Advice and suggestions of how to overcome the problem of restricted seating arrangements.

I teach oral English to 2nd and 3rd year EFL majors in China. The classrooms have tight rows of chairs and desks bolted to the floor. Can you suggest some way I might utilize the seating arrangement for group discussion and practice?

This kind of restriction, in various forms, is faced by teachers in many parts of the world. Are the chairs bolted to the floor, as well as the desks? If not, then of course people sitting in alternate rows can turn their chairs round and work across the desks with those sitting behind them. Even if the chairs are bolted to the floor, they could maybe sit on them facing backwards, if it isn't too uncomfortable!

But a different way of getting round this problem is to get the students to stand up for group practice. In this way they can make much more flexible use of the available space, for example by clustering round the ends of rows of desks, or in the aisles, or in any space there might be at the front of the room.

It might seem as if standing up is just a second-best solution, but actually there's a lot to recommend it, even in rooms that offer more flexibility of seating arrangements. I've often noticed students becoming suddenly less inhibited and full of a new kind of energy when they stand up to do an activity. The physical change mirrors a change from a fixed, institutional arrangement to a more relaxed, social one. Students can make freer use of gestures. They can decide moment by moment how close they want to stand to their interlocutors. In fact, they can behave in a way that's more similar to the way they behave outside the classroom.

A further point is that teachers often spend long stretches of lessons standing while their students are sitting, and perhaps don't always appreciate that sitting for long periods, especially on hard seats, can become uncomfortable, and that students might welcome a stand-up activity simply for this reason, too.

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