Student Choice in Flexible Seating

Classroom Design, Flexible Seating

The topic of flexible seating in classrooms is everywhere I look!  From threads on Twitter and Facebook to blog posts featuring pictures and explanations.   For some teachers, flexible seating seems to be a new concept.  I’ve even heard of it referred to as a fad.  It’s not though.  Rather, it’s a way of thinking and believing– it’s a part of a teacher’s Philosophy of Education/Teaching (remember writing one for college?!  I wonder where mine is…???).

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I started teaching in 1997.  My classroom during the first two years were pretty traditional.  Desks and assigned seating.  When I moved to a different school in 1999, I remember that my teaching partner and I brought in a couch and some comfy armchairs for read aloud time.  We soon found ourselves  sitting in this area as a class for mini lessons and allowing students to choose where they’d like to work.

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In 2003 I moved to Wisconsin.  Recognizing the power behind student voice and choice in where they sit, who they sit with, and what materials they use to complete their work, stayed with me. Soon, my classroom had a wicker couch, four wicker chairs, and a big stack of pillows!  Slowly I have been adding pieces as I learn about new options!  This past year I added a few new options for my students.  Read on to discover how flexible seating works in our classroom!

Stools and Chairs

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I find that my kids prefer to sit on something rather than sprawl out on the floor.  So our scoop rockers, traditional chairs, and stools are pretty popular.  I wasn’t sure how to get my hands on Wobble Seats, as they are a little too pricey for my budget, so I decided to create a Donor’s Choose project in January.  One of my parents wasn’t able to figure out the “matching funds” code, so she decided to forgo Donor’s Choose and ordered one from Amazon directly and had it shipped to us!  What a nice surprise!!  About a week ago, I found out our Read-N-Wobble & Wobble-N-Write project was fully funded!  If you haven’t created a Donor’s Choose project yet, it’s not too hard.  I recommend starting with projects that are under $300-400, and when you are given the option to share via social media, do it!  You never know which of your friends/followers will donate!

Cushions and Balls

  • Stability Balls
  • Balance Discs
  • Sitting Wedges
  • Floor Pillows
  • Bean Bags

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Like I mentioned above, my kiddos love to sit on something.  High, low, or in-between, it doesn’t matter to them.  Our school was a recipient of the federal PEP grant, and with some of the money every classroom was given a “sensory tub” full of wonderful goodies.  Many of these tools are a part of our flexible seating options — including the stability balls and wiggle cushions.

Foot Fidgets

  • Exercise Bands
  • Think-N-Roll Foot Roll Fidgets

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Our “sensory tubs” also had two different versions of foot fidgets.  When I took them out and had the kids try them out, I was reminded of several exercise bands that were sitting in my basement collecting dust.  Ha!  Add zip ties, and wallah– you have yourself  some inexpensive food fidgets!

Tables or Desk or Floor

  • Tall Tables
  • Short Tables
  • Traditional Tables
  • Floor Space
  • Tub/Baskets
  • Student Desks

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Lowering and raising tables isn’t too difficult.  I just needed a special hex wrench tool. Our custodial staff was very helpful in finding me several options to try.  I used it to remove table legs to make a low table, as well as lengthen the legs on another.  The raised table was still too low, and so I purchased a package of $11.99 bed risers from Target to make it taller.

When I first arrived in my classroom many years ago, it only had desks.  I was used to student tables, so I had maintenance store the desks and they helped me find tables.  I was very happy about that!  But, there are some students who really prefer a space of their own.  You see, we don’t have assigned seating, but occasionally I find that a student benefits when they have a special spot of their very own.  So in these situations, our wonderful maintenance staff will bring a desk down for me.  I love our maintenance staff!

Before moving on to the next section, I want to mention the tub/tote option.  This was completely an accidental discovery for us this past year.  I had emptied our “sensory tub” out to use for student lunches on a field trip.  The next day I found one of my first grade friends all comfy, cozy, and content working in it!  Ha!

