Classroom Layouts – what do teachers say?

Post by Sandra Pitronaci  – April 2018

In my college we are currently grappling with classroom layouts and re-thinking how they can reflect/promote best practice in teaching and learning. I decided to throw the question out to the #AusELT brains trust to see what the rest of you folk were doing in your various organisations, and was stunned by (and most appreciative of) your interest, your ideas, and the sheer number of responses. So, on Lesley C’s brilliant suggestion, and in ode to you all, here is a summary of your responses for handy reference.

Desks in pairs came up as a first response. Obviously great for pair work, plus easy to split for individual work when needed, or for more effective monitoring of individual students.

The U-shape or horseshoe was another favourite, with one of the reasons being that students cannot hide in such a configuration. The downside of course is the face-threatening element and the possibility of it becoming a teacher-fronted classroom.

Rows came up, more as a method of classroom management, but did not seem to be popular, especially in an ELT classroom where communicative language teaching and learning is the aim.

Small grouped desks came out as king, especially for mixed-ability classes in order to group levels, or as self-guided workstations with different activities per grouping, and students cycling around to each one. Nesting in groups of four is popular, as is rotating students throughout the day. Large groups of eight were also suggested (also see boardroom set-up below). The downside of course is neck-twisting to see the teacher/board. (Perhaps if the board and teacher aren’t always situated in the same traditional place, this could be improved…?)

The circle was suggested for whole-class discussions, and this is known to be a very democratic layout, where the teacher is essentially situated at the same level of ‘power’ as the students.

The boardroom set-up is also in use, and this one fascinates me. Is it more egalitarian, or do boardroom distribution of power laws come into play according to who is sitting where? The teacher who suggested it has six long, narrow tables, and seven elementary students, with each person being able to speak to another and switch partners for different activities. The suggestion was that it can work for up to ten students, depending on room size. Another teacher runs small-group conversation classes at large tables with a similar set-up. And the ‘boardroom’ teacher also noted that as the room is quite large, she asks one student each day to lead the rest of the class in a physical exercise activity in the afternoon. Classroom as soccer field! What is there not to love?!

As for the furniture itself, anything that is quickly and easily rearranged is preferred. Node or pod chairs seem to be favoured, as they allow teachers the freedom to quickly create new groupings with little fuss, and anything on wheels is a plus. Some prefer squares, some prefer circles. Trapezoidal tables in the photo below provided by Nicki Blake, separated for exams and combined for pair- and groupwork (came with thigh-bruising warning); simple square table grouping observed at a UECA PDFest and light tables on castor wheels that students can easily move themselves, courtesy of Lesley Cioccarelli.Photos of classroom furniture, desk, chairs, etc. as described in blog post

I’ve also added here a photo of some of the pod chairs at my centre – as noted by Meredith Macauley, excellent on so many levels for use in ELT classrooms, as they move easily, bags are stored on the tray underneath, and they are especially effective when combined with whiteboard walls around the whole room. The downside is that sometimes the desks are a little too small, and that these small desks are not viable in some of our Foundation and Diploma classrooms, where a minimum desk size is mandated for university exams.

I wanted to make a special mention of some of Virginia Mawer’s use of desks, such as placing them against the outside walls. Such a configuration had never occurred to me, other than when I am trying to get desks out of the way. The suggestion is to have students completing some of their tasks facing the wall, and then turning and facing the centre for group discussions. Virginia also suggested a long runway down the centre of the room as per her photos below, facing either inwards or outwards. I will put a reference to Scrivener below with further ideas on such bold configurations.

Photos of 3 different classroom layouts as described in blog post

All the ideas and suggestions were tempered of course by the needs and type of class, the number of students and the size of the classroom, and the existing furniture. Physical constraints are of course a big issue. Classroom layout is sometimes (often?) governed by simple laws of physics, i.e. the best layout is the one that allows the greatest number of students in the room, especially for those schools in the CBD where pedagogical real estate is both costly and scarce. Some of you spoke of classrooms that are so packed that you can hardly move between desks to reach all the students, let alone reconfigure them. And large, heavy desks seemed to cause similar issues.

Hats off to Tori Bikutoria Uiruson who then brought student voice and choice into the picture, with the mild suggestion of “You could try asking the students…”. Different reactions came up as to how willing students are to move furniture (with most politely doing what the teacher asks) and whether they actually enjoy switching desks throughout the day/week. It was suggested that constant movement can be destabilising for anxious and introverted students, or simply irritating for others, and that students should have more control over how things play out in the classroom. One class would move the desks immediately into groups and then rearrange back into rows for the next teacher so that their teacher wouldn’t get into trouble. My own experience tells me that this is a common scenario, and makes me wonder why we teachers can be so grumpy with each other?

