How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

Burning QuestionsI haven’t posted in … well, it’s been a minute.  One of my goals is write again here.  I asked some colleagues what they thought were 6-12 grade ELA teachers “burning questions.”  And let me just say, I have the BEST colleagues.  They were so thoughtful in their responses — which helped me launch this new series for my blog.  

PS — At the end of each post,  you will find a link to a fancy one-page PDF (shout out to my incredible brother for designing it!) with the information in the blog — including resources.   

How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

I once taught a class of 32 high school students in a single-wide trailer. One morning, I literally found a student on the roof of the trailer.  And who could blame him?  We were packed!

At this point, I had yet discovered the power of the classroom meeting space.  But thinking about how cramped we were in that trailer brings great empathy for teachers trying to create meeting areas in less than ideal spaces.

I think the first thing we have to realize is the power of the meeting area.  I was a little late to this party.  As a high school teacher, I felt the meeting area to be way too elementary for me. Then, challenged by one of my mentors, I tried it.

I was wrong.

2016-02-09 12.39.00It wasn’t childish at all.  Most of my students loved it! It built a sense of community in a way that really can only be accomplished through this closeness of learning together.

Once you decide that a meeting space is a priority, you have to make it happen.

It took me many tries and student help to figure out how to really arrange the classroom in a way that worked.  I finally settled on a student-design of desks in groups of four forming a U-shape with the open area in the middle my meeting space.  You can see pictures here or here.

At this point in my career, I was lucky enough to have a nice space to do this.  Thinking back to my trailer days, I wonder what I would have done.

I know it would have taken a lot of thinking, moving, organizing, sweating, and prioritizing.

Here are some questions that might be helpful in thinking through this:

  1. What are my non-negotiables in the classroom? (Think: meeting area, classroom library, etc.)
  2. What is the teaching space vs teacher space vs working space ratio in my classroom?
  3. How does the way my space is organized reflect my teaching values?
  4. What do I have to keep and what can I get rid of?
  5. Can I make any space work for more than one thing?
  6. Is there awkward space I can repurpose – such as lockers, under the whiteboard, etc?
  7. If I’m limited on space, how can I set up the room to where it will be easy for students to move chairs, desks, etc for the mini-lesson and then back again? (This is totally a teachable routine.)

Last, I would leave you this suggestion.  Start at the beginning of the year with a meeting space.  Even if you are unsure about it, start at the beginning and do it with a positive attitude.

You just might be surprised.

Resources to Check Out

BQI1_Meeting Space2
Burning Question Issue 1 PDF



Debbie Diller’s Spaces and Places

Ruth Ayres & Stacey Shubitz’s Day by Day

Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle


Two Writing Teachers’ Why We Gather

ReadWriteInspire’s Inspired Design

The Daily Café’s 7 Steps to Classroom Design


HoCo’s MS & HS Classroom Areas

Michelle Wolf’s The Meeting Area in Workshop

ELA Coach Wall’s Workshop Meeting Area Board

Pernille Ripp’s My Classroom without Students


Scholastic’s Classroom Set-Up Tool

Classrooms4Teachers’ Classroom Architect