Room Layout - From Disciplined Rows to Encouraging Interaction

I frequently arrive at a room looking like this:
Layout in Rows (all rights reserved)
I hate these rooms.  They look stark and clinical.  They are about individual-teacher-interaction (or maybe even teacher-talking-at-students-not-interacting). The dominant paradigm here is instructing, not facilitating.

That said, I love these rooms because they are a blank canvas.  The room is big enough to redistribute the furniture; and the tables and chairs are light enough to move single-handed.

This is the result of about 8 minutes of furniture moving (in a room that is the mirror image of the one above):
Inverted U Layout (all rights reserved)
This is a traditional inverted U layout, in this case for six people.  Everyone can see everyone in the room by turning their head.  In this room, they can also see the screen, the whiteboard and me.

Here are two more examples of the same concept in different rooms:

More Examples of an Inverted U Layout
(all rights reserved, thank-you participants from
Professional Presentation Skills and Fitzroy Basin Elders Committee)

This is the room at the top of this post after about 12 minutes of furniture moving:
Small Group Interactive Layout as a Broken Inverted U
(all rights reserved)
The participants can easily interact with each other, as well as being able to see the screen, the whiteboard and me at the front of the room.  You may have noticed that the blinds are closed.  This is unusual - as I prefer as much natural light as possible.

This is not an inverted U.  When the U is connected at the top, it is harder to get around in the room, and I cannot say, 'answer the questions as a table' (meaning 'discuss your answers with three or so people you are sitting with'), which I frequently do.  The broken U contributes to a greater sense of intimacy at the two tables.

I made a subtle change while delivering a series of workshops for emerging leaders, and that was to have the people at each side face more inwards than forwards, accentuating the interaction across the room.  Before that it was less like a broken inverted U and more like a broken inverted W.

Here is a bit of a blended layout in another room.  The closer table is like half an inverted W, while the further table is a mini inverted U.

Small Group Interactive Layout as a Blend
(all rights reserved)
Now I've had a close look at it, I think I need to 'fix' this layout.  This is a narrow room, and one chair is not just slightly turned away from half of the room, but facing in the opposite direction.  I am using this room at the moment, and the person who usually sits at this chair swivels around to participate in class discussions.  Some people are reluctant to swivel.  This position would not be suitable for them.

Here is a final alternative:
An inverted V Layout (all rights reserved, thank-you to
the class of 2010 Emerging Leadership Program at CQUniversity)
You can see it is the narrow room from above, this time with an inverted V.  As I teach a series of 10 sessions in this room, I like to mix the space up.  In this case, the V brings everyone's attention to the front of the room.  It is difficult to move around in this space, and discussions between participants are restricted by being in one long (bent) row

These are some ideas, based on small groups.  Don't be afraid to move the furniture around.  And always consider how the layout could enhance or inhibit participation and learning.