Tips for Special Education Classroom Arrangement

Creating a physical environment in which learning can be accessed and used to its fullest capacity is a major factor in setting up a special education classroom. Desks, chairs, large tables, computers and even the student’s seating arrangement  are critical in accommodating students with disabilities, as well as establishing an optimal environment for learning.

The goal to classroom arrangement is to promote a sense of accessibility for students with learning and physical disabilities it’s not an easy task, considering that the types of disabilities a student may have – including a learning disability – can vary and affect students in different ways. While one student may have visual processing disorders, another may have auditory processing, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Autism, to name a few.

Learning disabilities pose many problems in term of creating an ideal environment for the students. Each disability may need unique accommodations in terms of seating. It is recommended that a teacher must adhere to the specifications designated by the case-carrier of the student or to what is written in the Individual Education Plan’s (IEP) accommodation/modification page. Often, the most popular accommodation one can make is to ensure that the student in question is either seated near the teacher, the board, or in the front of the class.

Accommodating a student with a learning disability in a general education class is easy. However, a special education classroom is a different matter. Here, just about every student will have a disability and will have an IEP that stipulates that the student needs to either sit in the front of the classroom, near the teacher or by the board. This can be difficult if a teacher has twenty students with the same accommodation.


Possibly the best way to solve this problem is to break away from the conventional seating. If the teacher wants to insure that the students are paying attention, especially those who are seated in the back of the classroom, then he’ll have to move them closer to where he usually teaches. He may also want them seated in a way in which they have a better view of the Ink-board or screen. And, the teacher may desire a situation in which he can move quickly to one student to another in order to personally help them.

The best seating arrangement, in this case, is the “horseshoe.” The row of chairs is configured in a semi-circle. This is ideal for small classes (which most special education classes tend to be). This configuration offers space for the teacher to lecture, present a lesson, or to traverse from student to student. It also offers proximity to the board or the front of the classroom.


Another arrangement a teacher can use is to place the desks or tables in small groups. This is ideal for cooperative learning in which students are put in groups to work on a project or a lesson, as well as to learn from one another. This configuration is also ideal for special education classes at the elementary and middle school level.


It’s not uncommon for a special education teacher – especially the ones teaching Special Day Classes (SDC), Emotional Disorder (ED) or Basic Skills– to teach multiple subjects. Even in middle and high school, these multiple subject courses are fairly common. If a teacher has to teach a class like this, then he may have to (1) group the students  and (2) establish a “station” based on subjects.

Stations can consist of large tables placed in every corner of the classroom. One station can be designated for science; another for English; and another for Math or Social Studies. Since most special education teachers will have an instructional assistant, a teacher can assign the assistant to help the students at one or two of the stations. One thing is certain about this setup; the teacher will possibly have to spend a considerable amount of time with each group (even if the teacher assigns a rotating system in the classroom). He may have to run from one group to another every 15 minutes.

This arrangement doesn’t have to be reserved for the multi-subject classroom. Resource classrooms or Reading intervention courses can use stations. In fact, a typical Reading Intervention class will have a station for computers where a reading program is used; a listening station for audio-books for listening and comprehension practice; and a personal library and reading center for more practice (to note: the reading center in most classes – whether it’s a high school reading intervention course or an elementary school SDC class is often a bookshelf full of books, a rug, comfortable seating and a table).


Physical disabilities have to be considered, as well. The typical school desk will simply not accommodate a student confined to a wheel-chair. Even the standard table offered at school sites may not be the best choice, considering their restrictions to be adjusted for size and space.

The best table for these students is one that can be adjustable or can have its surface raised to an optimal angle. Single drafting tables or art tables tend to be the best.

There are many types of arrangement one can use for the classroom. In many cases, it has a lot more to do with the type of accommodations a teacher can give the students. Stations and seating arrangements are merely two things a teacher can consider. Still, the importance of arrangement is to ensure access to the educational material and to the education itself.  That’s something a teacher must keep in mind.