The main reason I change my student desks are because I want to them to learn to work with others. We do a lot of group work and discussions because I think it is so important for students to share their opinions/ideas, collaborate from others, and learn to work cooperatively. It is definitely not an easy thing for 5th graders, but...practice makes perfect :)
But... lugging around 16 desks every 3 weeks can seem a little daunting - especially when your muscles are the size of pea pods, like mine are :) We also have chair pockets on the back of our chairs, so the chairs have to be moved across the room as well. So at the end of last year I came up with a plan to continue changing their desks while saving myself the aggravation: have the students do it. Mind-blowing, I know! :)
Here's my strategy: I draw the seating chart lay-out on the board using box shapes for the desks - very high-tech, I know! :) - and putting a class number to designate who will sit where. After I draw it, I have the students examine it and picture where in the class their desk needs to move to. Then I tell them they have 30 seconds to work together as a team to make the classroom match the drawing on the board. They need to LIFT (not drag!) their desks to their new location. When we're in groups, I also put an arrow to show which direction the desks should be facing.
Here's an example from last week when my students arranged themselves in partners:
In less than 30 seconds, the job was completed: the desks were correctly moved, the students worked together to reach a common goal, and I just had to supervise :)
Each week the students earn tally points for their "team" (table group) for answering questions correctly, being the first group cleaned up, waiting quietly, etc. Teams can also lose points for calling out, being off-task, arguing, disrespectful behavior, etc. On Friday the team with the most points wins. I find the Team Challenge Competition is one of the best motivators for quality work and proper behavior - they are motivated by not only the incentive, but also the positive peer pressure from their group.
Last year my groups were colors, but this year, I've decided to go with continents! It will fit in my theme and will also be a good geography reinforcement all year. I printed the labels out on card stock, backed them onto green construction paper, and then laminated them. I bought the little photo stands at Target in the Dollar Spot (my home away from home!)