Deskless and Seatingchartless: Keep them moving

I made the switch to a deskless classroom this year and I am loving every minute of it. I have 6 tables (foldable) in my room in the corner that I can quickly and easily set up  if I need BUT I almost never do. Even when we do writing tasks students just use clipboards or their binders as a desk. They have never complained about it,  or questioned it. Since it was the first impression they had of me as their teacher and it is the only way they have ever seen my room, they don’t know or think any different.

Last year I had desks but they were separate from the students chairs and they sat in front of their desks (back to the desk) facing me in a horse shoe shape. This allowed for a lot of movement in my classroom. (I was really half way to deskless last year)

I hate desks. I hate how much space they take up. I hate that they make it difficult to move. I hate that students (upper school) can easily hide cell phones and other stuff underneath them and pretend like they are listening, (they think we don’t know but we always know). I hate that students can put their heads down and lean on the desks. I hate that they can’t jump up and sit down in less than 1 second. Isn’t it weird for me to say the word hate!? Normally it is all positivity and rainbows and sparkles and happiness!!! I really want to stress how much I dislike desks for a language classroom.

I have LOVED every minute of my deskless classroom this year. My students bring their binders with them to class every day and they know that for their do now, they will be using their binders or reading FVR. After their do-now their binders go beneath their chair along with their pencil, and that is where these things stay for the REST OF THE CLASS. It is always funny when someone is mindlessly playing with their pencil or tapping it against their chair because right in the middle of input I let out a HUGE, DRAMATIC, VERY “MAESTRA LOCA” SCREAM. Not only do all the kids jump (some yelp!), but it immediately makes everyone laugh when I say in the TL “______ is holding a pencil!” They think it is hysterical. I do have a few exceptions to the “not allowed to hold anything” rule. These kiddos carry stress balls or fiddle gadgets with them that they use in all classrooms to keep their focus and it prevents them from using other objects to fidget with which create more of a distraction.

At the beginning of the year, I spend the first couple of days getting a “feel” for my students, and sussing out who will work well sitting together and who need to be separated and then after 3 days I create a simple seating chart for every class. I change that seating chart after 2 weeks, then again after another 2 weeks. After that, I “allow” the students to sit wherever they choose. By then, one month into school, I have established all of my rules and expectations, and my classroom management is tight because students know exactly what is expected of them every day. They also recognize that it doesn’t matter who they sit next to, because of the pacing and super tight transitions of my classes, they will likely not have the opportunity to even glance at their friends let alone strike up a conversation with them. Aside from this, they do have the looming threat of “I can choose to switch back to a seating chart if “this” isn’t working out. Everyone wants it to work out, so 9/10 times it does.

After about 2-3 months (sometimes you can stretch it even longer) the idea of students sitting next to their friends, might not be working. If there is ever more than 1 side conversation at the same time during any given class,  I know it is time to switch things up. I am very fortunate because my culture of “no inglés” is incredibly strong in class so any conversations happening are at least in the target language and more often than not they are ABOUT what we are discussing in class.I still want to discourage them though, and keep kiddos listening to the input I am giving or the output their peers are sharing. So what now!? I am SO determined to keep a VERY positive atmosphere in my class. I do not want kids to feel I am “punishing” them by going to a seating chart. I find that the more happy, light, and positive I can keep my classes the more bought in the kids remain, and the more respect I gain. Positivity is essential in my class to keep that sense of community….


This January I started something new. When students come in the classroom they say our “dicho” of the week, and then they receive a domino from me. Does it have to be a domino? NO! But I love dominos… Read this blog for why….You could just as easily use playing cards or anything else you can dream up. They sit wherever they want and then after their do now EVERYTHING goes under their chairs again. I jump into my lesson. The second I sense that a conversation is about to stir up amongst buddies I get students up for a Brain Burst. I tell them (in the TL) to grab their dominos and then I have them move to new seats USING the domino as a guide.  It doesn’t matter where their new seat is because they don’t need their binders and pencils, and if they do I just have them stand up and move back to their initial seat. The dominos I use are awesome because they are 7 different colors and have up to 9 numbers on each side. They are wooden, and I found them in a pile of stuff that another teacher was throwing out. SCORE! Below are the different ways I may ask them to move or sit. ALL of these instructions are given to them IN the TL,very slowly the first few times, and I model model model using my OWN domino. Keep in mind that my classroom is set up in a hook. 16-25 chairs (depending on which class) with a giant straight line that hooks at the end but all of the space in front of the chairs is VERY open. An elephant could lay down in my room.

