Design Your Classroom For Inquiry

As I think about teachers going back into the classroom this is one of my most favourite times.  Getting my classroom ready.

It is often the cleanest that it will ever be and the most photo ready.

Classrooms today look different so as we are getting ready to go back to school, perhaps we have to think differently about how our rooms are designed.

If we are using a student-centered inquiry approach in our classroom then responsive design can be translated into our classroom too.  Below are the three must have design elements that are essential for inquiry.

Learning Areas

With inquiry you need to consider that there is going to be a few different learning styles that you will ask students to participate in.  I feel there are three different types of spaces you need to have.

First you need a large gathering space.

  • a carpet area for students to sit on
  • an area to move chairs to sit together
  • the ability to move tables surrounding a large gathering space.

What you don’t want is students sitting apart.  Group them close together instead.

This also means that your desk/table placement does not need every student to ‘face the board’ if their learning space is reserved for independent work then they do not need to be able to face the board.  Get them moving and changing locations throughout the day.  This is easily accomplished if you have a gathering space.

Small Group Learning

In inquiry, students should be grouped together so that they have opportunities to learn from one another.  Grouping desks or tables together so that students can learn from one another will help to foster more inquiry and better conversations in your classroom.

This does take a bit of work to teach students to work in groups but with enough practice and routine students can do this.

You also need a space for independent work.

provide some spaces where your students can work independently in your classroom. Think about different levels and not just sitting in a chair at their desk.

If your goal is work completion then does it really matter where this happens? I think it doesn’t.

So think creatively about where students can and want to work in your classroom during independent times.  Kids like to stand, sit, lie down, hide, and move and adjust. Some like silence while others like music.  If it works for them and work gets done can we be more flexible about how and where they sit in our rooms?


There are a few things that could be considered essential materials for all inquiry classrooms.

  • chart paper is great for recording learning goals, student ideas, brainstorming and a whole lot more.
  • markers cannot be erased so it helps students share their thinking in a permanent way.  It is also easy for others to see and great for your chart paper.
  • scrap books or duo-tangs are an alternative to binders.  For me binders just take up too much space and there is so much loose paper.  (I can’t take it really).  Duo-tangs are easily portable for me but I honestly prefer scrapbooks or books of lined paper that easily fit an 8.5x 11 paper.
  • clip boards are an essential tool needed if you want students to be working with flexible seating.
  • technology – it is inevitable that in today’s inquiry classrooms tech tools are becoming more and more prevalent.  This means that you should work towards getting more tech in your room.  Lobby your admin or apply for grants if necessary to get more tech tools.  Bring your own device is another option to supplement when you don’t have enough tech to start with.


Colour choice is important for making or breaking the feel and energy in our room.

Here is what I have learned.  Pick a colour and repeat it…everywhere.

My first year in my classroom the boards were a dull army green, not the atmosphere that I was trying to convey.

Then I painted.  I picked three colours for my boards.  Blue, green, and yellow.  I liked it at first but it always looked messy and cluttered to me and I was forever trying to organize it.  It seemed busy and I didn’t know why.


I then read a blog post? or podcast? from School Girl Style!!

She has an amazing design sense and if you ever need to see a Pinterest worthy classroom she is amazing.

However, her tip was that all the boards should be the same base colour.  This was because when you walk in the room with multiple colours yours eyes don’t know where to focus.  However, if every board is one colour then you don’t focus on that and they don’t steal the focus.


It makes a difference.

So here is my tip for you.

  • Pick a border that you love perhaps one that has a few colours in it.
  • Choose a solid colour border for layering either plain or patterned (dots, stripes, chevron)
  • Choose one colour for the board background.  For all the board space.

Some colours are better for certain age groups.  Primary colours for primary like an 8 pack crayon box, secondary colours for junior, more sophisticated colour combinations for intermediate and high school.  Check out this blog post for great colour combinations.

What goes on the walls?

In my opinion nothing right away.  Leave them blank.

When designing your classroom for inquiry you have to know that your room should be a reflection of the learning that your students are doing.

That means save your money on all of those posters, cutesy quote boards, or any other boards that you put up.  If the information doesn’t reflect the learning of your students then take it down, or don’t put it up in the first place.  Ask yourself if a large birthday board really a great use of space? Save those Pinterest worthy boards for outside in the hallway.

This means that really you can save yourself some time by not putting much up at the beginning of the year.

Let your walls grow with your students.  Make them living learning walls.

My goal is that when a stranger walks into my room they should be able to tell what has been happening in my room and what we are learning.

I generally try to have one board area for the core subjects taught in my room.  Language, Math, Science/Social Studies all have a dedicated space in my room.  I am lucky to have great board space in my room.  If you don’t then get creative and use any available vertical space that you have access too.

Use the back of shelves, or file cabinets, windows, doors, or trifold boards as additional board space if you need it.

As for art or other types of classroom decor – put that outside in the hallway or on your door.  Keep the inside of your classroom for learning and set this as a priority.


How do you plan to design your classroom to get ready for inquiry? Join the discussion about this topic here 

Then grab your free checklist to help you plan out the design for your own classroom.

Keep reading about classroom design on these other blog posts below

Want to learn a bit more about why I use tables instead of desks? Read the blog post about this here!

To learn more about how design is important for language you can read more here. 

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