6 Ways to Form Effective Groups in the Classroom

These are 6 ways I mix it up when forming classroom groups.We all know that the success of every group is determined by how well group members work together.  By picking groups randomly, it indicates to your students that you trust them to get the job done, no matter who is working together.   

Here are a few of tried and true methods I've used over the years. 

Name sticks or name cards 
At the beginning of each year, kids decorate the large craft sticks or blank business cards (available at office supply stores). I use them all year long to call on kids, randomly, to group them, to check attendance and lunch count, and to make it easier for guest teachers to learn their names.  They get to take them home at the end of the year, if they'd like... and they usually "like." :)  

Draw a Stick/Card
They pick 1 partner and I put partner groups together. A word of caution... it's easy to end up with those last few kids who never get picked. 

How I avoid “Last Man Standing.” I get around hurt feelings and those last few that rarely get picked by initially giving kids the choice to pair up OR move to the "Free Spirit" spot in the room.  Free Spirits are the kids who don't care who they work with and I make a big deal about how special that group is because they are the first to learn to work with all sorts of people - an important real-world skill.

All students write their names on a slip of paper (partners’ names are together on one slip).  I collect them all and randomly draw groups.  Some groups might have 3 (2 draws - a pair and a single), others might have 4 (2 draws - two pair). If my first two draws are singles, I’ll draw again. This way, everyone gets picked randomly. 

Randomly Deal Name Cards/Sticks
I will deal out name cards (or sticks) face down into groupings. No one knows how it turns out, including me! Then, one group at a time, I read off the names.  This is for the days when I’m ready to live with the consequences of my folly.  

Everyone knows teachers go out of their way to thwart some friends "working" together.  When that group gets randomly selected, the kids love it! At first, they can't believe I'll let it slide. For the most part, they are anxious to show me that they can work together.  And it really does help bond the class.

Deck of Playing Cards 

As students enter the classroom, have them draw a card. Table/desk groups are numbered, same as cards. Students move to their designated table.  If I need larger groups that day, I’ll divide by suits instead (hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds).

An aside... If you don't have at least one deck of playing cards in your classroom, I strongly encourage you to get one.  Even partial decks are handy. I always have kids bring in their partial decks from home to add to the class collection. 
Stinky Feet Groups 
Everyone takes off one shoe and puts it in a big tub (or just pile them in the middle of the room). I pull out random shoes to make my groups. This one might require some sensitivity.  I wouldn't recommend doing it if you have some kids in class that are embarrassed because of holes in socks or ratty shoes.  It's a good idea to do a visual check, as they come into class, and then, a show of hands for permission to group by stinky feet.  

Spinners add another layer of randomness in the forming of groups.
Teacher’s Choice
Yes, sometimes, I will still put carefully-thought-out groups together. And just to show I believe in them, I might put those two kids together. 

If you have time, use a spinner to  determine which of these methods you'll do that day. I have a ready-made spinner with the different ways listed above. It's just a fun way to change things up and make them more random.

Jigsaw (Not on the Spinner)
This is probably one of my favorite ways to group and regroup kids, because it encourages everyone to be responsible for their piece of information. It’s good for breaking larger challenges into manageable chunks.  I'll choose one of the methods above to begin with.  Each group has a part of the whole- whatever that is - researching a topic, reading a chapter in their text, or a piece of a bigger puzzle, for example.  Members of the initial group will be responsible for learning and disseminating the information to the rest of the class via the jigsawed groups.

Use this handy quick reference to jigsaw groups.

To jigsaw a group, I have everyone number off 1 to 5 (or however many are in the groups). Then like numbers are jigsawed together to share information.   

Remind kids: Just like a chain, the group is only as strong (effective) as the weakest link. We discuss what that might mean and come up with some solutions to make sure everyone is able to explain the project or problem.  

Empower kids to take responsibility and ensure their group’s success by setting clear expectations in the beginning. Let them know they will evaluate their groups at the end. 

Post discussion questions or exit tickets: What did you do to help your group solve the problem.  How could you help someone who loses focus or doesn't understand? What might you do differently, next time?

What are some of the ways you've found to successfully group kids in your classroom? 

Desktop Learning Adventures Celebrates Kindness

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, which is true for a number of situations.  Take a classroom, for example. Those students who act out, talk out, and disrupt others are constantly in need of teacher "grease" to get them back on track.  Finally, I'd reached the point where I had enough.

It takes nothing extra to be kind to one another.

For too long I would go home with a headache from responding to the negative forces that take over a classroom. I would commiserate with teacher friends, telling the same stories over and over - broken record extraordinaire!

My eureka moment came as I said these words out loud, "It's just not fair to the kids who want to learn and are doing great things!"

That's it! Kids Caught Doing Great Things!

It started slowly, as I consciously noticed and thanked one student for cleaning up the science equipment without being asked, while ignoring her lab partner who blowing bubbles through his pen casing.  He stopped blowing and helped his lab partner clean up!

Another time, while I was working with a reading group, I noticed a couple students having a grand time with something in their desks.  I focused on the other two students sitting in their table group who were on task, and thanked them for knowing what they were supposed to be doing.  I returned my focus to the kids I was working with, but saw the other two get down to business.

I know it's hard to not get sucked back into the negative squeaky-wheel scenario of classroom management, and I didn't want to fall back into that same pattern.

Adults in the school community recognize students' positive actions.
My solution was to invent a quick classroom award system, and call it, "Kid Caught Doing Great Things." I included character traits that a successful person might exhibit.  I would give them to the students who were doing what they were supposed to be doing, acknowledging their positive behavior. I could fill them out quickly and hand them out immediately.

But why stop there?

I made up several pads of these awards (I wish online printing was a prevalent then as it is now. It would have been much cheaper!) and handed them out to our administrators and my students' other teachers, so the kids could feel the love from everyone.

Eventually, some of my students approached me to see if they could give out awards for positive things they saw going on. It was poetry in motion!

I've since developed a full character education plan of action, with posters and student activity sheets to accompany the Kid Caught awards, designed to help students see that positive actions have positive consequences.
Aesop's Fable, "The Lion and the Mouse" help teach kindness.

I decided kindness was a good place to begin, because it takes nothing to be kind to one another, and kids are quick to recognize that.  I set the stage using Aesop's fable, "The Lion and the Mouse."  I would then introduce the poster and we'd discuss how it tied in to the story.  (Aesop's Fables are great for this because they're usually quick reads.)

After brainstorming other ways to show kindness, I turned them loose, making their own Kindness posters, using the activity sheets. I love the sound of productive noise, and that's what this activity produced.  I was amazed and happy to note how many different ways students found to show kindness!

Finally, as one who is always willing to take advantage of a writing extension, I had students write their own fables, with "kindness" as the moral of the story.

Does this mean I never slipped back into my old habits?  Come on, now.  I'm human, I'm not a saint. But Kid Caught Doing Great Things has taught me that positive intervention is much more effective than greasing that squeaky old wheel.

Download my free Kindness poster/activity set, complete with Kid Caught Doing Great Things awards and try it for yourself! You'll love the changes you see in your class!

Then search with the hashtags, #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths, on TpT for other free resources that will have a positive impact in your class.
Desktop Learning Adventures #KindnessMatters