Why I love tables instead of desks in the elementary classroom

Looking at an elementary classroom without desks

Thinking about switching from desks to tables? Find out how to manage storage when your students are using community supplies!

At the end of last year I made the plunge and switched from student desks to tables. Our supportive principal gave the options to teachers to trade out their student desks with tables from the county warehouse. My teammates thought I was crazy. The number one question that I got from people was, "Well...where is all their stuff supposed to go?" I created an easy system and storage options to make sure that my classroom ran smoothly and efficiently! Since the first day of school my kids have used the table system, and I am never turning back!

Why do you prefer an elementary classroom without desks?

There are so many benefits to switching to tables! Some of these benefits include:
  • No more dragging 28 desks across the floor for 30 minutes when switching seats after quarter
  • Greater feeling of community
  • Easier collaboration and teamwork
  • Greater focus- no tinkering with toys inside desk
  • More aesthetically pleasing and cleaner look (less desk legs=less clutter!)

Where do I buy my book and supplies bins?

I picked my bins up at both the Dollar Tree and Steps to LiteracyThe GORGEOUS blue and green book bins were purchased from Steps to Literacy. I highly recommend the company, they are very kind and helpful. What is nice about these boxes is that you can pick the specific colors that you want. The ones I have are in neon and blue! I also use cute chalkboard labels and white paint to label them.

Sometimes the Dollar Tree can be pretty picked over. I found some similar bins on Amazon that may work for you (these are Amazon Affiliate links). They come in candy-like colors, you can look at them here and here
Make morning activities and routines for students easy in your classroom with the MORNING CART.

Where do students storage their supplies without a desk?

Thinking about switching from desks to tables? Find out how to manage storage when your students are using community supplies!
Firstly, I am a big believer in community supplies. Students can freely supplies with one another, and it allows the teacher to take out fresh supplies as needed.  It allows students to start the year off on an equal footing. This is especially beneficial for our economically diverse schools. It used to drive me crazy when each student had a pencil pouch and would be missing colors that we needed (like no red crayon). It would always take a while for the student remind mom and dad that they needed new supplies. I think there is much less waste with community supplies.

On the morning message on the SmartBoard each morning, I always list out what storage & organizational items that the kids will need for the day. When students walk into the room they know to look at the board, and if they are the first ones into their room from their table, pick up the specific organizational supply needed. For example, the board will say to pick up:
  • Folder box
  • Blue Notebook Box
  • Supply caddy
The kids come in, grab the correct boxes, place on their tables, and start their day!

Below I talk about each place where the "stuff" gets stashed! If you like any of the labels on the boxes, I sell everything in my TPT shop, Glitter in Third!

What about student nametags?

But how will the kids know where to sit? To make this easy the first week, I simply put a post-it note on each spot with the student's name on it. After about a week or two of this, I remove the post-it notes. The kids know where they sit at this point, so there's no need for the name any more. I find that with regular nametags, kids peel/color/destroy them anyway. When we switch spots later in the year, I again just take a post-it note with a student's name and put it in a new spot! This makes switching spots so easy, no more dragging the desks across the floor!

Where do students store books?

My kids are major readers. As a teacher, I hate complaining about this! Kids should be reading and it's awesome that they love to! But it definitely can get in the way of my instruction when they are ignoring me during science or social studies and opting to read! Due to this, our book boxes are kept across the room from their seats. Then the books are not a distraction during lessons. 

Kids also keep their word study notebook in here, so everything is in one place when they need it for language arts. Sometimes teachers will allow book bins to be moved around the room with the kids. I personally don't do this, I think it helps the room feel like chaotic and more organized with the boxes remaining stationary in one spot.

Where do students store folders?

I use the book bins I discussed above from Steps to Literacy for these. Each table gets their own folder box. The folders in the boxes are the Unfinished Folder, Quiet Time Folder, and Music Folder. The kids' homework folder is never placed in this box. I leave all the folder boxes on top of a bookshelf in the classroom.

In the morning, students collect their homework, put in their homework folder, and immediately put in their backpack. The kids never have the excuse now that they left their homework at home! This is the same procedure for their agendas. They write in it, leave it out to be stamped, and it is immediately placed inside their backpack. The folder labels are available at my TPT shop.

Where do students store notebooks?

We implement interactive notebooks into math, social studies, science, and reading. As you might be aware, I am a big interactive notebook fan! It makes the kids so engaged and they love to open and interact with the flipbooks and foldables. Click the links for more information on each one!

My notebook boxes are colored-coded. The blue boxes hold science and math notebooks. The white boxes hold writers' notebooks and social studies notebooks. I will specifically say "get the white notebook box" or "blue notebook box" for them to prepare in the morning or afternoon with their specific supplies. The table labels are available at my TPT shop.

In the beginning of the year we practice how to hold these boxes. They are not the highest quality in the world because they are from the Dollar Tree, so I make sure the kids know that we hold them from the bottom of the box, NOT the handles. After modeling and practicing the routine, the kids know how to pick up the box and safely & efficiently bring them to their tables.
Thinking about switching from desks to tables? Find out how to manage storage when your students are using community supplies!

Where do students store pencils?

Our classroom pencil sharpener picks up all the cups during dismissal and sharpens them for the following day....in the hallway. I detest the pencil sharpener noise. There are outlets in the hallway, and we have a fairly empty corridor that my classroom is located in. I keep the classroom door open, and a pair of students goes outside to sharpen the pencils. The pencils are put in the cups in the middle of the kids' tables so that they are not constantly getting up during lessons to sharpen or grab a new pencil.

