Back to School Tips

My Favorite Desk Arrangement and other Back to School Wisdom, Ideas for getting you school off on the right foot

I’m linking up my back to school tips with some other great bloggers today for the Back to School is as easy as 1, 2, 3 link up.



After 8 years of teaching the one thing I wish I would have known from the beginning is this:

Sometimes the thing your students need most right now, has nothing to do with what's on your lesson plan. #truth


I tend to be so objective driven.  “I stayed up late crafting this perfect lesson that matches the standards and covers content you will be tested on so we WILL get through it at all costs!”  Meanwhile, 10 kids really need a drink because they just came in from outside and it was hot, and 10 other kids are upset over recess drama that hasn’t been resolved.  In short, I could teach this lesson perfectly but it would have very little impact because there are more pressing issues in the minds of my students.

The culture of standards and testing that exists in education today cracks the whip on teachers.  But don’t let it rob you of your empathy, patience, and sensitivity for the developing humans in your classroom.  Sometimes role-playing about how to join a group on the playground, addressing a fear, taking a break for movement, fixing an injustice, sorting out a soccer field scuffle, or mourning the death of a hamster is the MOST important thing you can do for and with your students in that moment, and that’s just the way it is.



1.  Some sort of curriculum map:

If this is not supplied to you by your school, it’s worth spending some time (and possibly some money) to find one.  I spent WAY too much time as a new teacher drowning in the standards just trying to pick which I should teach for the next week.  I happen to have curriculum maps made for 2nd grade (click the picture to check them out) and I know other bloggers have put out at least general maps of the order in which they teach things.

2nd Grade Language Arts Curriculum Maps and Assessments ($)


2.  A decent pencil sharpener.

I never understood why a pencil sharpener, the most basic of supplies, was not supplied to me by my school, but there are a lot of school budget things I’m sure I’ll never understand.  Even though it seems completely ridiculous to spend $80 on a good electric pencil sharpener, it will save your sanity and your time.




1.  Know how to leverage “free time”

There are two approaches to using free time to your own advantage.

*Before the lesson- If you’re using new materials (especially math manipulatives) it’s a good idea to let students try their own ideas before using the manipulatives for learning.  Give them 3-5 minutes to build a tower out of place value blocks, use their ruler as a helicopter on their pencil, or create the domino effect with counting tiles.  Then at the end of that time you can say, “all right, you’ve had a chance to try your own ideas, now we’re going to use these materials as learning tools.”

*After the work- Free time can be a big motivator for kids.  You can frequently get kids to stay on task and work hard if you hold out the free time carrot in front of them.  It doesn’t even have to be a lot of time.  3-5 minutes of a desirable activity is usually enough.  For example: tell students they can draw a picture on their mini whiteboard if the class can get through writing five more contractions, or if students finish stamping their spelling words in a literacy center then they can use the stamps to make their own design on the back of the paper.

Write Instructions on the Board

Verbal instructions don’t always stick with kids, especially kids who don’t process auditory information very quickly.  You will save yourself and your students a lot of frustration if you write simple instructions on the board.  For second graders I might write something like this:

  1. Color
  2. Cut
  3. Glue
  4. Turn in on my table
  5. Read

If your students aren’t great readers yet, add simple pictures.  Kids start to develop some independence when they know they can check the instructions on the board if they can’t remember what to do next.  This frees you up to work with kids who need help, rather than just answering procedural questions over and over. (Click here for more ways to help spacey kids follow instructions.)

Think About Your Desk Arrangement

Set up your desks so that you can easily get to any student.  If someone is being disruptive during a lesson, you want to be able to easily take a couple of steps toward them and keep on teaching.  When students are working independently you want to be able to quickly check in with students without walking through a maze.  After lots of trial and error, I found that my favorite arrangement was to have a row across the front with an aisle in the middle (for students who needed fewer distractions) and then table groups radiating from the center of the room.  As I was teaching, it was easy to check in with or redirect anyone in the front rows and from the center of the room it was only a few steps to any student.  Also, no students had their backs to the front of the room with this arrangement. (See 10 more desk arrangements here.)

my favorite desk arrangement, no one's back is to the board, there are easy paths for movement, and kids who need reduced distractions can sit in the front

Follow along on Pinterest for more ideas, inspiration, and teacher humor!

Follow Hannah @ The Classroom Key’s board The Classroom Key on Pinterest.
Head over to The Teacher Trap to see other posts in the link up and enter some great giveaways!


Cute school themed clip art by:


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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.


  1. Hannah, you have great ideas! I like the arrangement, but my biggest problem is getting desks to stay put. Do you have any problems with that OR a solution? Thanks!

  2. I love your heartfelt plea to keep it about the kids and not the testing. I also want to try your room arrangement idea. We are using Kagan at my school, but I think I can still make it work with the groups of 4 idea and allowing everyone to see the board. Brilliant.

  3. I love your desk arrangement. However I have these huge middle school desks and 36 kids on average. We always feel like we are squashed into a sardine can. lol

    • Lisa,
      Oh gosh, 36 sounds huge to me. I wish that architects would consider that middle school bodies and desks are bigger and that we don’t want to always put desks in rows!

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂


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