Comfy Couches or Chairs

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This happens to be my second set of wicker furniture in 10 years.  It doesn’t last forever iftttin a classroom, but you can get it pretty cheap on Craiglist.  In fact, the set that you see in these pictures was re-purposed by other staff members in their at-home gardens, or trashed at the end of this school year.  I’ve been using IFTTT as my “scouting agent” for “new” wicker furniture.


Privacy Screen Options

  • mini offices
  • 3-ring binders
  • plants
  • sound muffling headphones

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I added a section about privacy screen options because it’s important to note that while flexible seating works for most classroom situations, there are times where students need (or desire to have) a little more privacy.

Depending on the temperament of my class, I may add assigned seats, with privacy screens on days we have Guest Teachers or during testing situations.  Some teachers call theseearmuff spots “frozen” or “permanent” or “home base” spots.  We happen to have a class set of 3-ring binders that work well for privacy screens, but mini offices work too.  So do classroom plants, if you’re in a bind and need a privacy screen quickly!

I mention noise canceling earmuffs because with flexible seating, your classroom will likely not be a quiet, no-talking atmosphere.  It may be, but I find that mine isn’t and I’m completely fine with that!  I want my students to learn from one another.  I want my students to engage in discourse with one another — questioning and connecting in meaningful conversations!  Earmuffs play an important role in these situations.  Some students need the quiet, others need peer interaction.  Earmuffs make it possible to meet both needs!

Other information about our Flexible Seating:

  • We don’t assign areas/tools, instead, students self select an area in which to work and what they’d like to work with (tool/seat).  I dismiss students one at a time.  This motivates students to “be ready” to choose.
  • We don’t keep track of who has used what, when, or where.  I tell my students it won’t matter, and we don’t need to use precious class time to keep track, and that in the end, we’ll all have used what we need to or want to by the end of the year.
  • We don’t sign a contract for use of tools/seats.  Students know that improper use will result in a loss of privilege.  It works well for us.  Our expectations are 1) work the whole time, 2) work in one spot, and 3) work quietly [this doesn’t mean no talking, it means productive talking for you and those around you].

What about student materials?  Where are they stored?

Click the pictures below for more information about where my students store their materials!

Student Notebook Storage in a Flexible Seating Classroom

“Where do your students store their notebooks, folders, and workbooks?” 


Student Storage Boxes in a Flexible Seating Classroom

“Where do your students store their school supplies (pencils, crayons, scissors, rulers, etc)?

Need to read more information or inspiration?

What are your questions about flexible seating?  Share how your classroom uses flexible seating!

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  • Kaleigh Bearce
    June 4, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for this! I got rid of all my desks the last month of school to see if I can do it. I love it and so did the kids. This summer I’ve got a couple couches and upcycled an old kitchen table by cutting the legs down low for floor seating. You mentioned no issues on who gets what. How do you keep the fights from the more popular seats? How does entering the room work on the moring? Anyone rushing to get a certain spot? Looking forward to starting next year with a new vibe!

    • Jessica Meacham
      July 4, 2016 at 8:32 am

      Sorry for the delayed response, Kaleigh! I had typed a response and then my computer went haywire. As far as deterring student disagreements/fights about choosing seats, I always start my class at the whole group meeting area. This happens to be in front of our SMARTboard, on two carpets. They are dismissed ONE at a TIME. Of course those who were well behaved and sitting nicely are dismissed first. Those who had trouble or are not meeting expectations have to wait. This is true for when they enter the room. At anytime when we enter the room, we meet at the whole group area. I try not to deviate from this, no matter how much of a time crunch we are in. Sometimes I’ll dismiss two at a time, or possibly three, with the warning– “Be kind when you’re choosing!” Best wishes, Kaleigh!

      • Cresta
        September 5, 2016 at 10:59 am

        I have started the flexible seating classroom and I meet the students in the morning at a big carpet. The students have number assignments and I pick a random number. Then the student gets to pick his or her work station. Everyone think this is fair and respects the space that was chosen for the day. If they need to move out of their space, they ask me first. So far, it has been working really well and yes, the classroom invites collaboration so it cannot be expected that it is going to be quiet. My students love the space too.

