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Changing Seats in the University Classroom

Do you ever have your students change seats in your university classes? It’s one of the most effective ways to keep your classes fresh and your students motivated. Recently I did a survey of 188 students and one of the questions I asked was:


“What do you think of changing seats/partners in every class?”

77% responded: It’s fun. I enjoy talking with many people.

10% responded: It’s so-so

10% responded: It isn’t good. I don’t like talking with so many people or it’s troublesome.

03% responded: I don’t know. We don’t change partners/seats in class.



Certainly, survey results are not completely accurate, but it does give us a very good idea of how students feel. Perhaps 10% of the students did not like picking up their bags and changing seats, but 77% thought it was really great! 10% thought that getting new partners was so-so. And 3% of the respondents were either oblivious to the fact that they were changing seats in every class, or just clicked any answer when they took the survey. Oh, well…


Below is an excerpt from the teachers’ section of The English Gym, page 12:


Notes on Changing Partners

One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep the class interesting and fresh for the students is to simply change the seating/partner arrangement. I would recommend doing this in almost every class. One way to do this is to use a deck of playing cards. Simply shuffle the appropriate amount of paired cards and distribute them randomly. Have the students sit in their newly assigned seats, partnering up with a student having the same numbered card.

Generally, I have a free seating policy for the beginning of the class, but sometime during the lesson, I will have the students change seats. By doing so, students get to learn about other classmates, they seem much more willing to cooperate with each other, and over the course of the year, this will help foster a very positive attitude in your classes.

Students normally partner up with the student next to them, but they can also partner with students in front of or behind them, or work in small groups.



Though there are many ways to arrange seating, like using computer generated seating charts, mixing up name cards, or simply saying “Taro, you sit over there”, using playing cards has several distinct advantages.



Here’s my take on why playing cards are the way to go when arranging seating:

  1. They’re fun! Playing cards have an inherent ‘game-like’ quality. When students see the cards, it will trigger feelings of excitement and enjoyment.
  2. Handing out the cards creates a natural opportunity to interact with students. “Here you go, Mika. Oh, you got the joker today. It must be your lucky day!”
  3. It can be useful for dividing the class into teams, e.g. red card teams vs black card teams, even-numbered teams vs odd-numbered teams. Or the cards can be used to assign questions to answer from exercises in your textbook.
  4. The randomness of shuffling the cards makes it seem fair to the students. That being said, the teacher can always arrange the cards so that certain students sit in the front of the class, or so that certain students don’t pair up, or that certain students do pair up.



Here are some comments from the students:



I had a variety of speaking partners. It was good that I was able to talk to more and more people.



I was glad that I got along well with everyone while learning English. It was a very enjoyable lesson. Thank you very much.



It was fun because I almost never felt sleepy.



It was fun to interview various people’s opinions.


I hope you’ll try using playing cards to arrange partners and seating in your classrooms. It’s definitely a great way to keep your students interested and engaged!


Happy teaching!



If you’d like to view the full survey results, click here:

The English Gym Survey (JC)


Wow! You’ve read all the way down here. Guess you liked it. How about a LIKE and SHARE? That would be much appreciated!!!



Looking for a great textbook for low to intermediate, non-English majors in Japan?

Check out The English Gym, by Jon Charles.

More information can be found at:

ETJ (English Teachers Japan) Website, The English Gym

  • Four Skills, Focus on Speaking
  • Designed for Japanese Students
  • Excellent Support Website
  • Oral, Paper and Online Testing
  • Highly Motivating Activities

Teachers can also register and view the textbook online.

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