6 Classroom Layouts to Maintain Social Distancing

By Steven Herr

One by one, school districts and universities are announcing plans to resume education in the fall. Many elements of the COVID-19 learning experience will be different in the coming months, but none more so than the classroom. To maintain social distancing guidelines, classrooms must evolve, both in their configuration and contents.

To help educators find a balance between educational effectiveness and student safety, we created six template classroom configurations. While these are designs are not the only possibilities out there, they do follow social distancing guidelines and incorporate low-cost or no-cost solutions.

General Recommendations

Before dividing into the details of each option, it is important to start with some general recommendations for supporting social distancing in a typical 900 SF classroom.

  • Space student desks a minimum of six feet apart. Place markings on the floor to help students, teachers and maintenance staff remember where to place desks.
  • Reduce occupancy, if possible. These six configurations are based on 12 to 15 desks in a classroom.
  • Create more floor space by removing bookcases, worktables and other nonessential equipment.
  • Fix casters on furniture to limit mobility. This will help keeps desks six feet apart.
  • Use cleanable Plexiglas dividers or movable whiteboards to separate desks and teacher workstations. But be sure they do not disrupt ventilation returns or fire systems.
  • Provide a hand sanitizing station in the classroom is adjacent to the entrance.

Team Pods 

The first two classroom layouts create subdivided spaces similar to an office environment. Students are able to work in two-to-three groups per classroom. In this arrangement, the teacher can still use the main teaching wall for the entire classroom.

Layout 1 (left) has 12 student desks with ample separation. In Layout 2 (right), 18 student desks create a more compact seating configuration.

Teaching in the Round 

The second two classroom layouts encourage teaching in the round. The teacher or students can present from the center. If students are doing individual work, the teacher can make the rounds to assist as needed. Both options support 12 student desks and one teacher’s desk.

Layout 3 (left) has desks facing the wall for more privacy. Students can pivot in their chairs for group instruction or presentation. Layout 4 (right) works better in rooms with a lot of furniture or built-in bookcases, cubbies and  cabinets. 

Traditional and 21st Century Learning

The final two classroom layouts span the gamut from 21st century learning to a more traditional “sage on the stage” approach to education. Both options accommodate 14 to 15 student desks. Layout 5 requires multiple Plexiglas or whiteboard dividers to provide additional safety.

Layout 5 (left) mirrors of the flexible learning environments found in 21st century schools. For those who want a more traditional approach, Layout 6 (right) places students in rows with the teacher in front of the classroom.

To be sure, there is no magic layout that will solve all safety concerns related to COVID-19. K-12 schools and universities will also need to follow proper ventilation strategies, adopt reasonable approaches to fight bacteria and use technology in creative ways. However, these layouts provide a guide for navigating the new normal…one classroom at a time.

Additional Resources