Make a commitment to make your room function better. Involve students in the process:

We can take control of our physical space by moving desks. We can take time to teach students to do it effectively and efficiently. The first attempts might well be messy, but rest assured it will work.

Here’s a possible scenario:

  1. Put a diagram of an alternative arrangement of desks on the board (or on a piece of chart paper, or on an overhead or PowerPoint slide) and ask the students to move their desks into the new arrangement. Time them.
  2. After they finish, tell them how long it took. Then ask them to return the desks to the original arrangement, this time without talking.
  3. Then, ask them to repeat the new rearrangement without talking. If other classes have done it, you may want to tell them the time to beat. Time them again.
  4. Repeat this a few times to reduce the time and the noise to an acceptable level. Again, you may want to say how quickly another group has done it, since students enjoy competition.
  5. Whenever you want a different arrangement, you can invoke this procedure more efficiently.
  6. Each time you establish a procedure to move desks, it becomes part of your classroom culture. (Putting tennis balls on the feet of desks and chairs reduces noise.)

For more specific ideas about teaching see Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: