8 Classroom Design Ideas + Best Practices to Follow

interior of a traditional school classroom with wooden floor and furniture.

Designing a classroom is about more than colorful decorations. Good classroom design involves creating a space that supports instructors, encourages learning, adapts to different needs and fosters collaborative, project-based engagements.

But before you second-guess your alphabet banner, let’s explore the philosophy behind effective classroom design.

Philosophy of Classroom Design

Many of today’s classrooms are far removed from the one-room schoolhouse of days past. Learning is no longer even limited to a single shared classroom space — today’s students learn in virtual classrooms, experiential classrooms without walls, and even tall ships or the great outdoors.

Students who learn in more traditional classrooms tend to perform better when there are fewer visual distractions, as illustrated by a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Salford, Manchester, UK. Another study published in Psychological Science also found that kindergarten students who learned in a well-decorated classroom performed lower on tests than children in a sparser room. 

School-aged children are always learning, whether they are ingesting academic content, practicing interpreting social cues or making sense of the world around them through tactile experiences. To ensure learners actually absorb the information they are given during lessons, educators need to ensure their classroom space supports learning retention. 

Educause, a nonprofit association that researches and promotes the use of technology in education, developed the Learning Space Rating System (LSRS) to score how well a physical classroom space supports learning. The system works like this:

  1. A classroom’s design characteristics are scored against a set of 50 credits.
  2. If the design meets the criteria for a specific credit, a point or points are added to a compiled score. 
  3. As you proceed through the credits, the score for the room’s design rises. 
  4. The higher the score, the better the design for active learning.

The active learning approach seeks to actively engage students with course material through dynamic experiences, such as group projects, discussions, field trips or role playing. This is in contrast to lecture-based learning, in which the teacher typically delivers a lesson from the front of the classroom and the students quietly listen. Classroom design is steadily moving in the direction of active learning, with furniture and floor plans that encourage student-led learning and collaboration.

8 Elements of Classroom Design

If you’re poised to design or redesign a classroom space, Educase recommends asking yourself the following questions about your ideas:

  • Is the design based on research, observation or educational best practices?
  • How does the classroom design fit in with the rest of the school or campus?
  • What effect will the design have on students? 
  • How will the space impact others, including visiting teachers, substitutes, principals or future students?
  • What kind of maintenance will the space require?
  • Does the design accommodate those with different needs and abilities?
  • Will the design be suited for long-term use?
  • How will you measure the impact the space has on students’ learning?
  • How does educational technology fit into the space?
  • Can the design adapt to changing instructional needs?
  • Does the design support sightlines, traffic patterns, comfort and safety, etc.?

Below are some general best practices to help guide your proposed classroom design.

1. Minimalize Your Space

As much as we like to make our classrooms colorful and interesting, remember that too much of a good thing can negatively impact student performance. Take a less-is-more approach to classroom decor, and even ask your students to weigh in on what they like or don’t like in the room. 

Try taking items out on a trial basis to see if you can teach without them in the space. Prioritize creative organization solutions that get in-progress projects off the walls, off the floor and off counters and tables. Overall, you want a clean space that best prepares students to focus on the learning at hand.

2. Provide Comfortable and Flexible Seating Options

Grade school education is steadily moving toward a student-centered approach, as opposed to the traditional teacher-centered format. For many students, sitting quietly in a chair and facing forward for an entire lesson is not conducive to their learning; they might experience more success with active, hands-on learning. To support all students, implement flexible seating options that can be rearranged or removed for different types of learning engagements.  

You can even encourage students to suggest types of seating that work best for them — just make sure the final solution supports the following:

3. Reduce Your “Teaching Footprint”

In teacher-centered learning, the front of the classroom draws all the attention; this is the teacher’s domain. In student-centered classrooms, however, the teacher’s space is de-emphasized. When a teacher sits or moves among students during lessons, it encourages more dynamic participation and student-teacher dialogue. 

Most teachers still need a space to call their own for paperwork and organizational purposes, but make time to clear this space at the end of each day. Do the same for the rest of the space — you and your students should find a clean classroom every morning, ready for more learning.

4. Create Spaces for Collaboration

Replacing students’ single desks with shared tables makes group work much easier, since students don’t need to relocate or shift their desks to work together. Shared spaces also support students’ social-emotional learning, because working with others helps young students practice lifelong skills like communication, problem solving, compromise and sharing. 

Even if you can’t place students at shared tables, maintain a clear space in the classroom for collaborative work or group discussions.

5. Add Spaces to Highlight Student Achievements

Students like to see evidence of their achievements, so maintaining a space for finished work can become a point of pride. Displaying finished projects can also make learning tangible, so students can easily point to the outcomes of their projects — whether it’s a diorama from a unit on marine ecosystems or posters illustrating fractions. 

Be mindful of cluttering the walls, though, as we covered in tip #1. We Are Teachers recommends adopting the “one-month-on-the-wall” rule for finished student work or unit-specific materials. Maintain a steady schedule for students to take home their projects; alternatively, start a digital showcase portfolio that students and their families can access from home at any time.

6. Simplify Your Color Palette

In general, the younger the grade, the “busier” the learning space — or at least, that’s the instinct many teachers have. But since heavily-decorated rooms tend to distract students and negatively impact academic performance, apply the less-is-more approach to your color choices as well. 

This doesn’t mean the walls need to be sparse. Try limiting your classroom color palette to three main colors, with the furniture and supplies being variations on those shades. Remember that the decor should limit visual “noise” and support students’ learning, so opt for neutral or calming colors like blues, greens and earth tones.

7. Increase Writable Spaces

Composition notebooks may be timeless, but they are far from the only writing surface available to today’s students. Personal whiteboards, chalkboards, tablets and digital whiteboards are just some of the tools students can use for their written work. 

Teachers no longer need to be the “keepers” of the writing surfaces. Paint a classroom wall with chalkboard paint for student-led learning (or free-time doodling), or cover students’ desks in dry erase vinyl for in-class exercises.

8. Ensure Proper Use of Technology

With great educational technology comes great responsibility, both on the part of the students and the teacher. Teachers who implement new technologies in their classrooms need to be sure the technology will enhance, and not replace, their own instruction. Likewise, educational technology should not draw attention away from course content; the primary purpose of new tech tools should be to advance learning, not distract from it. 

When it comes to the physical space, make sure tools like laptops or tablets can be stored safely and securely when not in use. If students are sharing tech tools, provide enough collaboration space so they can access the tools equally. 

Classroom Design Ideas and Examples

Pinterest offers unlimited ideas for classroom designs and decorations. Be aware of original sources though, and prioritize ideas that will support both students and the instructor. Find five roundups of great ideas from real teachers below:

FAQs About Classroom Design

How can I design my classroom on a budget?

Designing or redesigning your classroom does not require expensive materials or upgrades. Big box stores like Walmart and Target sell attractive, affordable classroom organization solutions, and Pinterest features hundreds of thousands of ideas for designing a classroom on a budget.

How can I design a classroom for students with special needs?

Special needs” encompasses such a wide range of student abilities and challenges that no one space can accommodate all physical or behavioral needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all public school classrooms must be ADA compliant, meaning that they must be accessible to wheelchair users and that teachers must make reasonable accommodations when it comes to technology tools. In general, best practices for classroom design apply to students of all abilities, such as minimizing distractions, making the space safe and comfortable, ensuring every student has access to the tools they need, and that the layout supports both independent and collaborative work.

Helpful Resource Links

A 50-point scoring system for classroom design, developed by nonprofit Educause. 

How to enrich your educational community through continuing professional development. 

Going beyond the textbook to teach real-world skills.

Professional development that helps teachers support students’ social-emotional learning.

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