Overall, a more reflective and principled use of groupwork and mixing was proposed, especially for those working with traumatised students, where stability in the classroom might be more effective and appreciated, and simply negotiating the layout with students seemed to be a favoured approach. And then, as all good discussions do, this one eventually (d)evolved into something a little more quirky, courtesy of Clare McGrath, which in this case was Nissan’s self-parking robot chairs. Click this link if you are as intrigued as I was:

As we have all found, the semiotics of our classroom are powerful, and the simple result is: space speaks. Experimenting with how to best utilise that space is a fun prospect, and of course the common thread is that it is highly situated – dependent upon school, learner, space, activity, time.

Thanks once again everyone for all your responses, ideas and links. I’d love to be a fly on a wall, or a student at/not at a desk/in a pod chair/nested in a group/within the horseshoe/sitting on the runway in your classrooms. And I cheekily suggest that we all head slightly towards teaching on the edge of chaos (someone else’s brilliant idea, not mine), rather than by default. Mix your classrooms up, give Scrivener’s hotels, bars and aeroplanes a shot (reference below), get your students used to following the layout you have mapped out and posted up on the door and let them move the furniture themselves before you even arrive, and keep smiling sweetly at those of us who turn grumpy when the ‘leave it as you found it’ rule is broken…

One further question for you all: what about teacher layout? Does where we place ourselves as teacher in the classroom have an effect on student learning? Can we move our desks? Can we put a student at our desk? Can we sit behind the students, or in amongst the students? What effect does intentionally locating and relocating ourselves in the classroom have on the classroom dynamic? Perhaps a topic to throw out to the #AusELT community for experimentation and discussion…

For anyone who wishes to delve further, here are a few good readings on classroom layout and classroom ecology:

‘Classroom layout – what does the research say?’  (kindly provided by Stacey Takahashi)

Erhman, M. & Dornyei, Z., 1998, Interpersonal Dynamics in Second Language Education: the visible and invisible classroom, Sage, Thousand Oaks CA. (see pp.91-93 & Appendix E pp. 293-296)

Scrivener, J., 2012, Classroom Management Techniques, Cambridge University Press. (see pp.7-35)


Supporting Teachers New to the ELT Profession – #AusELT Twitter chat, 4th March 2018

This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.

Blindfolded teacher with one hand behind back image

A new teacher can feel like they’re starting out blindfolded with one hand tied behind their back.

The focus of the chat will be on supporting teachers that are new to the ELT profession and we are looking forward to hearing your stories whether you are new to the industry or not. We would like to extend a welcome to all new and experienced teachers and hope that this will be an opportunity to get a few tips together that novice teachers can follow.

We will structure that chat around the following questions:

  • What has helped you as a new teacher?
  • How can new teachers support each other?
  • How can experienced teachers support new teachers?
  • How can new teachers grow in their careers?
3 teachers with a #loveteaching sign

Share your love of teaching!

This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.


[Photos taken from by @CliveSir & Daniela Krajnakova, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

This post created by @heimuoshutaiwan & @cioccas

How to engage language learners online – #AusELT Twitter chat, 4th February 2018

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Our first Twitter chat for 2018 took place on Sunday 4th February,
This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.

Because we’re running our awesome video competition on Engaging Learners Online, we thought we’d also make that the topic of our first Twitter chat for the year. That way you can brainstorm your ideas, or get some support for what you’re not sure about, by using our community as a sounding board. Of course, even if you’re not planning on entering the video competition, we want you to join us to discuss anything to to with this broad topic.

Please join us with your questions and thoughts about…

  • your success stories in engaging students in online language learning
  • what are some of the hard things about engaging learners online?
  • what do your learners think about online learning in the classroom?

And also your ideas for…

  • what are some strategies for engaging learners online?
  • what are some things we should be mindful of when encouraging students to go online for their language learning?

We look forward to engaging with you on Sunday!

This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.


This post prepared by @cioccas

[Photo taken from by @CliveSir, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

#AusELT and Cambridge University Press video competition: How to engage learners online.

How to engage learners online:

An #AusELT and Cambridge University Press video competition

Student working on a laptop

To usher in the New Year, #AusELT and Cambridge University Press are running a video competition open to all #AusELT members.


Participants make a video that we will post on our new #AusELT YouTube channel. The video needs to be focused on How to engage learners online. There are three ‘strands’ that can be covered:

  • In the class (Activities that can be done inside the class)
  • Outside of the class (Activities learners can do outside of the class but which are set up by the teacher)
  • Learner autonomy (Activities that learners are in complete control of)

The video needs to show the activity and briefly discuss the rationale behind it. Materials can be shown in the video, but cannot be copyrighted materials; only self-designed materials. Website links can be given (for example Kahoot, Textivate etc.)

