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How to group your students in the classroom

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Before the next academic year begins, you’ll likely find yourself sitting at a desk looking at your class list and working out how to seat your students for the best possible learning outcomes. It often feels like a Suduko puzzle, trying to find whether to put a talkative Sarah next to the introvertive Ben or the high-achieving Kyle next to Adam who’s falling behind. Do we group students by abilities or mix them up? Pair students by personality or interests or by support? In this article, my aim is to make the job a little easier by outlining 8 different ways to group your students and knowing when those groups work best.

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Before assigning groups – How to group your students in the classroom

Before you begin assigning students to groups, consider the following questions:

  • Which group type will work best for this particular activity?
  • Which type will work best given the present state of the class? E.g. consider conflict amongst peers, student temperaments, and particular students you might need to be extra considerate of.
  • Which type of group will move each student on socially, not just academically?
  • Which type haven’t we used in a while?

Because not all lessons and activities are made equal, it’s important to be flexible, so change up seating plans and groups as necessary in order to get the best outcomes for the task.

1. Random groups

Random groups are composed by chance. You can create random groups by:

  • Pulling names out of a hat
  • Sticking a pin in the register
  • Using the a random name generator or the Wheel of Names
  • Handing out differently coloured cards
  • Lining students up by their birthday month and grouping them into the four closest to them

Random groups are useful at the beginning of the year when you’re trying to work out class dynamics. Students often get excited by these kinds of groups as they know they’re left up to chance rather than being premeditated.

2. Friendship groups

While it may not seem like the best idea for many students, grouping students with their friends can often be a good thing. Depending on the learner, some students work better with people with who they are familiar with and whom they have already built a relationship. Be wary though, a big part of collaborative work is to help students grow socially which can sometimes be limiting in already-established friendships. Consider what you want the learning outcome to be and if this type of group will complement it.

3. Interest groups

Students can be grouped together by similar interests. This can be more random such as “raise your hand if you like iPhones over Samsungs” or something more related to the content of the lesson. Students who don’t typically work well together have the opportunity in Interest Groups to find common ground and grow new social relationships where they otherwise might not have.

4. Skill groups

Put students in groups according to the skillset that they share e.g. reading levels, writing ability, ability to apply subject knowledge to the task at hand, creativity, etc. Skill groups also create an opportunity for students to find commonality in their academic abilities with peers at the same level as them and gain awareness about their own personal development and academic goals.

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5. Mixed skill groups

Mixed skill groups are one of my favourite types of groups because higher-ability students who tend to finish tasks early can take pride in supporting lower-ability students with their work. It’s always important to ensure personalities don’t clash in these types of groups as the last thing you want is to put any students in an inferior position to their peers. These groups have the potential to work wonders in motivating less able students to complete their work as they complete tasks alongside more motivated peers.

6. Learning style groups

Put students in groups based on their learning styles e.g. visual, kinesthetic, audio, linguistic, logical, etc. These groups are helpful when you want students to work on the same learning outcomes but in different ways. You can also use learning stations where students get to work in a particular learning style for a limited time until moving on to the next, allowing them to expand on how they learn and keep the lesson engaging.

7. Support groups

Group students by support whether that be academic, social or personal. These groups are a great way to teach empathy and create a sense of togetherness in the classroom. Encouraging students to help others with the skills and knowledge they already possess helps the Supporters to develop a sense of esteem and the Supportees to not only get the help they need but know that they are being cared for and that help is always available to them.

8. Performance groups

Put students in groups based on their current level of performance on the particular task or topic set. This makes differentiation much easier as the higher-ability students can easily get on with their work and more focus can be given to those struggling. As an example, this might include allocating different tasks or books/extracts by Lexile levels.

Conclusion

One group type may not be suitable for all lessons. It’s important to keep mixing it up and experiment with different groups to see what works for you and your students at different times. Collaborative opportunities help students to not only achieve academically but also their social skills, esteem and confidence, too.

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