student-centered classroom designs that could better accommodate different learning modes.

Today, arranging your desks in rows might be the easiest option for social distancing — especially in a small classroom. If rows of desks are the only option available, you can still encourage cooperative learning with this traditional desk layout. Assign students to teams and adopt creative uses of technology. In this layout, each student is also guaranteed a desk to store personal supplies and materials. Students can easily maintain their space, and teachers can effectively prevent germ and bacteria spread.

Team Groups or Pods

If possible, seats arranged in groups or pods will be more effective for cooperative learning than the traditional design. Divide your class into two or three more manageable groups, with each group having a subdivided area of desks. Seats should be placed in rows perpendicular to the main teaching wall and face away from their fellow group members.

This arrangement allows teachers to address the entire class from the front. When it’s time to collaborate, students can turn in their chairs and discuss topics without moving closer than 6 feet.

Teaching in the Round

Arrange desks around the perimeter of the classroom for this method. Wall-facing desks provide a private space for individual work where the teacher can efficiently make rounds and assist students when needed. Students can pivot in their chairs to face the center of the room — a perfect area for group instruction or student presentations.

If the perimeter of the classroom contains a lot of built-in bookcases, cabinets and cubbies, consider inward-facing desks instead. Limit traffic to any fixtures against the wall by setting designated procedures for when students may approach their cubbies or search for books.

21st-Century Learning Layout

Implement a flexible and modern design where desks are arranged in groups of three or four around the room. Students in each group should face one another without having their desks touch. For additional safety, position Plexiglas dividers or movable whiteboards between each group. An open space at the classroom’s center allows students to access their smaller groups safely.

This layout is ideal for cooperative learning and individual work, though it also accommodates group instruction. Classes that prioritize teacher-centered instruction may benefit from a different approach, however.

5 Small Classroom Design Ideas to Maximize Space

In addition to finding the most efficient desk arrangement, your classroom contains many other opportunities for maximizing space. The following ideas can help you create safe and effective classrooms, even when space is limited.

1. Position Furniture to Create Focused Learning Areas

create floor space to boost classroom efficiency

Any nonessential equipment should either be removed to create more floor space or multi-purposed to boost their efficiency in the classroom. Position bookcases, worktables, filing cabinets and easels to make individual areas for quiet work. These items can still be used for their intended purposes while benefiting students who thrive in a focused environment.

Movable Plexiglas dividers or whiteboard walls are an excellent investment for the classroom. Depending on student needs, teachers can use these walls to establish safer desk arrangements or create focused learning areas. When this equipment is made available to students, teachers can facilitate cooperative learning without putting students in an unsafe situation.

2. Design an Accessible Classroom Library

Deep bookcases require valuable floor space, making them nonessential equipment for small classrooms that must prioritize student safety. Even after removing the bookshelves, teachers can still create a classroom library that supports social distancing and maximizes space. Adopt a more accessible design by displaying your picture books on narrow shelving around the perimeter of your room.

Spread your books throughout the room with their covers face-out. Students can quickly locate the books they want without crowding in close locations for a prolonged period. With shelving around the entire perimeter, your students have more room to spread out. Teachers can limit the amount of concentrated traffic by directing students to less-populated sections of the classroom library.

3. Establish “Homes” for Individual Student Supplies

To reduce the spread of germs and bacteria, each student will need individual supplies. While it is crucial to determine which supplies will need to be budgeted or donated, these materials will also require a place for students to store them. Cost-effective storage solutions may include:

  • Cubbies in each desk
  • Pencil boxes
  • Book boxes or plastic tubs
  • Chairs with built-in compartments

If classroom real estate is small, establish “homes” underneath each student’s desk or chair for folders, books, journals and other supplies. Once materials have been provided, students will quickly learn essential lessons on responsibility and accountability.

Rather than enforce organization, you can model routines and set expectations for students to follow. When a task is complete, you should immediately put the materials in their correct location. Students will learn to put their supplies away when finished, and teachers will have less work to perform at the end of the day.

4. Organize Technology Spaces for Student Work

technology shows students new forms of creativity

Suppose your students have access to laptops, tablets or other technology tools. In that case, it is vital to organize intentional areas in the classroom and in your curriculum where students can use these resources.

Technology can powerfully extend individual learning and encourage group work in a socially distanced setting. Teachers and students can remain up-to-date on assignments, current events and primary source materials. Students will also explore modern methods of researching, collecting and recording data in a controlled environment. When you plan your classroom around creative uses of technology, you show students new forms of expressing their understanding and creativity.

