Structured Classroom Layout

Physical Structure is a pillar of structured classrooms- and I am always shocked at how many people get their structured classroom layout all wrong!

Are you getting ready to set up your Autism Unit, LIFE Skills classroom, or even just a classroom with special ed students in it? Then you MUST read on about the impact of physical structure.

Setting up a Structured Classroom? Here's what you need for Physical Structure PLUS FREE Flow Chart!

Structured Classroom Layout for Instructional Time

Before you can even start to lay out your classroom, you have to think about the needs of your students and what teaching style you plan on using most often. For lots of elementary classrooms, group time is on the mat or in an area of the room that does not need seats for all. When you get to middle and high school, you better believe all the students are not going to rush to a mat. There you’ll need seats if you plan on large group or whole group activities.


BUT, I would not recommend that. Most students in Autism units and LIFE Skills classrooms do not work well in large groups because of their poor auditory processing and problems with generalizing skills. What does that mean? If you train a student to complete a type of task or a specific task in a designated area a student will be more successful in repeating that behavior in that same location… UNTIL they are ready to generalize. But that takes some time. Trying to have a student learn several different tasks or series of tasks in one area or unpredictable area makes your job harder. And it will require a student to rely more heavily over processing auditory information, which is not something your students will do well.


So, make areas with a specific purpose. Think about areas for small groups, 1:1 instruction, independent work stations, and partner work. When you decide where they should be placed, try to design the space so physical boundaries are helping you define the space. When you lay your classroom out with these things in mind, your student will have an easier time learning skills and performing tasks.


Finally, be sure that it is very clear where each area begins and ends. This can be done naturally with bookcases, filing cabinets, desks and chairs or things like rugs and tape.

Setting up a Structured Classroom? Here's what you need for Physical Structure PLUS FREE Flow Chart!

Structured Classroom Layout for Behavior Concerns

Back in the day, we used to call students who eloped ‘runners’. I had a few runners in my day. The worst thing you can give a runner is a bee line to the door. Structuring a classroom with barriers and obstacles (without ever trapping a student) can at least give you the three to five extra seconds we old folks need to react. If you have any students who are prone to elopement, be sure to consider how easy it is to get to the door from the instructional spaces in your classroom.


Other things to consider are BIP needs. Some student Behavior Plans include calm down spaces, sensory areas, or places to isolation stations. As mentioned above, you want to be very intentional in defining the space and setting it up so the student will be successful. That probably includes visuals and may also include timers, access to calm down jars or compliance tasks, and maybe journals, music, or sensory toys.


Those things are easy, but what you really need to lay out is how a student gets in. (Is it self selected? Do they get sent by an adult? Is it part of they can work for?) And also how they get out (Is it time based? Is it upon task completion? When they have quiet hands?) That way you can create visuals that support the student.


Structured Classroom Layout for Classroom Management

Some of the things we overlook when laying out a classroom include good line of sight, an area to manage transitions (including lining up, fire drills and dismissal time), and including visual labels to the areas you’ve designed. Students need to be clear what happens where and when you label your classroom like this it also makes visual schedules for students easier and uniformed.



Physical Structure- Get With the Flow!

All this is great… but are you a checklist kind of person? Then you need to download this flowchart to help you work through designing clear physical and visual boundaries for your work and behavior areas.


Pin this, so you can always find it or print it now and use it today!

Setting up a Structured Classroom? Here's what you need for Physical Structure PLUS FREE Flow Chart!Physical Structure, Check. What’s Next?

Remember, there are 4 pillars to the structured classroom. Physical structure is one part. Reread the section introducing the 4 pillars, here. Next up is Visual Structure followed by Visual Schedules and Work Systems. Be sure to check in next week to get more or subscribe today and get email updates!

NoodleNook.Net- Tips, Tricks, and Freebies for Teachers in LIFE Skills, Autism Units, and Elementary Ed. Pin It Now!

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  1. Cecelia

    I am not sure if all the suggestions your making will help me with my class- it is a odd shape and not a lot of things move around, but I like the ideas and will try them to see how they work.
    Thanks for writing- it will be something I pin!

  2. Melvin Sauld

    I was needing help with laying out my class so that it works better. What can I do when students run out of class? I feel like I’m always in front of the door so kids don’t get out. Help!

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