High School Classroom Design Tips and Tricks

Learning spaces come in a range of shapes and sizes, and how you choose to utilise space in your new classroom design can have a significant impact on student performance.

In fact, studies suggest that high school classroom design elements such as light, acoustics, complexity, and colour, account for roughly 16% of the impact on student learning. While budget and space restrictions may limit your ability to account for all these factors, there’s still much a teacher can do to create the best high school classroom design for their unique approach and goals.

Here are some things to consider to help you set up a functional classroom design that promotes student success.

Classroom Structure and Design for High School Learning

Optimising your classroom structure and design for high school learning means tailoring that design to your individual teaching style and goals.

Jo Earp of Teacher Magazine says that ‘there is no ideal classroom layout for all activities’, and instead suggests that a classroom should be laid out in a way that reflects the teacher’s educational philosophy.

A teacher that’s heavily group-oriented, for example, would be best to arrange their classroom in a way that facilitates group learning. This would likely mean grouping tables and chairs to encourage open communication and collaboration. By contrast, a teacher who prefers lecturing would be better served by a more traditional, grid style layout to emphasise independent learning.

To achieve a flexible learning environment that can cater to all these teaching styles, you may wish to create a more open classroom design that makes it easier to rearrange the space whenever you need.

High School Classroom Seating Arrangements

Seating arrangements can influence more than just student productivity, with evidence showing that they may impact whether your students come to class at all!

A study conducted by Perkins and Wieman suggested a surprising correlation between seating location and class attendance, with students who sat further away from the front failing to attend class more often than those who tended to sit closer.

Further studies indicate that seating location can also impact student performance, friendships, connection with the teacher, and even the nature of different tasks and activities. While traditional row and column arrangements emphasise the role of the individual; non-linear seating arrangements, such as a Horseshoe layout, tend to encourage communication, teamwork, and social cohesion. That’s why it’s important to consider your own goals and teaching methods when determining the best high school classroom design for your students.

Below, we’ve included a list of common goals, along with the high school seating arrangements that can help you achieve them:

Inspire debate

A circle is one of the best high school classroom designs for running a debate. Circular layouts allow students to see their peers face-to-face, creating a more natural environment for communication and discussion.

Support collaboration

Grouping tables into four or more is a great way of inspiring conversation and promoting teamwork that helps students work together as a cohesive unit to achieve shared goals. This arrangement positions students across from one another, facilitating face-to-face conversations.

Promote communication and participation

An excellent secondary school classroom design for discussions and debates, a semi-circular or Horseshoe arrangement offers many of the same benefits as a full circle layout. A semi-circle also offers the additional benefit of giving an unobstructed view of the teacher, providing more opportunities for students to participate in the class and be addressed by the teacher.

Facilitate independent work

When working independently, the most functional classroom design will shift away from grouped tables or seating arrangements that encourage students to talk. A more traditional grid layout can create a stable and quiet classroom environment that helps students focus on their work without distraction from their peers.

High school classroom furniture

Students develop differently and at different rates, making it a challenge to find suitable high school classroom furniture that works for everyone.

An uncomfortable or improperly sized piece of furniture can become a huge distraction in the classroom, leading to poor focus and reduced productivity. It’s essential that you select ergonomic furniture that’s suited to secondary school students so they can perform at their best.

Here are some factors to consider when selecting the right furniture for your new classroom design:

Comfort

Seating arrangements can influence more than just student productivity, with evidence showing that they may impact whether your students come to class at all!

A study conducted by Perkins and Wieman suggested a surprising correlation between seating location and class attendance, with students who sat further away from the front failing to attend class more often than those who tended to sit closer.

Further studies indicate that seating location can also impact student performance, friendships, connection with the teacher, and even the nature of different tasks and activities. While traditional row and column arrangements emphasise the role of the individual; non-linear seating arrangements, such as a Horseshoe layout, tend to encourage communication, teamwork, and social cohesion. That’s why it’s important to consider your own goals and teaching methods when determining the best high school classroom design for your students.

Below, we’ve included a list of common goals, along with the high school seating arrangements that can help you achieve them:

To ensure that every student is comfortable, consider purchasing highly adjustable furniture that can be tailored to each child’s unique body shape. The added benefit of adjustable furniture is that while it may require a higher initial outlay, the added flexibility means that a single piece of furniture can be used across all year levels, saving money in the long-run.