5. Implement Innovative Classroom Technology Storage

Access to technology has become crucial in the classroom in recent years. When each student in every classroom requires access to laptops, tablets or other digital devices, small classrooms must face another obstacle in their design plans. Large, bulky charging carts pose many challenges for classrooms looking to limit traffic — a single cart can take up a lot of space, causing students to crowd in a single area and increase the risk of germ spread.

That’s why teachers need practical storage and charging solutions for their classroom technology.

When it comes to innovative storage for laptops, Chromebooks, tablets and other devices, PowerGistics charging stations offer numerous benefits for student safety and classroom convenience. Their quick deployment is ideal for classroom routines where students must return or retrieve devices safely and timely. PowerGistics charging stations have a sleek, vertical design that takes up less than half the square footage of a typical charging cart.

Each device is stored on an individual tray, and students only need to touch the tray of their assigned laptop or tablet. The products’ excellent cord management eliminates tangled or damaged cords and limits potential cross-contamination. For extra protection against germs, all charging stations are available with an antimicrobial coating. Their streamlined design reduces the risk of spreading viruses, while the additional coating slows microorganism growth on the surface.

All PowerGistics charging stations have a space-saving vertical design that can transform with stands, rollers or a wall mount. Teachers can adapt the PowerGistics charging station to fit any classroom design. Small classrooms will benefit from a technology storage solution that can mount to the wall or stand out of the way. You can position the charging stations on either side of the room to increase social distancing and reduce congestion in a tight location.

Teachers require innovative ways to organize — especially in small classroom spaces. The charging stations at PowerGistics offer an intelligent solution for safe and efficient design.

How to Organize a Multigrade Classroom

The challenges of shared or multigrade classrooms are two-fold because of both space and time constraints. If one classroom space hosts three grade levels and subjects throughout the day, that means at least three different requirements for teachers, supplies and storage. The trick to organizing shared classroom spaces is to make items multipurpose and to have mobile storage options.

A key organizational idea for multigrade classrooms is mobile storage, as it lends the ability to switch quickly between levels and subjects. Storage options on wheels keep each class’s supplies contained and organized while making them easy to access. Teachers can purchase mobile storage, but a do-it-yourself option could be adding wheels to furniture already in the room. Some excellent options for wheeled storage in shared classrooms include:

  • Multi-drawer rolling carts
  • Cubbies on wheels
  • Storage cabinets on wheels
  • Rolling filing carts for papers

Having one storage system for each class can help teachers and students transition easily between classes in the same room. 

Using the same items for multiple purposes can also save valuable space. Multipurpose items include two-sided blackboards and shared supply drawers. For lessons that span numerous class periods, leaving writing on the board can help with the continuity of learning and save the teacher time the next day. Sharing supplies can also save space, as each class won’t need separate storage for their everyday needs, like paper and utensils. 

Since furniture is less mobile and takes up more space, the ideal situation would include the same desk set up for each class. If the teachers can decide on a setup that works for everyone using the space, it can save valuable time rearranging the room during class transitions. For social distancing purposes, the setup usually calls for rows of desks spaced a certain distance apart for every class.

Coding systems and names help separate classroom supplies and provide a system that works across all grade levels. Color coding each class means any student from kindergarten upward can distinguish between classes. Having students come up with fun names for their group based on their color can get them involved and excited about the process.  

For the day-to-day transition between classes, teachers can decide on a system amongst themselves and elicit help from the students before or after each class period. To boost camaraderie between the classes, students can spend a few moments at the end of their class period setting up the room for the next class to come in.

How to Organize a High School Classroom

High school storage needs are different from those of middle or elementary school. Students usually bring their supplies, have their own notetaking preferences and develop their own study and organizational patterns. High school students also want teachers to treat them more like adults, with more freedom and responsibility. Another difference is high school teachers may prefer to manage the classroom less and structure it more, meaning students learn to follow systems and procedures independently.

Storage for high school may work best in more neutral shades since loud colors can distract from focused learning. For example, the color red can increase stress levels, while less intense shades like green or blue help people feel at ease. Creating a mature atmosphere helps students act more responsibly about their classwork and take ownership of their mistakes. File folders and mail sorters, as opposed to the colorful baskets and folders of elementary school, represent office-like storage options students will interact with in their professional life.  

how to organize a high school classroom

An excellent approach to organizing high school classrooms is to enhance students’ self-sufficiency. Instead of collecting papers from each student, using a series of inboxes means they must remember to submit their work independently. Additionally, another great storage option to enhance independence is to have file folders for each student to access their graded work. Students can be responsible for checking their own folder regularly, and it keeps graded work organized for the teacher.

These high school classroom storage ideas can reduce stress for both students and teachers, making it easier for each to keep track of assignments and graded papers. While elementary and middle school students may need daily management with their storage options, high schoolers can independently implement these classroom organizational strategies, freeing up time for teachers to focus on their lessons.