The video should be a narrative of the activity with instructions to set it up in class and how to manage it.


3 copies of Interaction Online will be awarded by Cambridge University Press at the end of the competition.

Interaction Online by Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to incorporate an aspect of online interaction in their language teaching.


Entries will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Usefulness to the target audience
  • Creativity and originality
  • Practical applications for teachers
  • Ease of preparation

Two students working together on a laptop

Competition rules

  • Entrants must be members of the #AusELT community, demonstrated through joining the #AusELT group on Facebook, contributions to #AusELT on Twitter, or otherwise demonstrating meeting the community membership guidelines.
  • Send videos to #AusELT at Videos will be distributed to committee to ensure rules have been followed and then uploaded to YouTube.
  • The videos will then be judged according to the judging criteria (See above).
  • There will be no correspondence after winners have been announced.
  • Activities must be the participant’s own work. A copy of a published activity will be immediately disqualified.
  • Participants may reproduce the activity elsewhere, but should credit #AusELT if the video is published or shared elsewhere.
  • No students can be present in the video for privacy issues and we are too small to deal with consent forms.
  • The video cannot exceed 5 minutes.
  • Videos must be clearly labeled using the following naming convention: participantname_monthofsubmission for example gerharderasmus_January2018
  • Quality should be sufficient to be viewed on YouTube. Submissions which are of poor quality will be returned. If you use a mobile, please turn the phone on its side when recording to avoid black stripes along the side of the video.
  • No mention of any promotional materials.
  • No textbooks or other published materials may be used or referenced.
  • Activities that require printed material or is a novel way of working with a textbook should be highlighted with self-designed materials and the textbook cannot be mentioned.
  • There is no limit on the number of submissions. Participants can submit as many videos as they are comfortable with.
  • Closing date: 28th February.

Watch this introduction video where Gerhard explains and demonstrates a lesson idea.

Intellectual Property

#AusELT is the host of the competition and Cambridge University Press is the sponsor. All intellectual property remains with the person who produced the video and will not be published by any party without consent. We do, however, ask that should you publish elsewhere, that it is mentioned that the activity first appeared in the #AusELT and Cambridge University Press YouTube competition.

Please follow the YouTube channel as we will be posting more ELT related videos in months to come and might run another competition in the future if this one proves to be useful and fun for #AusELT members.

Photos taken from by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,


What if…? How prepared are you / can you be? – #AusELT Twitter Chat 5 Nov 2017


Have you ever been stuck at work because rain has shut down transport?

Do you remember the earthquake in Christchurch?

Were you and your students in class during the Lindt Café siege?

What happens when one of your students is seriously injured?

How do you cope with the sudden death of a colleague?

How prepared are you? How prepared can you be?

This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.

This is a hard topic to write about but the reality is some of us will face major events which affect our students and colleagues and ourselves, from extreme weather and natural disasters to traumatic injury and tragic accidents. So this chat is devoted to discussing how we might be prepared to respond and to cope, and what we can put in place ‘in case’.

You may want to start thinking by having a look at the summary of English Australia’s Best Practice Guide to Disaster Management. 

Please join us on Twitter this Sunday to share your experience and questions and strategies. As suits a topic that requires reflection, this is a ‘slow burn’ from 10am to 10pm. It will be good to connect with you over this, for the last #AusELT Twitter chat of 2017.

This chat has now taken place. Click here to read the transcript.

This post prepared by @Clare_M_ELT

#AusELT/English Australia Journal Article Discussion: The two cultures in Australian ELICOS


The article is available to read online here, or a pdf here (scroll to page 28).

The two cultures in Australian ELICOS: Industry managers respond to English language school teachers


The paper is about what Phiona Stanley calls the ‘two cultures problem’, in which the ELICOS industry, she argues, is culturally divided between the ‘teachers’ and ‘higher ups’. The paper argues that this cultural ‘wall’ is talked into being, and that it divides the sector as follows:

“Teachers and some DOSes perceive that ‘the board’ and ‘the management’ and ‘the industry’ are all about profit and not students … [teachers cite] students’ keenness to learn as their motivation. This is very different from the talk of ‘profit’ that they perceive dominates the culture on the other side of the wall. Together, these distinct narratives construct an industry that is riven by a professional identity wall between ‘them’ and ‘us’. This is the two cultures problem”. (page 38)

A note on the methodology used in the study. Phiona interviewed 15 experienced management, marketing and sales people from colleges, both university and private. These 15 people held the following roles: school directors, managers, marketing managers, sales managers, business consultants, directors of studies, and a CELTA trainer.

