A brief tour of my TPRS classroom

This is not the model classroom laden with tech toys, nor is it even my ideal classroom… but it is getting closer every year. These are some of my favorite design tweaks, and how it helps me teach:
No desks. Chairs only, with tables on the outside for students to place their backpacks (and cell phones). Students come in and take out a notebook and pen, copy down the three structures of the day that are on the board, and then put their notebooks under their chair. I have to fit forty students into a classroom designed for twenty-eight; it was necessity that first led me to remove desks just to free up space. But now that I’ve done it, I would never go back! On the days that my AP students complete a formal essay I reserve the library. But writing is not the backbone of any TPRS class; listening and reading in class develop speaking and writing skills. They can place their notebooks on their laps as they write during the last ten minutes of class.

I also place the chairs in groups to facilitate TPR, naming groups after countries. I learned this from Jason Fritze. Once the whole class responds to ¡Levántense! and ¡Miren! then it’s time to start switching it up and say ¡España, levántense. Miren a México!. It keeps them in their toes.

Inspired by something I once read about Bryce Hedstrom’s classes: the back of the seats of the front row all have exclamations that I encourage them to use in class, so that not only do I get the ohhhhh’s but also a ¡Claro que sí!. Sometimes this can be really amusing.

Free reading library; there are duplicates but none of these books are “required” in the sense that we talk about them in class. Instead they are used for sustained silent reading. Some of the books, like Donde viven los monstruos, are chosen to appeal to non-heritage speakers with very little reading ability in Spanish. Right now I have about 70 books, but I’m building this library to be a more important part of my classes, in every level. The little shelfs are made of cardboard and paper stapled to the wall… very cheap but took some time during the summer to figure it out and then put it together.


Changing the lights from industrial office park lights to soft, friendly lamps has a surprising impact on the mood of the class. These are perfect for telling class stories.

word walls

My word wall focuses on the main sixteen irregular verbs that are used over and over again in conversation. Simply pointing to the correct verb with a laser pointer while telling a story, or asking a question, is amazingly effective. Terry Waltz has refined this list to 7 verbs which she teaches (in Mandarin) within the first two or so hours of class. The English will be removed once these verbs are internalized. I have the same verbs in the infinitive form posted along the front of the classroom.


The only poster in English is a reminder for me to SLOW DOWN. I refer to it often in class to emphasize that when they do not understand me then it’s my fault, not theirs.

question words

Question words are posted in the most central place in class, right above where I often stand. I will tape the English to the bottom for the first few weeks of class to make sure these are thoroughly acquired. You can also see some of the animal puppets I have velcro-ed to the wall. They are good conversation partners and some even develop their own personalities, depending upon the class story.

a clear space
Essential bookcase in the back of the room where I always place the paper that I need. You’ll notice a syllabus is already there, because otherwise I’ll lose it! The planning calendar is to keep track of when my AP kids will be giving a presentation… by September we are on a schedule where two people are giving two minute presentations every day. If I did not have this calendar I would forget.

tarea box, si or no

The Sí sign velcro-ed to the front board has a red back that says no. Hold up red when ask a question. Wait. Wait. Flip it to sí and everyone answers at the same time.

tarea box

The tarea box is another organizational tweak that has saved my life. I would never remember to collect homework if it weren’t for the rule that homework has to already be in the box before the last bell rings.

First day of school is tomorrow… looking forward to it!


  1. Mike, What a small world! I just discovered your blog on Monday night and then I met you Tuesday night. I came home to search for your blog and discovered that I already had it open along with the picture of your amazing room. Thanks for sharing! (I was the only French teacher in the room although we didn’t formally meet)

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your ideas. You have inspired me to go deskless with my elementary students this year!

  3. Mike, I really appreciate your posts. I would like to have the list of the words and expressions that you put on the back of the chairs. I’ll try to have chairs instead of desks. some of my classes have 32+ students, but some others only 18. I think that chairs will allow me to have students closer.

    1. Angela, Thanks! Here is a list of the expressions on the back of the chairs (they have the English translations written in small print below so students can confidently use them in class): ¡Eso es! ¡Claro que sí! ¡Claro que no! ¡Qué triste! ¡Qué asco! Parece mentira. ¡Qué pena! ¿En serio? ¡No puede ser! ¡No me digas! ¡Por supuesto que sí! ¿Me estás tomando el pelo?

      At one point I realized that the most popular expressions are ones that have shown up in stories, and then I started paying closer attention and realized that students never use the expressions that have not been circled extensively. So, if I revisit this and put different expressions on the chairs I think I will look at my Spanish 1 stories and create a list based on expressions that we will use in stories.

  4. You rock. Love your site immensely. I went from being exclusively TPR last year but moved to a new district and the whole department is textbook-only. Didn’t want to cause any dissent this year so I’m making slow transitions! Haha!

    So I love your bookshelf. Would you be willing to share your technique? Tried fiddling with some cardboard and paper today but I can’t figure it out.