  • Sit by color, blues sit here, greens sit here, blacks sit here, oranges sit here, etc. (I am indicating “where” the section is in the classroom that I want them to sit)
  • Sit in a pattern, blue, red, orange, green, yellow, black, blue, red, orange… etc.
  • Add up the two numbers on your domino, sit in order of numbers, smallest to greatest
  • Subtract one side of your domino from the other and sit in order of numbers from smallest to greatest
  • Multiply the two numbers of your domino and sit in order of numbers from smallest to greatest
  • Find someone with the same color domino as you and sit next to them
  • Find someone with the same numbers on their domino as you and sit next to them

During this movement, students are allowed to speak only saying “I have _____” and only in Spanish. This has become a perfect Brain Break. They are up and moving and their Brains are not at all focused on whatever input or activity we were in the middle of when I stood them up to move, and most of the time the “switching of seats” (after the first couple of days) doesn’t take more than 20-30 seconds. It is perfect. They also don’t complain about who they end up sitting next to because they recognize they aren’t going to be there for long because I will have them move again before they know it! I also have set up the expectation that as soon as they sit, that domino goes right back under whatever chair they landed on.

img_0643For those of you squealing right now because you see the cross content connection with math then YAY! Yes, if you are teaching in a school that requires you to make weekly or daily cross curriculuar connections then YES! This works and it works well! Another language teacher observed me recently and remarked that they were impressed with how easily students were navigating saying numbers (high numbers) in Spanish, and when they were stumbling they either asked their friends for help, or they circumlocuted it by saying the two numbers that made up their high number while the other person told them the correct way to say it in Spanish. (For example, one child would say “I have 34”, while another would say “I have 5,7.”and their friend would correct saying “57”) Yes, I do recognize that in Spanish we have an easier time than French, but I know that this would work well in Chinese too, since I can speak Chinese decently and know my numbers.

I love that this is yet another way I have integrated MORE movement into my class and the students don’t see it or recognize it as me SORT of having a seating chart! They think it is completely random, which is sort of true, but they still don’t realize that I can manipulate it and change up the order and the way students are sitting whenever I want. It is pretty epic…..!

I have typed this whole thing while my very sweet barber boyfriend, who not only HATES color, but NEVER does color, has colored every hair on my head and now he is starting to cut it…. I am one LUCKY girl. So thanks to HIM for this blog getting finished!


Until next time friends,




La Maestra Loca



  1. I teach high school and am super interested in deskless. I hope to incorporate some of these ideas next year. My question is how you handle student who do not speak in the target language or follow the participation rules that first month or so? In my level 2 classes I generally have 2-5 who did not enjoy spanish 1 and have that “too cool for school” mentality. I dont know how to break them of that before it starts to impact the class vibe. Thanks!

    1. Such an important question… my question back to you is, are your students grade motivated? My syllabus intentionally has 60% of their overall grade made up of participation… If they are not doing what I need them to do, one or two zeros for participation can greatly impact their grade… at my current school, students are incredibly grade motivated… if your students are NOT grade motivated, what classroom management system do you have in place? I find that my current classroom management system is absolutely essential for building community and having students take responsibility for each other’s learning more than just their individual performance in class… my point system works for me because it creates a sense of community, respect, and teamwork, as students work together to reach a goal of a party which they get to decide upon together… if you already have something like this in place and they are still giving you a hard time, I would seriously consider pulling those students out individually during lunchtime or advisory time or immediately after class explain to them how vitally important it is that they start to buy in and participate now because they will fall behind quickly if they aren’t listening to acquire the language… most of the time however, I find that if I have a management system where students hold each other accountable it helps me a lot especially if it’s only a few students were being challenging. And if they continue to not buy and then honestly, eventually their friends will convince them to because they will be sold on your class and the language… I hope this helps a little bit

  2. Can I just say you inspire me! I dream of my classes being like this! It has to happen this year. I’m desperate for it. I just changed my seats for next week to horse shoe chairs in front of desks. I’ve really been struggling with about 8 students really bringing the class down and frustrating the good students. So hopeful for good things next week.
    I’m not quite sure what to do to have tight classroom management. I worry that I will never have these effective skills in my current high school with classes sizes of at least 30. Thanks for the inspiration. I will be prepping this weekend for a great week next week.

    1. You will because you WANT it! 🙂 You ROCK! Have you tried any management systems before that focus on the class as a community rather than focusing on them as individuals? I use a point system.

      I actually developed it when I worked in a high poverty-low income school with 30+ kids per class. It saved me every day!

      Good luck and stay POSITIVE! That is the key!!!

  3. I have been wanting to go deskless but am not certain how that works when I might be unexpectedly absent. Our subs seem to want and need a seating chart. Any thoughts?

    1. Hmmm if you’re unexpectedly absent frequently, maybe consider meeting somewhere in the middle. Go deskless (FOR SURE FOR SURE) but have a seating chart. That way it is “normal” when you are not there. If they are used to no seating chart and then are expected to sit in certain places when you aren’t there, that may cause even more problems for the sub who is already set up for frustrations given their lack of time and rapport with the kiddos. Does this make sense?

  4. ni hao loca! I am a Mandarin High School teacher and teach all 4 levels of Mandarin. I was really really inspired and would like to try deskless in my classroom. I have a question about how to set up. My desks are not foldable which means if I take all the desks out then it is hard to get them back again. Also, my class size is over 20 and one class size is 30. Is still possible to make a deskless classroom? Xie xie ni! Could you also send the deskless advantage video which can be sent to school principle?

    1. I don’t have a specific video, I think you should should use any from my channel that shows students interacting and engaging in the TL. My class sizes are all 30 to 33 kids. I would never go back to having desks 🙂

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