A lot of great classroom activities and projects are based on group work. However, some teachers can get frustrated with activities that require group division because they always seem to be chaotic and take more time than planned. One of the overlooked and important pieces of group work activities is the planning of how to divide students up into groups to begin with.
This might seem like a simple step that doesn’t take any consideration. After all, can’t you just tell students to break into groups? Well, you can, but often this takes a long time, and students might end up grouping up based on social ties that will have them chatting rather than focusing. It can also bring social anxieties to the surface for other students, leaving them overwhelmed before the activity begins.
Instead, taking a few minutes to think about how to divide students into groups can go a long way toward making sure that they accomplish all you hope they do once they get there. Here are four considerations and methods for grouping students effectively.
Anytime you have a large project or an activity that will take up most of the class period, it is helpful to have students grouped before the start of class. This gets easier as the year goes on, and you learn which students work well together and who struggle to stay on task when in the same group.
Plan for different group sizes - pairs, groups of three and four. For most group activities, four is the maximum for optimal engagement.
Sometimes the activity works best if the students who are working together share a particular stance or interest in the material. If this is the case for your activity, plan some extra time and use it at the beginning to do a little pre-activity work to divide students up in a way that will serve your purpose.
You could have a list of themes from the topic and have students individually consider each one before deciding what theme best fits their perspective. Students who are working on a longer-term project like a research paper can write their topic on a sheet of paper where you then group them based on overlap.
If all you really need is just to get them into groups, think about ways to bring content into the grouping. The hidden advantage of these grouping activities based on content is that they also help activate prior knowledge before the activity begins.
This is a perfect place to show your creativity! For example, you could hand out vocabulary words and definitions and have students find their match to create pairs. The possibilities are endless!
There are many ways to achieve this. Here are just a few ideas:
When creating groups, try to keep in mind the students who may have the most challenges fitting into a group, or being anxious about the group work. Be sure they are going to be comfortable as you proceed. It's also a great idea to have pre-defined roles for group members. Examples include Team Captain, Note Taker, Time Keeper, and Speaker (the person who will share out with the rest of the class).
Grouping should not take up valuable class time, and a little bit of planning can go a long way toward making those awesome group activities you’ve been thinking about become a reality.
This blog post was updated on August 16, 2023 by Brittany Haines and Courtney Udanis.