    1. Thank you! I am lucky– the architect designed my school so that the walls are essentially enormous bulletin boards. I am basically using staples, sentence strips covered with transparent packing tape so that they do not rip, and Velcro strips. I am experimenting with other ways to create reasonably priced book displays and will post that when I have something solid.

    1. Our Russian-French teacher posts high frequency & question words for each language on different sides of the room and has one whiteboard dedicated to French, the other to Russian. It seems to work for her.

  5. Hi, I noticed that you teach Heritage Speakers. I teach Spanish 1 and the Spanish Native Speakers class. I want to change my classroom to all chairs but my only concern is how to make it work for the Native Speakers with all the reading and writing they have to do. How do you make it work? Any suggestions? Gracias

    1. I teach level 1 heritage speakers, which (in my school) is really focused on pleasure reading. This is the class for reluctant readers and kids who have a background but are really insecure about entering a native speakers course. For that reason, the writing that we do flows from the vast amount of FVR that occurs in class. I normally divide my class period roughly into thirds: reading for 20 minutes (and then writing a response for 5), about 15 minutes of conversation (usually games in Spanish, starting off with 20 questions and then any other speaking game I can think of but sometimes academic instruction, like a quick tutorial on spelling), and the last 10-15 minutes are dedicated to the novela that we are watching together. If they have a large writing assignment I bring them down to the library, but we have only done that a couple of times this year. As a side note, I am AMAZED at the progress they have made in spelling just by pleasure reading and an occasional tutorial. I will be presenting on developing a FVR library at ACTFL in San Antonio next November with Crystal Barragán, look for our session if you go!

      1. Saludos Mike! I also teach Heritage Spanish (2 classes) & 4 Spanish-1 classes at the 8th grade level, so I have been following you and really love your ideas! Thank you so much for sharing! I am new to TPRS so it means a lot to me.
        I am just now putting up a word wall and was wondering if you could send a list of the most important verbs, etc. (I see the picture of your room but not all the words) Do you also put up a “temporary word wall” for the vocab from a story you are teaching? There are so many great words–I don’t know where to start, but your classroom is quite impressive!!
        Muchas gracias~

      2. I have seen a lot of variations, but ultimately I have settled on just my 16 verbs (for my non-native classes). On one wall, which I currently have all my seats facing, are the sixteen verbs conjugated in the present tense. On another there are in preterite-imperfect, and finally on another they are in infinitive. All verbs are conjugated only in the third person, and all have an English translation. The sixteen that I have chosen are: dar, decir, estar, hacer, ir, poder, poner, querer, saber, salir, ser, tener, traer, venir & ver.

        I have seen other people have a poster that changes every week or two. I have done that before and it is great for remembering what to recycle, but I find that I was the only one referring to it regularly. My sixteen verbs span the entire year; they have all been introduced by the end of the first month but they come back over and over and, of course, I refer to them whenever a different conjugation comes up.

        As for the native-speaking kids, I once saw a hilarious list of Palabras nacas posted to differentiate Spanglish and proper Spanish. I have considered doing that, or having a list distinguishing regionalisms.

  6. Mike, as we are just coming back from Spring Break I wanted to tell you that I started using chairs around the 2nd week of class back in August and it has been the best thing! I was lucky enough to have an art teacher across the hall that wanted desks so we swapped 🙂 I have 5 tables that line the walls for backpacks (but they still insist on keeping them at their side) and when we take summatives or play games. I tried tape on the carpet but that lasted barely a day. What type of tape are you using and has it lasted like you wanted it to?

    1. That is awesome! I have experimented with several kinds of tape. Super strong duct tape from Home Depot worked well, until I decided to remove it and it has left disgusting black gooey marks. Blue painters tape worked well for a semester, at which point the chair order was an ingrained routine. Now I change my chairs almost daily depending upon activity, so I haven´t replaced the painters tape. In either case, after putting the tape down I had to spend about an hour pressing it down with my feet, scuffing it into the carpet, going over each section three or four times or it would not stick correctly.

  7. This is encouraging. I am an elementary FSL teacher and yesterday was the first day without desks in my classroom. We now have a huge space for activities where we can move around. I am so excited about the possibilities.

  8. This is awesome! I love to see how teachers create a communicative setup. I don’t think I could tolerate a classroom with rows or desks anymore (we are in a “round table” sort of format, except it’s a rectangle, and there are only 7 of us). My current AP students are really struggling with common verbs – could you post or email me a list of what you have on the wall? secottrell @ musicuentos . com gracias 🙂

    1. I´m not sure if this is what you are looking for; these basic verbs are mostly for my level 1 and 2 students… although I´m sure that weak students in advanced classes use them as well.

      Across the front of the room are bubbles with infinitives, and across a side wall are one group of bubbles conjugated in the present tense (third person singular only, it is enough to jog their memory), and another group conjugated in the preterit and imperfect tenses (once again, third person singular only). At this point in the year all of the verbs have an English translation stapled next to them.

