Learning in Comfort

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 13, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Furniture Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two 50-minute class periods


Should classrooms be comfortable spaces? Students spend many hours sitting at their school desks. In this activity students will research school rooms from the past. They will create a design for a school desk that is tailored to the specific needs of today's students.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., makes outlines, uses published pieces as writing models, constructs critical standards, brainstorms, builds background knowledge) 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform)
Listening & Speaking


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • respond to writing prompts
  • create a graphic organizer
  • analyze and evaluate information
  • create a design for a desk
  • evaluate group work
  • conduct surveys
  • create a presentation


  • "Desktop Musings" handout
  • "Learning in Style Contest" handout


  • computer with Internet access
  • clay
  • drawing materials
  • markers, pencils, crayons, etc.


Building Background Seat of Learning

The purpose of this activity is to allow students to explore examples of classroom desks from the past. 1. Divide your class into small groups and ask them to view the following Internet sites, which feature pictures of classroom desks. https://images.indianahistory.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/P0129&CISOPTR=198&REC=11 https://images.indianahistory.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/m0399&CISOPTR=54&REC=9 https://images.indianahistory.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/P0129&CISOPTR=355&REC=20
2. Ask your students to complete the writing prompt activity "Desktop Musings." 3. Invite volunteers to share their "Desktop Musings" responses with the entire class. 4. Create a classroom graphic organizer comparing your classroom desks and the desks students viewed on the Internet. You can use the Read·Write· Think graphic organizer template at https://www.marcopolosearch.org/mpsearch/Search_Results.asp?orgn_id=9&log_type=1&hdnFilter=&hdnPerPage=15&txtSearchFor=graphic+organizers&selUsing=all . (Scroll to number 4 "Compare & Contrast Chart Graphic Organizer.) 5. After the organizer is complete, lead a class discussion based on students' observations and analyses. Use the following questions to guide your discussion:
  • What are the differences in design, construction and materials of the old desks and the new desks?
  • What can we learn about society's view of education from the way the desks were designed?
Teacher Note: The question about society's view of education might be difficult for some students to answer. You may wish to prompt them with clues.

Steps for Learning Learning in Style Design

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to use the steps of the design process to create a new student desk.

1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the "Learning in Style Design Contest" handout.

2. After the votes have been counted, host a discussion on the winning desk design.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.-How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor-Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor-Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Desk Research
1. Have students conduct further research by asking their parents, caregivers, and/or grandparents about the desks they used in their classrooms. Invite students to share what they have learned with the entire class. 2. Investigate desks that are designed for an office and compare those to the desks students designed.
Activity Two: Classroom Seating Arrangements
Ask your students to read the Education World article entitled "Do Seating Arrangements and Assignments = Classroom Management?" at https://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr330.shtml and share what they learn with their classmates.

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