How to Organize Elective Classrooms

Specialty subjects, like art, woodworking, culinary arts and music, all require different storage options due to the nature of the class. Since these courses involve more student participation and supplies than traditional coursework, the storage solutions will be different. Vertical storage and cabinets are great solutions for these classes to make more space for activity.

For classes like pottery, photography and food science, a teacher’s primary focus is usually the organization of materials and supplies. Teachers can organize supplies like food ingredients, measuring utensils, pencils, brushes, paints and glazes in individual baskets and drawers to keep them separated. Rolling carts can also help store supplies and transport materials throughout the classroom.

Music and woodworking classes, among other subjects, use large equipment that takes up space. Wheels and carts can help make heavy machinery and instruments more mobile, which is essential for shared classrooms. Large closets are also practical ways to keep these items out of sight while not in use.

Specialty classes are often messier than normal classrooms and require more safety precautions, but organization can help with this issue. To keep students accountable for their mess, distribute supplies to a few areas of the classroom and assign them to different groups. Each group is then responsible for cleaning that area and returning supplies to the proper station. A similar strategy works well for safety supplies — keeping a set of safety equipment, such as gloves and goggles, at each station can ensure students don’t begin projects without the necessary gear.

Storage Ideas for Individual Students

storage ideas for students

Studies on education show that an organized student is a successful student. In fact, one study demonstrates how students who learn better organizational skills can increase their grades and school performance. These individual student storage ideas can help set up students for long-term success and keep shared and smaller classrooms free of clutter.

Students can learn organization both through instruction and modeling. Teachers with great organizational structures can help reinforce organization in their students, but having individual storage options is an excellent idea to enhance these lessons. The simplest option for this type of storage is at-desk storage. Students who have their own desks can buy or make desk pockets that hang from their chairs to keep everything they need at their desks. 

Other options for at-desk storage include:

  • Handheld caddies for utensils and supplies
  • Desk drawer organizers
  • Multi-pocket hanging storage bag
  • Under-chair baskets

These individual storage options can reduce movement in the classroom and keep each student responsible for their own things.

A no-clutter policy can also help encourage students to be accountable and keep their work in their designated spaces. Teachers can assign cubbies or drawers as individual students’ supply storage for what they need in class. Multi-drawer carts are also a great option because they don’t take up too much space, and some even have wheels for better mobility.

5 Things Every Classroom Should Have

Getting new classroom supplies at the beginning of the school year should enhance lessons and make students excited about learning. You probably have a few go-to supplies that you restock every year, such as binders, folders, notebooks, pencils and pens. Still, there are a variety of modern classroom must-haves to increase student engagement.

1. Smartboard

With their power to bring lessons to life, smartboards are a necessity in many modern classrooms. They provide a unique experience for any topic through interactive features such as touch-screen capabilities and digital markers. Smartboards also contain a built-in projector, so you can easily show videos for everyone in the class to view.

2. Digital Textbooks

Textbooks have always been a staple for any class, and newer, digitalized versions can be even more beneficial to students. In addition to lightening the load in students’ backpacks, they can also make notetaking easier, as students can add their own comments and observations easily in an online format while reducing the expense of investing in physical textbooks.

3. Document Camera

Document cameras are versatile, as they provide a visual aid to any lesson. These cameras are easy to operate and can be hooked up to any computer with just a USB cable. You can also use this modern technology to project correct answers, maps, worksheets or show-and-tell items for primary students.

4. Buzzer System

If you’re looking for a fun, innovative way to keep your students engaged throughout a lesson, buzzer systems can make the school day even more exciting. These buttons can transform your classroom into a game and test students’ knowledge. You can tailor the buzzers to your specific needs, allowing students to use them individually or in groups.

5. Laptop Charging Station

Laptop charging stations are a classroom must-have at just about every grade level. Using an effective charging station can be a convenient way for every student to benefit from technology, and with an organized and accessible storage center, your students can use the classroom laptops with ease.

Shop Technology Storage Solutions for Your Classrooms at PowerGistics

We believe safety is a top priority when designing a classroom. At PowerGistics, you can expect safer device deployments for classrooms big and small with our space-saving charging stations — perfect for charging and storing student devices. Shop our solutions for a safe and effective education, and request pricing today.

order charging stations for your school from powergistics

Further Reading

Education Technology Trends

15 School Renovation and Construction Tips

A Guide to Transitioning Your School to 1:1

How to Create a Highly Effective Learning Environment

33 Best Teacher Quotes of All-Time

Examples of Technology in the Classroom

How to Incorporate School Spirit in Your Classroom

Should Students Leave Laptops at School?

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