Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements

Definitive Article

Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements

How should you sit and pair or group learners for the best learning results? How can you change up the classroom to keep the learners engaged and on task? How does the classroom management change with different activity types? These questions are essential for creating a student-centered learning environment.

This post is best viewed while listening to our podcast on Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements


Seating Arrangements

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.35.22 PMThe four basic seating arrangements on which most classroom management, and other more elaborate seating arrangements are based.

It is important for a teacher to think about classroom management (seating arrangements) when planning their lesson. The arrangement of the room has a profound effect on learning and engagement.


Interaction Patterns

1. Individual / Student Working Alone

Used with activities in which learners work on their own. In this pattern there is no student-student interaction and should be use minimally in the ESL classroom. Completely controlled.


2. Open PairScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.25 PM

Great for activities in which learners practice a dialog, impromptu conversation, or communicative gap-fill activity where student A and student B have different gaps to fill. Use this when you want to monitor, and have learners all producing – lowering that TTT (teacher talk time). Low control for the teacher on the content of the interaction.


3. Closed PairScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.29 PM

When you want everyone in the group to hear a dialog, or see the interaction between two learners. Almost always used when demonstrating an activity to the group. Low student production, but very controlled.


4. IslandsScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.32 PM

The go-to for group work. Fantastic for collaborative activities. Extremely low control over interaction. Make sure roles are assigned by the group leader before the activity begins (even before you hand out any materials to the learners). Examples of roles: writer/recorder, on-topic, English police, artistic coordinator, runner, timer, speaker/presenter.


5. MingleScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.40 PM

The most productive interaction pattern. Just like a party, everyone talks to anyone. This increases STT to the max. Great for surveys, or practicing a free dialog. More natural than other interactions, however lower levels might lack confidence or language to engage others. Low control over interaction.


6. Teacher Fronted PlenaryScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.36 PM

Your school probably has the classrooms set up like this already. The default for most language training centers. The teacher has great control over the interaction, but the learners have little freedom for production. Use this only when introducing, setting context or the aims of the lesson, and when you need control of input and attention. Get away from this as soon as your input is complete and the learners need to start producing. Total control over interaction.


7. The Onion RingScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.45.49 PM

Jimmy’s favorite. Great for time controlled activities in which pairs of learners need to interact or exchange information. First time you use this with your group the learners will take a little more time to get into position, but once they have done it once the next time they get into position quickly. Medium control over interaction.


Want to do a training session on seating arrangements and interaction patterns in your school? Download this  skills workshop (41 downloads)  from

Listen to our podcast on Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements

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