Number one for English language teachers

Classroom management: the triangular classroom

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

A discussion about the possible benefits of using a triangular classroom.


An interesting article appeared recently in The Guardian (Guardian Education, January 23rd, 2001), in which the use of a triangular classroom was described. It should be said at the outset that the classroom building itself is triangular and that the formation inside it is based on rows of pupils, with the front row containing the longest line and then gradually tapering towards the back with a single pupil in the back row.

Advantages cited are: a better view of all the pupils for the teacher, a better view of the board for the pupils, the ease with which the pupils can be regrouped, and the fact that for both staff and pupils it is something of a novelty. While it is unlikely that many EFL teachers are able to enjoy the potential benefits of a triangular classroom building, there is no reason why teachers cannot experiment with different seating formations in order to give their learners a different perspective. The most basic arrangement, that of having learners in rows, has its disadvantages, but even this formation can be productive, giving opportunities for pair work and being particularly suitable for writing activities. In recent years, the horseshoe arrangement has found a lot of favour amongst teachers as it enables all the learners to see each other and provides a convenient forum for open pair activities, question and answer and mingling activities.

The L-shaped arrangement provides similar advantages. Teachers whose classes are engaged in a lot of small group work or writing activities (on examination preparation courses, for example), may prefer the arrangement of learners working in groups of four to six around separate tables. This also gives the teacher easy access to the learners in order to monitor their work. The large "solid" square, formed by placing tables together and having learners sit around the outside, also has its advantages. It can create a "workshop" atmosphere and also enables learners to see each other fairly easily. One class observed by the writer of this article had an interesting formation devised by the teacher – on a cold December evening, instead of sitting in a horseshoe facing the board, the learners sat in a horseshoe facing the fire (a simulated coal-fire!), while the teacher told a ghost story. The arrangement was entirely appropriate and made a significant contribution to the success of the lesson.

But what of the triangular classroom? This too could have considerable advantages. An "open" triangular formation (with or without desks) would enable all the learners to see each other reasonably well. It would also give the teacher flexibility in his or her position in the class. It might also have the positive effect of being something of a novelty and therefore a motivational factor. As for the "closed" triangular formation, the advantages are outlined at the beginning of this article. Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of a particular formation, it is certainly worth experimenting with different ones from time to time. At the very least it will give you and your learners a different point of view – literally!

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I have certainly tried the "circle" but it sounds great.
    Thank you!

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