It can be hard to label permanent seats in before the first day of school because your class list will change throughout the first week. The first week may also provide some clues about which students should sit together, and – more important – which students should definitely not sit together. If you don’t think your class list will be exact, here are two ways to leave yourself some wiggle room.
Option one: Label desks with something other than student names.
In the upper grades, especially, you have several groups of students throughout the day. Chances are, you’re not taping student names to the desks, anyway. You may, however, want to label the desks with numbers. Or, you can get creative and label them with symbols that match your subject matter. My favorite system involves two decks of playing cards. (I use only the numbered cards, not the king, queen, or jack. The one exception is the queen of hearts, which gets taped to my desk.) Here’s how it works:
1. Tape the cards onto the desks. This naturally numbers the seats and also divides the class into four teams (spades, diamonds, etc).
2. Remove cards as needed from the other deck so it matches the cards taped to the desks. You’ll use this for randomly assigning seats as students enter the room.
3. When the kids come in the first day, hand them a card and say, ‘Good morning. Your seat is the one that matches this card. The rest of the directions are on the board.’
4. Make multiple copies of a blank seating chart that matches the layout of the desks and cards. These can be used to make seating charts once you know kids better.
Note: This system is not perfect. (No system is perfect.) Among other things, the cards get grungy after a while and some of the kids pick at the tape or put gum under them. You’ll probably have to replacing them a few times a year. What I like about this system, however, is that it keeps kids from sitting with the friends they walked in with, and it also keeps them from heading straight for the seats in the back of the room on the first day.
Option 2: Strategically Place Empty Seats. And Forget About Alphabetical Order.
This is often a good option for the lower grades, where you have one class of students and also often have a classroom theme, where the kids have their names written on paper caterpillars (or whatever) taped to each desk. In this case, just assume that you’ll need five extra desks for students who come in at the last minute, and you’ll also need some extra, blank paper caterpillars, and some extra tape. Chances are, there will be some no-show students as well. You can decide in advance where you’d like these extra desks located based on how you’ve organized your classroom. What you’ll want to avoid, however, is labeling the desks alphabetically, only to let out a long, exasperated sigh when a student whose last name starts with M walks in and messes up the whole thing.