Many students spent last school year learning from their homes, either exclusively or part-time in a hybrid schedule. For some, learning at home provided a level of comfort that they are going to miss as schools move back to full-time in-person instruction. For others, the lack of a shared classroom community made learning difficult, and they are returning to the safety and familiarity of classroom walls with enthusiasm. Regardless, remembering what it’s like to share space and engage with each other through our physical selves will take intentionality and time.
This Teaching Idea asks students to start the school year by designing their ideal learning space. Collaborating on a vision for their shared space is an opportunity for students to practice working together in person. It will help them learn to listen and cooperate, balance their own needs and interests with those of their classmates, and build a sense of agency and shared ownership of their classroom community.
This Teaching Idea presents two options: students can either create a blueprint for their ideal learning space, or they can create a plan for your classroom and then arrange it accordingly. Both options will give you valuable insight into your students and the community that they hope to build over the upcoming school year.
This activity guides students to create blueprints for their ideal classrooms. This option is best if you have limited control over your classroom space, since it does not require you to rearrange your classroom.
Place students in small groups and provide each group with paper and drawing materials (color is helpful in this activity, so markers or colored pencils are ideal).
Tell your students that they will create and present their blueprint for an ideal classroom. Their blueprint should include a floor plan with designated spaces for different activities and should describe the decor and personal touches that would shape the “vibe” of the room. Students should design their ideal classroom and they should not limit their ideas based on what they think is possible. It's not about actually creating this space but having the power to imagine it.
As students work, visit groups and talk to them about their plans. Remind students that the space they create needs to help people with different needs and temperaments learn.
When you feel like most groups have gotten to a good stopping place, ask groups to share their designs, pointing out what they're most proud of or where they got stuck. If you have space, display the blueprints in the classroom so that other class sections that share the space can see the ideas that emerged.
End with a reflection. Ask your students:
This activity guides students to brainstorm ideas for how their classroom should be set up. After students decide on a design, they will get to actually rearrange your classroom. This option is best if you have more control and flexibility in your classroom.
As a whole class, collectively brainstorm the perfect classroom. Write students’ suggestions on the board. (You can also designate students to act as notetakers.) Ask students:
As students offer suggestions, invite critique from the class. Ask them what they think works and doesn’t work. Once the brainstorming session has ended, organize the ideas and reach a consensus for an achievable plan given the resources and flexibility you have.
Ask students to draw a floor plan on a large piece of paper. They can work together as a full class or in small groups. (Note: At the beginning of the school year, it is useful to observe student dynamics. Who hangs back and doesn’t feel included? Who takes a leadership role? The sooner you can observe class dynamics, the faster you can work on creating an inclusive space.)
If you have several class sections that meet in the same space, let each class know that you will be doing this activity with all of your sections, and you are going to take ideas from each of them to create a space that will meet a variety of needs. The desks may not get re-arranged exactly the way each class envisioned, but students should be able to see evidence of their ideas in the final design.
After the plan has been completed and approved by you and your students, it’s time to arrange the room. This can be done by you and some helpers after school so that you can have a big “reveal” day. Or you can plan for a classroom makeover during your class period when the whole class will bring the floor plan to life.
After you create your classroom, reflect on the process with your students. Ask them:
The questions in the final reflection in this Teaching Idea help students think about their needs as learners and what it takes to build class community, which can serve as a starting point for creating a class contract. You can find more guidance on how to create a class contract in our Contracting teaching strategy.