      My level 1 students are already creating original sentences describing what someone wants to be or have because all they have to do is piece together what is written on the wall. I do this often with my laser pointer as I say something like “Ana quiere ser rica, ella quiere tener mucho dinero”.

      Here are the verbs:

      dar, decir, estar, hacer, ir, poder, poner, querer, saber, salir, ser, tener, traer, venir, ver


      1. In your photos I see that your lists are organized by tense, and they are only third-person. In our chatting, I am finding the kids tripping up on “hago”, and “podemos”. Through circling they know that -s means you and -n means they and -o means I, but at this point in the year I feel like the kids would appreciate seeing all the “persons” and could assimilate it without being overwhelmed or feeling like they are studying conjugation charts. How do you handle this? Thanks!

      2. You have described exactly what I am finding too: it is easy to do a little pop-up grammar to teach that the n means plural and the s means you… but the irregulars in yo? Even nosotros, I am finding that I have to be much more conscientious and I am beginning to write stories in the first person. One of my Spanish 1 students recently said to me “Han encontrado algo en el bosque” and I just stopped breathless thinking did that just happen? But then the next utterance was not so beautiful and it reminded me that they acquire what they hear over and over. I am not convinced that a verb chart will help too much, but plenty of TPRS teachers do some blending to satisfy their departments. A suggestion: If you do take out the verb charts then try doing that in only one section and compare it with a non-verb chart section. Come back and tell us how it worked out! 🙂

      3. Thanks! I think I prefer your idea of making a point to put irregulars in stories so they hear them – that would be truer to the method. Add in the reading of said story and they should get it. Plus I don’t have enough wall space for more display! What is your reason for displaying the infinitive as well as third person? Thanks so much for your response! Laura

      4. At the beginning of the year I use phrases like “quiere ir” and “puede ser” often, so it was easy just to direct their attention from one wall to the next.

      5. Yes – that makes sense. And it is hard to work backward to those infinitives from 3rd person too. I really appreciate your taking the time to share – it has made a big difference in my year this year!

        One more thing about the classroom – how is it going with chairs only? Do you have any big students, and are they comfortable in chairs only? And would you recommend any specifications on the chair itself? I may have the opportunity to make that move next year.

      6. I think the chairs are more comfortable for the big students– there is no desk to fit snugly against. Also there is more room in the class, so there is more space for them to sit next to anyone. We just have normal chairs, and they are working well. 🙂

  9. Hey Buddy…I love your ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. I am over here thinking how the heck can I get rid of these desks. It changes the mentality and direction of what students come to class for. It is great novelty for sure. I am off to watch Tammy in Piranha 3D…hope all is well.

    Michael Coxon 🙂

  10. @maestravila asked me for the list of reaction comments that I taped on the back of the chairs. Here we go (they have the English translations written in small print below so students can confidently use them in class): ¡Eso es! ¡Claro que sí! ¡Claro que no! ¡Qué triste! ¡Qué asco! Parece mentira. ¡Qué pena! ¿En serio? ¡No puede ser! ¡No me digas! ¡Por supuesto que sí! ¿Me estás tomando el pelo?

    This year I am experimenting with an incentive system. If it works out I will be giving points, or whatever, for surprising us with an exclamation that totally makes sense given what we are doing in class.

  11. This was a great, helpful post. I asked my principal if I could get rid of my desks and swap them for just chairs and it sounded like he was on board. Just hoping that there are extra chairs in the school somewhere.
    I like your word wall. I am updating mine to include more useful words. Is that card stock that yours are on?
    And very cool light post. Where did you get it?
    It is important to have a classroom that matches the teaching style. Thank you for sharing what yours looks like.

  12. This is a great post! It’s awesome to see how people setup their classrooms and you do a great job. It’s obvious that you put time and effort into setting up your classroom, which is important and something I’m still evolving on. Thanks for sharing :).

  13. Mike, I love the slickness of your posts–so professional and easy on the eyes (er, the pictures, not you, pal). My principal just approved a similar set up with college-style chairs with little fold-up desk tops. Woo-hoo! No more aircraft carrier-sized mongo desks clogging up up our valuable floor space. Kids can easily get up, move and get into pairs or groups this way. We need our classrooms to reflect our methods and our beliefs about language acquisition rather than trying to teach with the old classroom set up.
    Bryce Hedstrom

  14. Thanks so much for sharing! I am a first year TPRS teacher and this gives me great ideas. Do you have a list of easy Spanish books for elementary through 9th graders that I could get so that we can start reading at the beginning of the year?

    1. This is my first year with the SSR library, so I have combination of books from TPRS publishing and random things I have found at used book stores. You should ask your question on the moretprs listserve (it’s a yahoo listserve)… it seems like everyone passes through there and I am sure that there are K-9 teachers who have great ideas.

  15. Love it!!! I’m hoping that my admin will consider the chairs/not desks scenario…keeping my fingers crossed!! thanks for sharing!!!

    with love

  16. Mike, this is the description of a classroom equipped to foster language acquisition. I enjoyed reading it. Brian Barabé

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