Good high school furniture is vital to providing a positive and healthy environment for students, and can also help pupils feel more valued in the classroom. Invest in ergonomic chairs and appropriately sized desks to ensure that students can focus on their work – rather than their discomfort – at school.

Flexibility

Your classroom needs to support a number of different tasks and activities, which can make it difficult to settle on any single layout. The good news is, with the right furniture, your classroom need not remain static.

To create a more functional classroom design, consider purchasing mobile desks, chairs, whiteboards, and partitions that allow you to reconfigure your space in moments. Lightweight furniture with smooth-rolling wheels can easily be rolled around the room and positioned into place in moments to help cater to whatever activities you have planned.

Please note that flexible furniture is most effective in an open classroom design that can cater to a range of configurations so you can create a more adaptable, multi-use space that suits a variety of subjects and student levels.

An agile classroom at The Indie School in Ringwood Victoria which utilises portable partitions which can be reconfigured to change the classroom layout regularly, easy to move furniture and a portable whiteboard.

Aesthetics

Studies have found that complexity and colour both have the power to influence student learning, behaviour, and even mood. A boring space, or a classroom that looks busy, disorganised, or too brightly coloured can create an environment that leaves students feeling uninspired or overly stimulated; both of which can impact productivity.

When planning your classroom design for high school students, it’s best to restrict your colour scheme to three main colours: one neutral, and two accent colours that liven up the space. This colour scheme should flow through every aspect of the room, including the furniture. Once you’ve decided on a colour scheme, purchase furniture in your chosen accent colours to add a welcome pop of visual interest.

An interesting difference between primary school-age and high school-age students is that while younger students enjoy having a variety of learning ‘zones’ in the classroom, older students prefer simpler configurations with fewer zones. This simpler design supports more formal individual or group work without cluttering up the space or overwhelming the senses.

Sound

Classrooms can be busy and noisy places, which can really reduce your students’ ability to get their work done. Placing posters on the walls, plants in the corners, and soft furniture such as fabric chairs, couches, and partitions throughout your space can help improve the acoustics in your classroom, limiting the noise and minimising reverberation.

Ensuring all furniture is fitted with rubber feet can also save your floors from unsightly scrapes and damage while preventing the distracting squeal and screech of furniture across hard floors.

High school classroom decorations

Bombarding your students with visual information can interfere with memory and the ability to focus. But on the other hand, a plain and boring classroom can leave students feeling under-stimulated, uninterested, and unengaged. To prevent both outcomes, it’s important to strike a balance that brings your classroom to life without appearing too cluttered or disorganised. Remember, classrooms need to be engaging, but not distracting.


Here are some ideas for classroom decorations that create a positive and healthy learning environment for your secondary school students:

  • Avoid clutter: When decorating your walls, experts recommend a maximum of 80% coverage, meaning at least 20% of your walls need to be left clear to prevent overstimulation or distraction.

  • Display student work: The Clever Classrooms report identifies ‘ownership’ as an important factor in student learning. Displaying student work adds an extra touch of personalisation that helps students identify with their classroom and feel as though it’s ‘their’ space.

  • Showcase learning: This can help students understand that learning is a process that takes time, and they’re not a failure for not ‘getting’ something on the first try. Rather than just featuring finished works, try displaying works in progress, mind maps, sticky notes, and other visual presentations of learning to help students appreciate the learning process.

  • Don’t display scores or grades: While some teachers use data walls to track student progress and motivate students, this strategy can backfire for lower-scoring students who may find themselves feeling ashamed when compared to their peers.

  • Quotes, images, and role models: Inspire students with positive posters and pictures of role models. Be careful to keep your posters and pictures as inclusive as possible, while avoiding tokenism or stereotypes, which can do more harm than good and may even impact self esteem. 

  • Visual teaching aids: Your classroom can be as much a teaching tool as anything else in the space. Consider displaying charts, maps, diagrams, and other learning materials that are relevant to your teaching. It’s best to keep these displays up-to-date with the topics you’re covering to avoid distracting students with information that’s irrelevant to their current learning.

  • Bring the classroom to life: Incorporate natural elements into your classroom, including plants and wooden furniture. Plants not only offer a welcome pop of colour that brings the space to life, they can also be tactically placed to help improve acoustics in the room. You can even put your students in charge of caring for classroom plants, giving them a heightened sense of responsibility and ownership over the space.

Additional High School Classroom Design Resources

● Increase Flexibility in the Classroom with our range of School Dividers
Classroom Design – Australia’s Ultimate Guide – PPA