Each year one of my favorite first week of school activities helps me figure out my first quarter seating arrangement while also helping students get to know one another. I’ve done this with 3rd graders through seventh graders. I don’t have a name for it, but here is how it works:
The first day of school as students enter the classroom they are instructed to find a seat anywhere they want. My classroom, by choice, has tables instead of desks because I like the collaborative nature of a shared space. What tends to happen is that we mostly end up with “Girl Tables” and “Boy Tables” with an exception here or there. This year (I’m teaching 6th grade) there were no exceptions, all the tables were boy or girl tables.
The second day of school after we have settled in for the day, I explain that we are going to change seats, so gather up your things. Next I explain:
1) You may not sit with anyone you have already sat with. 2) You may not sit at a table you have already occupied. 3) All tables must have at least one boy and one girl. 4) You SHOULD try to help by being willing to move so things can be worked out if someone is having trouble finding an appropriate seat. (Note that back in the day when I taught 4-5-6 multi-age classes you had to have at least one 4th grader, and fifth grader and a sixth grader at your table – just another problem to solve.)
We also have a conversation about “inclusion” and making others feel included and what it is like to be not included (and we do more lessons during the week about that using books like “Crow Boy” and “The Brand New Kid” and “Chrysanthemum” and others).
What happens next is that a few students quickly find a new table and sit down like they are playing musical chairs. Occasionally this is followed by a look of relief on their face. Others mill around looking for a table where there are students they know or a table that looks “safe.” Others hold back to see what will happen and fill in where they can, and others wait to be “helped” either by other students or the teacher.
Next we trouble shoot what happened and make sure everyone has a seat. This year only one student was left seat-less on the 3rd day only because she had been at the same table, that was solved by a student that volunteered to move so the seatless student could find closure.
The third day of school we do it again after we review the day before and think of ways to help each other … that was today and although many students still lookout mainly for themselves, there was more thoughtfulness. We discuss that and why it is so hard to give up a seat to help another … it mainly comes down to worry that the new table will not embrace you … major scary for 6th graders. We talk about that too.
The fourth and fifth days can get really hard … at least a bit more complicated. By that time most students have run out of “safe” friends to sit with. Usually we end up with more standing around. This gives us a great lesson on how this feels … how scared we are of rejection and not being included … it’s a bit scary for me because you have to handle this part well if there are really at risk students involved … although I’ve never had a major issue, we’ve gotten close … this can be somewhat scary stuff, but a great point of reference for the rest of the year. Students that have nowhere to sit … not because they really don’t, but because they are afraid to sit and have a comment made – feel it, but you can tell almost everyone else feels bad for them (if that even happens) so it is a great discussion … it’s breakthrough awareness for some.
Usually the groups we end up in the last day become my groups for the first quarter (I keep my students in groups for longer periods now – I used to change them a lot, every week or so, but at risk kids often have less experience with commitment and this makes them have to deal with each other and work things out over time … not assume that in one or two weeks I’ll be away from that kid).
Learning is messy!