You’ll see on page 32 that the following prompts were used in the interviews:

How do you feel about the following: Teachers’ salary step system and salaries more generally; casual teacher contracts and seasonality; agent discounting and the role of agents more generally; some teachers’ feeling that goodwill is being exploited; teacher attrition from ELICOS; teachers’ professional self-esteem and the image of the sector more generally.

Phiona analysed the interviews in three ways: analysing the content of what was said, assigning themes to the content, and also conducting a linguistic analysis of what was said. This was all aimed at uncovering how the group of ‘ELICOS higher ups’ that Phiona interviewed construct the identities of ELICOS teachers.

Perhaps we can start the discussion by considering our own responses to the prompts in the second box above, and how we each feel that the findings in the article align with our own feelings.

Head on over to to join the discussion.

Article Discussion Group: October 2017


Image courtesy of


The winning article (by one vote!) is “The two cultures in Australian ELICOS: Industry managers respond to English language school teachers” by Phiona Stanley, UNSW. The article is available to read online here, or download as a pdf here (scroll to page 28).

Some discussion questions will be made available later in the week. In the meantime, happy reading!

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Welcome to the voting page of the Article Discussion Group. The idea is for us all to vote for our preferred article from the latest English Australia Journal, read it, and then join in a moderated discussion of the article. Authors will either join in on the discussion, or respond offline to points raised and questions asked, facilitated by the moderator. The discussion will take place on the #AusELT Facebook page and is scheduled as such: October 12-15 is reading time; October 16-22 is discussion time.

The articles are all relevant to many of the contexts in which AusELT folk practice. Two of the articles are primary research articles, that is, the authors have devised and conducted their own research study and reported their findings. A third one is a critical review. Each article has been peer-reviewed, meaning that the editor has invited leading TESOL scholars to review and offer suggestions for improving earlier drafts. We have some excellent reviewers who, together with the authors, have ensured you receive the best quality research reports upon which you can make some decisions about your own teaching.

In order to assist those who are new to reading research articles, the moderator will orient you by providing a summary of the research design and the overall purpose of the research. The discussion will not only focus on how the article can inform your own teaching, but also on opportunities for further research in any form. It will hopefully spark ideas for improving the quality of life in many classrooms! Each article has an abstract for you to read; after all, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a research article by its title. The complete articles are all open access, freely available online and downloadable in pdf here. The chosen article will be made available as a pdf and available for download on this page.


The employability of non-native English speaking teachers: An investigation of hiring practices and beliefs in Australian adult ELT

Victoria Phillips

Navitas English, Manly

Previous studies into the employability of non-native English teachers (NNESTs) show discriminatory attitudes and assumptions in recruitment processes. This article reports on a mixed methods investigation into the employability of NNESTs in the Australian English language teaching sector, namely, private language schools, university English language centres, and the Australian Migrant English Programme (AMEP). An online survey followed by participant interviews were conducted to ascertain which hiring criteria participant recruitment decision makers deem important when recruiting teachers. The results suggest there is evidence of movement away from notions of native speakerism in Australian ELT but that hiring managers’ beliefs and assumptions may negatively influence perceptions of NNEST ability and validity as competent teachers of English. Implications for different stakeholders are also discussed.

The two cultures in Australian ELICOS: Industry managers respond to English language school teachers

Phiona Stanley

University of New South Wales

This article reports on a qualitative study that sought to understand managers’ perceptions of teachers’ professional identities in the Australian ELICOS sector. The study found that there is a powerful, socially imagined ‘wall’ that divides two cultures in the sector: the managers on the one hand, and the teachers on the other. While generally unproblematic in operational, marketing, and sales terms, the continued existence and ongoing strengthening of this wall is shown to be counter productive to the sector’s desire for improving quality. As a result, there is a need to address structural issues rather than simply continuing with a quality enhancement model that hopes to inspire teachers to undertake professional development.

A critical look at NLP in ELT

Russell Mayne

ELTU, University of Leicester

This article examines Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It looks at claims made by practitioners and highlights criticisms of these. The spread of this approach through its inclusion in journal articles and books is also examined. I suggest that teacher trainers, experts and journals risk giving legitimacy to, and spreading questionable beliefs and practices throughout the ELT world.


So, without any more fanfare, please cast your vote! Closes Wednesday October 11, 2017 at 5 pm DST

Your moderator, Phil Chappell (@TESOLatMQ, Executive Editor of the English Australia Journal)