A teacher recently wrote to me asking if I assign seats in my no desk classroom (click here if you want to see what my room looks like). Here is my response, which describes how I handle my first day. Some people may be surprised that I place such an emphasis on discipline and control in the first days.
Thanks for getting me to think about this, I feel like I do it differently every year with varying degrees of success.
Last year I had the chairs in four groups arranged in a semi-circle. No more than two deep so that I can reach any chair at any point. Above each group was the name of a country and as they came to class I assigned a country but let them sit anywhere within that country. My thinking was to give them limited choice as to where to sit, but since friends often arrive walking together I assign them separate countries to separate them.
Important psychological note: I stand in the doorway as each kid comes in. There is not much room, so they have to file in single file & they have to interact individually with me. That immediately sets the tone that I am in control of my classroom. I do not move aside so that two can enter at a time, even if the bell has already rung. I do not hurry conversations, even if there is a clump of kids outside my door. There is a written personality inventory that I hand them as they come in that takes them 10 minutes to fill out, so while I am meeting new students at the door everyone else inside is busy. If you want you can even pre-write the name of a country on top of each personality inventory so that it seems like it is impersonal, but I like assigning on the spot.
When they walk in (while I am in the doorway) there is a power point projected on the board that tells them (in English): Take out a pencil and notebook. Place everything else on the tables bordering the walls. Place all phones inside backpacks; if I see them, I take them. Complete the sheet thoughtfully and quietly.
Within five minutes after the bell all students are sitting in groups and writing. If a student has placed their bag on their lap or under the seat then I start immediately in Spanish, pointing at the sign that says place bags on the table and then pointing at their bag. Perhaps this is uncool since it is incomprehensible, but once again it establishes my authority in my classroom and silences any rebuttals in English about why I have the rules I have. I will, of course, explain that later, but the first day is all about demonstrating that they have a teacher who is in control. I might circle the phrase Pon las mochilas sobre la mesa, writing on the board and referring to my question words (that are taped right over the board with English translations). And thus starts the CI.
At a certain point, maybe 5 minutes after I have seated the last student, I have everyone turn over their paper & write their name on it in BIG letters that I can see and draw one thing that they want. I then do a variation of Ben Slavic´s Circling with Balls, except I refer to what students want rather than like to do. Not as powerful, but my problem is that I know zilch about sports and always have a problem doing PQA with sports, so instead we end up talking about cars and burritos. Of course I am really getting to know their names. That is my first day… syllabus can wait until the second week.
Ah, I also have two stools that I place in the center of the semi-circle. One might be for me if I want to take a rest from walking around the room (for the first few days I make it clear that there are no back rows and I will squeeze between chairs, stand next to everyone regardless where they are located. Again, psychological control, but also important to make sure every student feels like they can be the center of the class). The other stool is for the kid whose chair needs to be moved. Jason Fritze has a great process… when he moves a kid from one country group to another for discipline reasons he calls it immigration. Nonetheless my classes are packed, so if I move one kid for discipline there is someone else I have to move just to make room, and that second person almost always has this WHY DO I HAVE TO MOVE I DIDN´T DO ANYTHING victim attitude. So I start by placing the offender on the stool, talking to him or her (in Spanish), getting to know that person and then moving them. The time between discipline and reseating seems to take the sting out of the process.
Martina Bex has a great way of seating kids on the first day of school: http://martinabex.com/2012/08/22/first-day-seating/