Where are the things like an Inbox/homework/etc.?

I put these items on a cart that I refer to as my Morning Cart. I have a post all about it - read it here! Basically, it gets wheeled outside every morning. After the kids leave in the afternoon, I wheel it back inside! This takes additional clutter outside the classroom.

This cart comes in a variety of colors, and this thing is heavy duty and rolls like a dream. I highly recommend. Here are some of the colors they come in - use what fits your classroom scheme best! The following are Amazon Affiliate links.
Apple green cart
Brown cart
Gray cart
Ruby red cart
Silver cart
Teal cart (this is the one that I picked!)
White cart

Where are the teacher supplies stored?

Inside the supply caddies, I use see-through Solo cups to store scissors, colored pencils, crayons, highlighters, and markers. Every couple of months I switch out the supplies for new ones. These supplies caddies are located next to the sink. We practice in the beginning of the year the routine to carry them to their tables safely and efficiently. The folder labels are available in my TPT shop.
Thinking about switching from desks to tables? Find out how to manage storage when your students are using community supplies!


Do you use tables in your classroom? What other organizational tips do you have on stashing all the "stuff" that they need throughout the day?

Thinking about switching from desks to tables? Find out how to manage storage when your students are using community supplies!


  1. Thanks for posting, Kelly! I also made the transition to tables in September with my Fifth graders and got the same response from my colleagues. I love the change for the same reasons you do. :-) I need to tweak my storage system though so thanks for the bin ideas. I will be trying out a couple of these before the end of the year.

    1. No problem, good luck!!! Yay for tables!

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    3. I made chair pockets for the kids to stash some stuff in. It's great because it's out of their way, but their things are close by. Plus it adds a pop of color in the room. If I need to switch seats, I just swap the chair pockets! Each table has a caddy with common supplies, and folders and notebooks go in the chair pockets.

  2. Thank you for all your great ideas! I just got the thumbs-up and tables have been ordered for my fifth grade class. I am so excited, but nervous about the "storage issue". Thanks!

    1. You are going to love tables! I was nervous about storage too, but it has worked wonderfully this year. The Dollar Store will definitely be your friend with all their baskets! Also, smooze with the custodian to locate lots of extra bookshelves in the building :-)

  3. Hi! I'm so glad I found this post! I have a big class -- 35! I want to ditch my desks for tables. Do you think you could fit 8 kids at a round?

    1. I've been using rounds for several years now, and I would advice not seating more that 4 at a table. They still need personal space. They may choose to add more to the table for a short term lesson, but I don't think it would work for a whole day of seating.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I've been using rounds for several years and I'm always looks for different ways to store what they need. This year I tried using chair pockets and that helped with some supplies but then added to a sense of territory, which I wanted to avoid with the rounds. I'm going to continue using the rounds and look for ways to incorporate some more flexible seating.

  5. I have been STRESSING About how to make tables or something g work for my 2nd graders. Your advice and help for organizatiom were the PERFECT SOLUTION!!! Thank you for saving my year, and more importantly, my sanity!!!

  6. I have been STRESSING About how to make tables or something g work for my 2nd graders. Your advice and help for organizatiom were the PERFECT SOLUTION!!! Thank you for saving my year, and more importantly, my sanity!!!

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I'm going to take the plunge and try to get tables through a grant. I teach 3rd grade - what recommendations for the table shape! Rectangle, round, octagon?

    1. I personally don't like the rectangle ones if you have older kids, I have seen them in other classrooms and don't think they are the best use of space. They work fine with younger kids though! Octagon sounds pretty awesome. I've seen hexagon tables, this would be my vote! They work really well to give kids distinctive "space" but also fit the classroom well! Best of luck on your grant!

    2. I have hexagonal tables and love them! They fit any room, and fit my third graders easily! I have seen fifth graders fit the hexes with ease as well.

  9. I am starting a flexible seating classroom where they aren't always at the same table. I bought scrapbook storage carts with 10 drawers each to hold folders and notebooks. I'm numbering them, so i don't change out each year. I have book bins like you do to hold their books. Thanks for sharing! I love all of these ideas!!

  10. It's crazy, my principal asked me if I wanted table today. I was on the fence about it, but this just randomly showed up on my pinterest. Now I am definitely going to get those tables! Thank you for sharing your amazing ideas. From a first year 4th grade teacher :)

  11. I am the only teacher in my school to utilize tables, and I will never use anything else! I love how it makes for great collaboration and discussion! Plus, my kids don't lose papers in the black whole that is a desk.
    My only problem is storage. I have two classes of 21, and I'm drowning in notebooks and folders! It was certainly easier when I was self-contained. Suggestions are welcome!

  12. I’ve had trapezoid tables for the last two years in 4th grade and I love it! I can make tons of different seating arrangements. From large group with 6 at two tables pushed together. To individual work with two students at opposite ends of one table. Did I mention my tables have wheels to move them effortlessly?? I also use dry erase marker to write their names at their seats since I wipe down my tables with a Clorox type wipe every couple days. Once they know where they’ve been sitting I just wipe them down and tell them same seats and change them as I feel necessary. I had their things personal belongings in cubbies but I found that to be too messy. I am going to try out plastic tubs that they can grab in the morning and take to their seat. I’ve found that in my low income school they really hang on to their personal things and have a hard time sharing some items. I also have community extra supplies handy.