  • Colleen
    June 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

    You have inspired me with the details of how you set up and use flexible seating! I have been teaching for 4 years and wanted to try flexible seating but never “dared”. Thanks to your post I am going to give it a shot! My desks have been moved into storage and so here I go….THANKS!

    • Jessica Meacham
      June 24, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Congrats on your reflections and new plan! Best wishes!!!

  • Pamela Dwyer
    June 24, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Great post! Where did you purchase the wedges?

  • Independent Writing – Jessica Meacham
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    July 5, 2016 at 6:04 pm

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  • Amy Hammer
    July 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    I am starting flexible seating this year and am so excited about this. I had 2 projects funded within a week on donors choose. I agree, if you haven’t used it, give it a try. It’s definitely worth it! So my question is about taking the legs off the tables. I see you have something under the “legs”. What is that? Would putting a tennis ball on them work? Thank you for all the pictures and info. It is going to really help me as I begin setting up my class. I may have more questions once I begin!

    • Jessica Meacham
      July 12, 2016 at 7:14 am

      Wowzers! Congrats on TWO FUNDED projects! Kudos to you and your donors. 🙂 I tried the tennis ball thing on my leg, but where the bottom portion of my legs are taken off, there are two support things that come to each leg, and it makes it impossible to put the tennis balls on. At first I put little whiteboard erasers that we had under each let, but we needed them for math;s so, my kiddos were ingenious and they found classroom books to put under the tables for the rest of the year. Ha! It was funny because one let for whatever reason has a little more height on it than the others and so it’s wobbly. The kids found the “just right” books for the table to make it even. This year I plan on getting a round carpet. That way the laminate won’t scratch and the table height thing won’t matter, and the books can go back into the book bins! Best wishes and feel free to ask questions ANY TIME!

  • Megan
    July 18, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    I was just wondering how you handle students who aren’t being successful in the seat they chose. Do you have a certain place you have them move to? I still have desks, but I’d like to get rid of most of them and stick with the counters and tables and such that I have. I had difficulty last year with some students staying in a spot and working so their desk was where I sent them back to. I’d love alternative suggestions.

  • Nancy
    August 5, 2016 at 5:36 am


    I’m starting this year with my first graders and would really like to know how you start the first day. Do you have all those options available? Where do kids sit when they first come in that day? My district does not have a back to school day until 3 weeks later so this is really the first time they ever get in the room.

    • Jessica Meacham
      August 9, 2016 at 7:10 am

      Some teacher send home brochures, parent letters, and have their students sign contracts etc. Truly, I’m a little more laid back about the whole thing. Probably because I’ve been doing “Flexible Seating” since 2000. We do start from day one. I just share that we have lots of options in our room and we discuss how we dismiss from the meeting area (smartboard carpet) and select an independent work spot). It really isn’t a huge production in our room. You could liken it to a family pulling into their driveway, getting out of their car, and entering the house. They don’t all rush and wrestle to get a spot to sit. They do it in an orderly and respectful manner. Or the Green Bay Packers, they don’t all rush to get the same seat on the plane when they’re going to play a different team in a different state. They are kind, and orderly, and civil. (I tend to use a lot of Green Bay Packer analogies in our room…) =)

  • Melissa
    September 15, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    I am a first grade teacher and I am trying flexible seating this year and I love it! I have always done a behavior system by tables (“The red table is working nicely, you get a point. The blue table pushed in all their seats, you get a point…etc. At the end of the week, the table with the most points got free choice iPad time). This was a great, motivating system that always worked really well, but now that kids aren’t at assigned tables, I’m struggling with a behavior management system. Can you offer any suggestions?

    • Jessica Meacham
      October 22, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Hmmmm….I see your point, and reason for wanting to stick with what works for you. Do you have an app that you use to keep track of points? If so, you could group students by name within the app and when one of those students is doing the job correctly/satisfactorily, they earn their “team” a point. I know with DOJO or BLOOMZ you can do this. There may be other options besides an app (you could keep track on the whiteboard). You could also do Teacher Points VS Student Points. They aren’t doing their job and it affects teaching/learning, you get a point. They do their job and learning is smooth…they get a point. Hope these ideas help! Best wishes to you and your class!