Where did we coin the word ‘classroom’? by @MarkJWarner1

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The classroom!


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This post answers the 28th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks.

I posed this (Thunk) question to my colleagues and they asked their students to think about it too.

7.30am: Friday morning, the last Friday before half-term, I sent a (dreaded!)  ‘all staff’ email.

Where did we coin the word ‘classroom’?

What I didn’t expect, was the immediate flurry of responses…

Your bog-standard British classroom…

Later in the day, teachers thought it would be a great idea, to turn the question into a fun activity for staff to complete (for professional thinking).

Classrooms can be flexible. They can be flipped. They can be inside or outside a building. Classrooms can be full of technology; comfortable; confined; light and airy; or over-crowed and over-heated. Classrooms most importantly, can be intimidating for some, and challenging for others. A classroom can also be informative, inspiring and progressive spaces, where memories are formed and tangible-learning can ‘click’ – that can last a lifetime!

NeverSo, I asked the students about the word ‘classroom’.  Here is what they (unedited) said:

  • Rooms for quality people – we’re all classy!
  • A group of people put together by how clever they are or what subject they’re good at.
  • A formal place with good etiquette.
  • Class:  A group of students taught by a teacher.
  • Classroom: a purpose-built room for teaching in.
  • Class: A group of people learning one subject from a teacher.
  • We are a class because we are all in one room learning one thing.
1890s classroom
1920s classroom
1940s classroom
1960s classroom

Here’s what teachers said:

  • I would assume that it is derived from classifying, whereby students are grouped by age/intelligence.
  • Did it start in Victorian times where ‘class’ was such a big thing?
  • Is it because original lessons would be based around a topic of ‘classics’ or the topics would be classical?
  • Economy/business/first class areas on planes/trains/boats.
  • Class / klas / Noun
  • A set or category of things having some property or attribute in common and differentiated from others by kind, type, or quality.
  • The property or common attribute, or common goal in this case is to learn. The class-rooms are differentiated by subject.
  • I believe it originally comes from the German ‘klasse’ meaning great / smashing / terrific!
  • I understand class to be a group based upon similar characteristics. For example, birds are a class (not scientifically a ‘class’) as they all have feathers and lay eggs.  So, a classroom would be a room where people with similar characteristics are. For example, all aged 11-12 years.
  • It is where we group people of differing intelligence and therefore different social classes.
classroom 1970
1970s classroom
classroom 1980
1980s classroom
1990s classroom
classroom 2000
2000s classroom
2010s classroom

Apparently the term is based upon a mis-translation of a 16th century early guide to schools. The ‘early’ schools were based in “solars” – glass room, for longer hours of light . Due to a typographical mis-reading, these rooms later became the “class”- rooms with which we are now familiar.
It’s the arena in which class is perpetuated (Marxist analysis) or where the seeds of social mobility are sown (functionalist analysis). Class being  the class divide in the 18th 19th 20th century!

So, like all great Thunks, there’s no one answer, just another set of questions to ponder…

What do you think?

Written by AHT Mark Warner and edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

Mark Warner was an English AST. He’s now an AHT for Teaching and Learning, working on an MAEd at Sussex University. Interested in R4P, CPD and words. You can follow Mark on Twitter.

This article is part of @TeacherToolkit’s TTkitThunks 100 series.

@MarkJWarner is an AHT for Teaching and Learning,
@MarkJWarner is an AHT for Teaching and Learning,



Update: 17th June 2013

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One thought on “Where did we coin the word ‘classroom’? by @MarkJWarner1

  1. The class are the children, the children the class. When they leave the classroom, is just a room. The classroom is wherever they are, playground, conservation area, or the football pitch.

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