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What Is a Nontraditional Classroom for Elementary?

by Michele Cooper, studioD

A traditional or typical elementary classroom has students all in the same grade, one teacher and a few teacher aides or assistants. Students learn by listening to their teachers, memorizing information and practicing drills and skills. Traditional classrooms usually have a sense of order, a set schedule and standard grading. The nontraditional classroom moves away from one or all of these norms.

Multi-Grade and Age

Some elementary classrooms do not follow the standard age and grade traditions. In schools that do not have enough students for every grade, classrooms are sometimes combined to create a multi-grade learning environment. Other progressive schools eliminate grade levels all together, integrating age groups so that students learn at their own pace, regardless of their age. Rather than standard grading, educators simply move the student on to more advanced learning when they are ready.


The standard or traditional classroom contains desks or tables to accommodate each student. Nontraditional classrooms may take a different approach, giving students the choice of sitting on the floor or on pillows and not having any strict rules about getting up during a lesson. The nontraditional classroom typically embraces physical movement, acknowledging the various needs of students. These classes may also experiment with table configurations so that students face one another, rather than the teacher.


Children choose what they learn and when they learn it in some nontraditional classrooms. Some progressive curriculums allow elementary age students to choose what to work on at their own pace. For example, an educator sets up various learning stations in the classroom, including math games, science experiments and a reading corner. Instead of telling a student what they will work on next, they allow the student to choose a station. Progressive teachers often watch and lead by example, rather than telling a student what to do.


A nontraditional classroom may also refer to the coursework and subjects being taught. Rather than the standard topics of English, math, science, and history, the nontraditional classroom may focus on nontraditional subjects, such as the arts, music, economics and the natural sciences. Some charter and magnet schools, for example, focus on a theme that embraces their local culture, community or economy. Coursework and classes are based around this theme, while still teaching the core subjects.

About the Author

Michele Cooper has been freelance editing and proofreading since 2006. She has published poetry in the literary journal "Night Roses." Cooper currently teaches writing courses at the community college level and brings her expertise in communication to all of her writing. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Hunter College and a master's degree in teaching/education from State University New York at New Paltz.

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