A "spread" is the pattern in which you lay out your cards for a reading. The following list of spreads right below starts with the only one that is not commonly used in Lenormand readings:
>> Single Card:In a Single Card reading one card only is used. As I wrote above, Single Card readings are rare in Lenormand (>> here is why, and in what way I disagree). I still included them here though because I personally love them, and I even put them first on the list because they require very little previous knowledge of the cards to work. In other words: I put them first because they can be used as a practise tool! They can be used as a stepping stone to all the other spreads - they are most suited for total beginners. The pattern of the layout is, obviously, very simple. For example:
>> Strings: For String readings multiple cards are arranged in
one single row - most often 3 or 5 cards. Strings are, for the most part, less complex, more to the point, but also more narrow, than Tableaus. They are very suitable to give focused answers to what/how/why questions; they can give clear input or advice regarding one issue. Here's an example of a 3-card String:
• Minor Tableaus: For Minor Tableaus (I've seen people call them just "Tableau", "small Tableau", "Box Spread", or "Nine Card Spread") multiple cards are arranged into a square made
of a certain number of rows and columns - often but not exclusively squares of 3x3 cards. Tableaus are, on the whole, more complex, their answers less clear-cut but also more multifaceted, than Strings. They are useful if you want to have a comprehensive look at a complex situation, if you want to uncover several different facets of a situation. Tableaus are probably not suitable for you if you haven't practised Strings yet.
Here's an example of a 3x3 Tableau:
• Grand Tableaus: A Grand Tableau is a very complex case of a Tableau in which all 36 cards
are laid out, either in rows of 4x9 cards or 4x8+4 cards. Grand Tableaus are great if you want answers to several questions in just one reading - if, for example, you have questions regarding a relationship, a situation at work, and an emotional issue. There is a multitude of different techniques (some complementary, others contradictory) you can apply to Grand Tableaus, all depending on the question(s) asked and your personal preferences. Many Lenormand readers focus most of their readings on Grand Tableaus; some readers can't stand them. It's a matter of taste. Two things are sure, though: Grand Tableaus will be much too complex for most beginners, and they can but frustrate you if you are in a hurry! Here is an example of a 4x9 Grand Tableau:
• Other: Strings and (Grand or 3x3) Tableaus are the most common spreads by far. But you can find more spreads through a simple online search. Many of them are "just" variations or embellishments of basic Strings and Tableaus, though - e.g. Double Strings.
2. Which spread is most suitable for beginners - and a defence of Single Card readings
Spreads for beginners:
When people say they are beginners at reading Lenormand cards they might mean very different things. One person might mean that, while they already know the cards well, and can apply the combination method, they haven't done actual readings or aren't very experienced at them yet. If you are that kind of a beginner, Strings are probably a good choice for you. They aren't as complex as Tableaus, and they will teach you most of what you'll need to know to handle Tableaus confidently.
Another person might say that they are beginner, too, but mean that they aren't even familiar with the individual cards yet. Now, if you don't know the individual cards' meanings yet, practising the combination method is not really a viable option - but the combination method is what you'd need in order to read Strings and Tableaus. So you could either postpone doing readings until you know each card's individual meaning well and have mastered the combination method. Or you could start doing Single Card readings. Through Single Card readings you will not only learn to know each individual card in depth, one by one. You will also, at the same time, be gaining your first experiences with card reading! Stick with Single Card readings until you are comfortably familiar with all individual cards. As soon as this is the case you can practice the combination method by reading pairs of cards. Then, once you have a good grasp of the combination method, you can proceed to Strings.
Defence of Single Card readings: According to many Lenormand readers, Single Card readings cannot lead to satisfying answers. But as far as I can see this is mostly due to the fact that Lenormand tradition requires readers to stick to very basic meanings for each card - in the form of a smallish selection of keywords. And it's obvious that a simple keyword alone will rarely serve as a satisfying answer to a pressing question. If you reduce your card meanings to a few keywords it is then indeed necessary to use several cards and to apply the combination method in order to create an in-depth interpretation.
But if you are like me and enjoy going into depth with each single card, if you enjoy not just the keywords but also the
longer interpretations, the archetypes behind the symbols, then picking one single card can deliver
plenty of inspiration for finding deeply meaningful, even profound, answers - even (or maybe especially) when you aren't a beginner anymore.
If you started card reading with Tarot you are probably used to a high number of available spreads
with elaborate shapes in which each single position has a certain and fixed significance. So the limited range and simple layouts of
Lenormand spreads will probably irritate you. But try to suspend your misgivings for the time being. Learn the Lenormand cards' individual meanings, and then the combination method, and then start experimenting with Strings and Tableaus. I can almost guarantee that by then you will already see why the limited range of shapes of Lenormand Spreads makes perfect sense. And you'll also realise that Strings and Tableaus are actually much more varied than they seem because of the multitude of techniques which can be applied to them.