An Easier Way to Assign New Seats

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just make one set of seating charts and use it for the whole quarter, semester or year? The reality is, you probably won’t get your seating charts “right” on the first try. I know I never do. There are always changes that need to be made based on student behavior and personalities.

Up until a few years ago, I assigned seats by calling students one at a time and pointing to their spots. While this method technically “worked”, it was always chaotic. The students didn’t listen, leading to a million versions of, “Wait- where do I sit Mrs. Heyn?” In addition, students would cheer or act visibly annoyed based on which names were called before and after theirs. So, now I do things a bit differently.

During the very first art class, I have students make portfolios, which have the students’ names written clearly on the front. I make up the seating charts during the first week of school. The second time the students come and see me, their portfolios are already sitting at their assigned seats. After carpet time, I just say, “Ok, go ahead and find your seats.” It is so much easier!

setting out portfolios before students arrive eliminates chaos

You might be thinking, “That sounds so great, but I only have 5 minutes (or no minutes!) in between my classes. I can’t do that!” While it is trickier this way, it’s not impossible. I actually used this method during a schedule when I had back-to-back classes. The key is preparation.

If you have to dole out the portfolios in a flash, here’s the trick. After you make the seating charts, make a pile of portfolios for each table. Have students line up a few minutes early at the end of your first class and play a simple game in line like telephone while you quickly pass out the portfolios for the next class. Having them in separate piles will make this easier.

Admittedly, this system takes some time up front. It takes a rotation of classes where you may be running around like a crazy person at the end of each class, but it is so worth it.

Do you assign seats in your classroom? How often do you change them? 

What system works for you?



Amanda Heyn

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Katie Corrigan

    Seeing 425 students every week back-to-back can be overwhelming, especially in August! I’ve found it helpful to seat siblings (in different classes and grade levels) at the same table in each class…almost like thinking of family tables or seats. It helps me connect the face with the name and family. Of course there are always students with IEPs needing preferential seating and behavior problems may require seats be moved but at the beginning of the year it helps me keep everyone straight and get to know new students a little faster. And yes, sometimes I call them by the wrong name but sometimes I’m called “mom” or their homeroom teacher so I think it all evens out!

    • What a good idea, Kaite! I never thought of doing that with siblings.

  • Mrs.C

    I get all my seating charts done before the first time I see the class for the year. My Kinders I will randomly place until I get to know them. My 1st -5th grades I know very well so I know who has to be in front, who has to be near me, what students shouldn’t sit together etc… it’s not always easy as sometimes you get the class where most of them should not sit near each other! I change seats around from time to time when necessary. :)

  • LWKieling

    The first few weeks everyday students choose out of container and sit at the matching table (lines or shapes or colors, etc). Then we have short get to know you activities since not everyone knows each other. This helps me know where some of them might “need” to sit!

  • Kathy

    For my seating charts I color the bottom 1/2 of a Popsicle stick with a color and a number to match each seat. I have 6 tables of 4 seats so I would have a red-1, red-2 red-3 etc.
    Then I put all of them in a cup and let the kids draw one as they walk into class. Usually this is a very smooth process for all 36 of my classes. I do sometimes draw out the sticks for the Kinders and 1st graders. But they all really like the randomness of drawing to see who they end up with at their table.
    If I want to I can get my cup out at the beginning of a new semester or quarter and draw new seats. Easy!!

  • Ingrid

    I have table tags. I have 7 tables, so ROYGB purple and brown. I have construction paper labeled with “Red Table” and 3S (3rd grade Smith) which goes into my 3rd grade drawer. For the first class, I have everyone line up by the board, boys line and girls line. (One year I had a student whose gender ID officially changed in 3rd grade, and let that student go where they identified, NBD, but unusual, and mentioned as I think it is important to be cognizant and sensitive as well as efficient!)
    Then, I create the world’s fastest seating chart. I just go down the line, “red, orange, yellow….” and tell each student which table to sit at. 7 boys, then 7 girls, okay, now there should be 2 students at each table, then next 7, sometimes with a little shuffle as needed, a final evaluation of how it ‘looks’, and then students write their name on their table tag, “neatly and big enough that the kindergarten kids could read it”.
    For kinders, I am assisted by the HR teachers in both writing names, and knowing who should not be seated together. It is very fast and usually works out with minimal switching. It also helps me learn names much faster. It ALSO helps in passing out papers, as they put them ON the table tag to turn them in- only have to pass out 7 papers instead of 28 or 30!

  • Jacqueline

    I assign colors to each table and then have them draw colors as they come in. I star by putting 2 of each color in the basket and when they are gone throw in a set of colors 1 at a time…it ensures that the last group of kids don’t end up together and that helps the odds.

  • Stephanie Perry

    I use an old paint bucket and call it my “Sorting Bucket,” kind of like Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat. Inside the bucket I have color cubes for each of my tables: Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green. Kids choose a cube on their way into the room on the first day of school to sit at their color tables. This almost always works out just fine, although sometimes I end up with too many boys or girls at one table and flip a few kids around to even things out. As the year goes on, these teams works out how to share supplies and get along with each other. Occasionally I have to shift kids around, but hardly ever. This technique adds an element of surprise to the seating chart and avoids the dreaded alpha order!

    • I love this idea. It saves the teacher a ton of time and is fun for the kids. The Harry Potter reference is the icing on the cake! :)

  • Susan

    I assign colors to my tables. I laminate construction paper in the color and attach the student names to the paper on cards. I keep each class clipped together and put them out and collect them for each group. Moving a seat is as easy as moving a name tag taped to the laminated paper. I tell the students to check for any seating changes when I change them.

  • Beth Young

    I teach 7th and 8th grade art. I put numbers on index cards along with group numbers and taped the cards to the tables. Students learn where they sit by looking at a power point slide that’s up before they come into class. Their seat number and name are listed under the group number they have been assigned. They find their seats as they trickle in before the tardy bell. Students that arrived early help others find their assigned seats. It takes me a couple of minutes to check to make sure they have it right after the bell, and then we move on with the lesson.