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EFL Desk

EFL Desk design For commercial English language schools. Through a series of interviews with EFL teachers, I identified some ways to improve the desks already in use. Problems mentioned included lack of space and difficulty in communication.


Extracts from interviews conducted with EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers

  • “It is important to break up the lesson, stops them writing stuff down, so they get a listening and interacting period, then back to the desk to write.”
  • “It is similar with young children, in primary school they do some work at a desk then after 20 minutes they will move locations and have “carpet time”, they sit on the floor and do a different activity to break up the lesson.”
  • “For a class that is a in a commercial property, space is at premium. There is often no space to have a separate place for mingling activities. – Desks that can fold away… or at least some of them, so others can be used together, creating space and breaking up the lesson.”
  • How much time does moving desks take? what would be too long? – “The activity may take 10 mins, 2 mins each side of that would be fine.”
  • “The shape we have at the moment is good” – trapezoid 2 people can sit on the long side.
  • “They make a better horseshoe shape, no one sitting on the corner”… but they are “quite awkward to move” – “I don’t always want to use them all so there is little space – once they are round the wrong way they are a hassle to move back: the sticking out corners make them hard to move around, in a small space.”
  • Needs to be easy to collapse. So students can do it themselves with little time lost. They also need to be light so students can move them by themselves: versatile shape.
    “It would be really good if they could collapse easily and be put back again, it would make a big difference to small classrooms.”
  • “one last thing – teachers are not [always] mathematically minded! We cannot get our heads around them, we need sheets to see the possibility of the shapes that can be made by the desks, So that we can plan how we want the class laid out.”

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Using the desk

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Technical drawings

Anthropometric obtained from and Department for Education (UK)

Experiment in the use of colour as a guide for manipulating shapes.


Four trapezoidal pieces of foam board were placed on a desk and eight volunteers were asked to arrange them into various shapes. The shapes were the same for both groups of volunteers, but for one set the foam board was black, and the other, it was white with colour marking each side so each side could be referred to in the experiment by colour. The requests were worded as follows;

“Could you arrange the shapes to make a straight line.”

“Could you arrange the shapes to make two hexagons.”

“Could you arrange the shapes to make a horseshoe shape, with the long edge on the outside and the shorter edge on the inside.”

The questions were asked again, this time with reference to the colour as well.

“Could you arrange the shapes to make a straight line, by matching the black edges with each other and the yellow edges with each other.”

“Could you arrange the shapes to make two hexagons, by matching the long red edged with each other.”

“Could you arrange the shapes to make a horseshoe shape, with the long red edge on the outside and the shorter blue edge on the inside.”


It was considerably easier and 5-15 seconds faster for participants to arrange the shapes with the added description made available when using coloured edges.

Though this was a very small test with only eight participants the effect was immediately obvious. The addition of colour made explaining and understanding the requests a far simpler task. Though 5-15 seconds may not seem much benefit, it is obvious that foam board is easy to rearrange and there was only one participant coordinating the task on their own. It seems reasonable to predict that if a teacher was asking students to arrange desks then being able to clearly describe the layout using colours would have a much larger effect.


Sketch development for the desk design.

Model making

Experimental ‘sketch modelling’ to try out an idea.

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