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Uncategorized   |   Nov 10, 2008

Tables vs. desks

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Tables vs. desks

By Angela Watson

I’ve always wanted to get the student desks out of my classroom, and I finally took the plunge this year and had them all replaced with tables. (Clearly, this furnishing decision made me a favorite with our custodial staff.)


So far? I’m loving it, which is a surprise, because I never liked having my students’ desks facing each other. The kids just talked constantly and were always distracting each other. I felt like I was setting them up for failure: putting 6 other kids right in their faces, and then begging them all day to turn their heads and look at me. It’s okay after March, when the FCAT is over and the kids are doing lots of cooperative work and projects, but until then, I really like everyone to be facing moi.

Somehow it’s a little different with tables. There’s no place for the kids to hide stuff, and nothing for them to play with while I’m teaching. Not having their own little areas also makes it harder for them to daydream or not follow along. Granted, I only have 20 kids in the class, which greatly reduces the talking temptation. But I would definitely call my experiment a success.


Here are the bins I keep on each table. (They were $1.50 at Target in August.) I have a small piece of velcro underneath to keep the kids from bumping the entire thing onto the floor. The bins hold pencils, erasers, dry erase markers, highlighters, dry erase boards, and felt squares to use as erasers for the boards. They also hold ‘works in progress’ folders for each child to organize papers commonly used or referenced on multiple days.


All workbooks and texts are stored either individual cubbies (I call children #1-10 to get their books, then #11-20 so there’s not a stampede)…


…and classroom supplies like scissors and crayons are stored at the Supply Station (here are similar ones from Walmart.) Each person at a table has a job, and one of those jobs is Container Helper (retrieving and returning the container of supplies).

Team jobs are determined according to which seat each child sit in. For example, the person at the head of the table is always the Trash Helper (to whom the kids give all their scraps after a project so that only 4 kids are going over the trash can). The person to the right of the Trash Helper is the Folder Helper, who retrieves and returns reading folders, writing folders, etc. from the Supply Station. The other two jobs are Paper Passer (to whom I give a stack of papers for the team to complete during a lesson, and that person makes sure everyone at the team has one) and Paper Collector (who collects the same papers after the lesson is over and makes sure everyone has a name on his/her paper and everything’s facing the right way). Read more about class jobs/helpers here.

Loving it! I’m really emphasizing team work this year (“If there’s someone at your table who is not yet on page 197, please show them”) and the kids are getting impressively good at helping each other out and working as a unit.

Anyone else use tables? Suggestions for making them work?

UPDATE: Check out the classroom desk arrangements page!

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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  1. I’ve always wanted to use tables but we are in a modular with no built in areas and our bookbags are hanging on the walls. We have VERY limited space so I have no where to store their textbooks and such. I’m green with envy!

  2. Is there anyway you can use shelves? Even regular bookshelves can work if you section them off. A coworker of mine does this, and while it’s not ideal, it does keep the materials organized.

    1. With the use of tables, do you have problems getting individual grades or with students cheating?

  3. I just switched to tables this year (I “robbed” the room next to me when that teacher moved away…the new teacher to the room got my old desks!). I love it! High school kids are different, of course, but I still find they are working together more, shouting across the room less, and in general, feeling more comfortable.

  4. Tables are the only way to go. When I moved from university to a prep school, one of the first things I did was to toss the desks and bring in tables. This works for everything from inquiry-based projects to small-group reading seminars (I teach IB History, IB Geography, and AP Government). My administrators & colleagues (initially jealous) have come to fully embrace the idea. Pics from my classroom (taken just now) are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/cgleek/TablesVsDesks?feat=directlink

  5. hey mrs. watson! i wonder if you get notification when someone (me) comments on old blogs…more than a year later, do you STILL love your tables? i have the chance to snarf up the old science lab tables that are just a little smaller than your tables in this photo…4 seaters. BUT if i go to them, i can't change my mind mid-year.. do you think i should take the plunge???

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