How I Make Flexible Seating Work in My Classroom
So what part of my day is flexible? Most of it! My students always begin and end their day in their regular seats, and typically spend anywhere between 15-60 minutes in their regular desks a day. They are in their regular desks or sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on my carpet when I am doing a mini lesson on the white board, when we are doing a whole group game or activity, or if I am going over rules or expectations for an assignment. This ensures that I have everyone’s full attention and that no students are distracted or off-task. As soon as independent work starts, or certain type of group work or buddy work, I allow my students to select flexible options. To ensure that students aren’t using flexible choices that do not make sense for the activity they are doing, I constantly keep a T-Chart on my board of flexible seats we are allowed to use at the moment, and flexible seats we can use at another time.
In order to keep it fair, when it is time to start independent work, I usually go through my clip chart colors to allow students to select their seats for each activity. At the start of independent work, everyone is at their desk. Then, I will say “anyone on pink may choose a flexible seat, anyone on blue can now choose, anyone on green…” (referring to my clip chart) and so on and so forth. It also helps that I do not allow students that have a clip below green use a flexible seat until their clip is back up onto green. Usually, this is no more than two or three students at a time, and they work very diligently to earn that privilege back. Once students pick their flexible seating option, that is the only one they are allowed to use for the rest of the activity. When they finish, they put it back and we pick again at the beginning of the next activity. This alleviates wasted time of students switching back and forth between seating options.
I also work on a strike system. Students get one warning, and then if they are not using their seating appropriately for a second time they lose all flexible seating choices until the following day.
During reading and math workshops, I control what seats my students are allowed to use at each center. This ensures that students are using seating choices that make sense for what they are doing. We do not want a student sitting in a scoop chair using a laptop, however, a student reading a book could happily and effectively use the scoop chair. Students doing buddy games can benefit greatly from using carpet circles, students at the counter might work well on the stools.. it all just depends on what activity students are completing in each center every day! I also tell students what area of the room the flexible option should be located in during that time. During workshop time, students leave the seats there instead of putting them away to save time during transitions. Students also ALWAYS have the option to sit at their regular seat in their regular chair during workshops.
I also want to add that not every day is flexible and that is OKAY. However, I do think it is key to start teaching routines as early as possible so that you are not wasting time teaching this later in the year. Although, you can add new options or fully start in the middle of a year, it just might be more convenient in the beginning of the year.
A Slow & Controlled Introduction:
The first flexible option that I let my students experiment with is clipboards. This is partially because I have a class set, and partially because it seems the “least risky”. Our entire class reviews the expectations of using clipboards, and practices using them all at the same time. We talk about do’s and don’ts and the correct places to use a clipboard. Then, we all practice using them and we all practice putting them away.
Then I will introduce one more flexible option. Usually, I will do the next smallest threat, such as carpet squares or stools, since these are more akin to regular desks or laying on the floor to read a book. We follow the same routine going over do’s and don’ts and I break my students into rotating groups, ensuring that every student gets to try our new flexible seat sometime during the day.
I slowly introduce options one-by-one, explicitly going over expectations on how to use each one and expectations on how to put them back. I make sure every student gets to try every seat on the day that I introduce it. I go in order of the most low-key options to the most prized options, such as scoop chairs and wiggle seats. As we review each type of seat, I hang an anchor chart for students to remember the routines from that stays either displayed on a flexible seating bulletin board or stays on the storage container for that option, so students have a constant visual reminder of the expectations.
If you would like to take a closer look at the anchor charts that I use, please click here. You also might find that you would like making your own with the students. This resource allows a blank chart to write in your class’ specific expectations in too, as well as a clip art photo of the resource as a reminder.
So what about the clutter? Having 30 regular desks and almost 50 flexible seats takes up A LOT of room, and could cause your classroom to be a cluttered catastrophe. However, I am one of those teachers that does NOT like to pile up stuff in my room, and I do not like to look at stuff that is not currently being used. Therefore, all of my flexible seating goes back into cabinets or gets neatly stacked or stored in a bin when it is not being used. This works well because I am already a minimalist, so I try to keep my cabinets as empty as possible, even before I implemented flexible seating. I also teach my students how to neatly put the flexible seating away, and am a stickler about it looking neat the beginning of the year in order for this organization to continue throughout the year. If students fail to neatly put away a type of seat, or break a seat while haphazardly using it or putting it away we lose that seat for a period of time (sometimes a day, sometimes 2-3 days). Here are some photos of my storage solutions below.
What Types of Flexible Seats Do I Use?:
I tried to stick with options that I thought would work well for partial flexible seating. That meant affordable options that were also easy to stack, store and put away if they were not working. I also wanted to be able to get a small group set of each object, so I needed to get things that were not too far out of my budget. I have 8 or more of every type of seat.
Scoop Chairs (Six Chairs for $30 from Wayfair)
Colored Stools (Five Chairs for $40 from Amazon)
Soft Seats (Five Cushions for $55 from Lakeshore – I got these on a buy one get one half off deal, but they also have many coupons you can use!)
Wiggle Seats (One for $15 from Amazon.. Look for used ones or Prime Day deals!)
Lap Trays (Normally $7 dollars each, but went on sale for $5 during the summer, and they honor teacher discounts and tons of other coupons! Shop smart!)
Carpet Circles ($5 each from Target)
Clipboards (Deals for these are everywhere, mine are mostly from the dollar store and have held up for five years!)
Here are some other dream flexible seats for me, that are a little out of my current budget, but I would love to get at some point in time.
How to Get What You Need!
Bargain shop! I am constantly looking for deals and steals for flexible seating and hardly ever pay full price for anything. Always ask about a teacher discount, and check what stores will price match from other places. Always look up what you’re buying online if you are in the store to make sure it is not cheaper elsewhere. I also got my flexible seating funded through a GoFundMe. This is a great way to raise money for your classroom so there is not a large hole in your own pocket. DonorsChoose is a great option too, depending on district rules.
Hopefully this gave you some new insight on flexible seating. Do not feel like you need to go flexible all at once. Starting slow can be great for you and your students, and also helps to minute on costs. Start with what you are comfortable with and remember that it is OKAY not to do it all or have all the things.
If you enjoyed this blog post or have any questions or comments about flexible seating, please leave feedback below! 🙂