Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ways to Group Students Quickly and Effectively

In the struggle to reach every student in the classroom it occasionally becomes necessary to divide them into groups, but how? Whether it's for an activity, remediation, or even a quick little game, grouping students quickly and effectively can be tricky. I have been struggling with this concept, because my kids really want to work in groups on a full time basis. However, I'm doubtful of how much actual work will take place if I spend too much time helping one group over the other.

That dilemma has sparked a search for a solution. Like most teachers I need a solution that works in the classroom, not one that just sounds great on paper. Since classrooms are made of different personalities, I've decided to try different ideas to determine which works best in my class.

Here are some grouping strategies that may work for you.
  • Setup an area for groups in your classroom- this works well if your kids don't stay in groups throughout the day, or if the groups change regularly.
  • Pass out one playing card to each student-this way you can separate them by suite, evens, odds, factors of a number (factors of 6), the same number (four 9's), card-runs (2,3,4,5; or 6,7,8 depending on how big you want the group), divisible by, etc. The kids will be less likely to complain about the card they have, because they don't know how you are going to call the groups.
  • "Number Pops"- "Number Pops" works like this: Get a bunch of craft or Popsicle sticks and write numbers on them. These numbers should correlate to the number of groups that you would like and the number of people in each group. Example: If I wanted six groups of four students, then I would have four 1's, four 2's and so on. This may take a while to prepare for the teacher, but once it's done... it's done. Note: If you don't want to set it up ask a few of your "helper" students to do it for you during recess or something. Even better you could write on the can the number of groups. That way you could have cans that separate your class into groups of 4, 5, and 6.
  • Synonyms- on index cards you can write synonyms and have the students find their partners by matching the words together. Note: This concept can be confusing to some students. You may want to go over which of the words match before hand to calm the kids confusion.
  • "Group of the Day"-this strategy should be setup during the first few days of school, while you are still setting up your classroom routines. Have different groups for different days of the week. (Groups of 4, 5, and 6 for Mondays, Tuesdays, etc. That way on Monday if you say groups of four they know who they belong with, and on Tuesday their group of six maybe different) By doing this the students can get accustomed to getting in their groups, and you can develop a routine. Routines are a teacher's best friend!!! The kids will know immediately what is expected of them and who they should pair up with. Make a Bulletin Board sized calendar just for this grouping, this way the kids can reference it throughout the year.
  • Partners, Teams, and Panels- like "group of the day" you may need to establish these at the beginning of the year, but it works well for the different types of activities that you need them to achieve. Once established don't change the people in the groups, because keeping a routine will make the transition very quick. Once created the teacher will just have to say, "I need Partners to do such and such", "I need my Teams to complete...", or "As a Panel discuss....."
    • "Partners"- pair the students up or have them in groups of three. These types of groups work well for study groups, or paired reading.
    • "Teams"- separate your kids into groups of three and four. (NOTE: DON'T PAIR TWO GROUPS OF PARTNERS!!! They will become too friendly or get tired of each other. Plus it's good to have fresh input into the group.) These types of groups work well when there is a "hands-on" activity to be completed.
    • "Panels"- the kids are separated into groups of five or six. These groups are designed to talk. However, the teacher should have something constructive for them to talk about. Since the groups are so large you don't have to walk around as much just a quick visit to make sure they're on task. (Note: These groups are best at discussing written works, hot topics, "what if" scenarios, cause and effect, and problem solving. Make sure to give each student a participation sheet so they can document their feelings, ideas, solutions, etc. This will make each student in the group accountable for their individual work.
  • Birthday Buddies- match the students according to the months that they were born. This may or may not work depending on the dynamic of your classroom. I for example have 5 birthdays that fall in June, while only 1 is in March. So for my classroom, I chose to do "Birthday Buddies" by season. You could also separate them by the beginning, middle, and end of the month.
  • Burger Buddies- have your kids choose the fast food establishment they like the best. Have choices for the number of groups that you would like. Example: Which do you prefer? McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee's, Subway, etc. You may have to even up the groups by asking which beverage they prefer. (Note: I teach in a very small town and they only have one fast food place. So, I took it a step further and asked what is your favorite type of food to get from this place/what would you like on your burger.)
  • Genre Groups- separate your kids by the types of books, movies, music, or subjects that they enjoy. (Note: "Genre Groups" and "Burger Buddies" can be done through an interest survey at the beginning of the year. Since these surveys are done on paper, they will have no clue that you are using the survey as a means to group them. They will probably think that you are just trying to get to know them better.)
  • Color Pencils-have your kids pick colored pencils out of a can. Have four or five of the same color and have as many colors as you need groups.
I hope these ideas help to make grouping your students a little less stressful.


Unknown said...

thanks for your nice tip. it is really practical.

Sojo Varughese said...

We have shared this post on

Thanks for the tip.

Sandy said...

These are fabulous ideas! I am eager to share these with my team when school starts.

Charlie Gorichanaz said...

I recently created a tool to help create sets of groups that could be used in teaching such that all students will have to work with each other student at least once.

If interested, see the tool and description at

William Dounavis said...

Thank you! Great ideas!