A lot of great classroom activities 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 pieces of group work activities is actually dividing students up into the 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 feeling overwhelmed before the activity has even begun.
Instead, taking a few minutes to think about how to divide students into group 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.
When Speed is Crucial, Group in Advance
If your activity is going to take up most of the class period, you don’t have time to waste. The easiest thing to do is to group the students before the class even begins or as they walk into the room. There are many ways to achieve this. You can use a random group generator (like this one) and have the team lists written on the board when the class starts. You can also number students as they walk in the room and have numbered labels on each table.
When Perspective Matters, Do a Pre-Activity
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 eight to ten minutes extra 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.
Use Content to Your Advantage
If all you really need is just to get them into groups, think about ways to bring content into the grouping. You could have a paragraph from the reading with blanks for some of the words on each table and then hand out words. When students find the paragraph their words belong to, they’ve also found their group. You could hand out vocabulary words and definitions and have students find their match to create pairs. You could create a timeline with color coded divisions and then hand out papers labeled with events and have students in the same division be a group.
The hidden advantage of these grouping activities based on content is that they also help activate prior knowledge before the activity begins.
Make it Truly Random (and Quick) with Cards
A deck of playing cards can be a great tool for creating truly random groups quickly and effectively. Deal out the cards and then group based on the number you need. Everyone with the same suit could be a group. If you need more than four groups, you can group based on a number band (“A-3 are a group. 4-6 are a group.”)
Grouping doesn’t have to take up a lot of 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.