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“Where’s my partner?” An Overview of Grouping Strategies for the Classroom

by Model Teaching | October 21, 2019.

Grouping students during the practice phase of your lesson can have many benefits. Students often like to talk and interact with their peers, and this gives them an excellent opportunity to practice what they are learning. However, many questions can arise when it comes to grouping your students. How should you group them? How can you implement grouping quickly and effectively, so you aren’t wasting class time?

Grouping Students

Some lessons require that you plan your grouping ahead of time. You may want to carefully think about your students and their needs before placing them in groups for a lesson. However, grouping your students does not always have to be pre-planned. Depending on the purpose of your lesson, you can quickly place your students in groups to work on a practice activity. Here we will discuss 5 grouping strategies that you can implement in your classroom depending on your lesson and the learning outcomes.

  1. Grouping by Ability – One common way that teacher may implement grouping in the classroom is by grouping students based on their ability levels. Using this method, teachers may create groups by placing the high-level students in one group, the middle-level students in another group, and the lower level students in one group. While doing this can allow a teacher to differentiate the assignments based on the student’s ability level, grouping should be planned before the start of the lesson.
  2. Mixed Ability Groups – Alternately, teachers may want to create Mixed Ability groups where each group has a mix of students on a variety of different ability levels. (For example, each group may have 2 high students, 2 middle students, and 2 low students.) The benefit of this approach is that lower students can learn from their peers, and this may help to bridge any gaps that students may have.
  3. Interest Grouping – Using this approach, teachers can group students based on their interests. This can be particularly helpful when students are reading books or researching material based on a particular topic. Since they share their interests with their peers, students will be engaged in the lesson.
  4. Student Choice – In this approach, the teacher allows students to choose their partners or groups. This can be a great way to implement grouping quickly because the teacher does not need to do any planning beforehand. Students will enjoy working in pairs or groups because they often choose to work with their friends. The downside of this approach is that students will usually choose to work with the same people each time. Other students may feel left out if they are not chosen.
  5. Flexible or Random Grouping – Flexible or random grouping can be implemented quickly in the classroom. There is no pre-planning involved. The teacher can decide on a random way to organize the groups. For example, the teachers may have students choose a colored popsicle stick and students work in groups based on the color of their popsicle stick.

Next time you are planning a lesson, think about allowing your students to work with their peers during the practice phase of your lesson. Start by knowing your students and their individual needs. Then, decide what type of grouping would be best for your lesson based on the desired outcome. Before allowing your students to work in groups, be sure to establish clear expectations about group work and what the students should accomplish while they are working in groups.  Then, partner your students up and let them get to work!

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Grouping Resource Cards

Grouping Resource Cards

This resource provides a set of cards that teachers can use to quickly group students in a variety of ways. Each card gives a specific color, a character, animal, letter, and number. Teachers can use the colors on the cards to place students in groups of 4.

Instructions: To use these cards, print, cut them out, and laminate (if desired). Put a hole punch in the top right-hand corner of each card and place the set of cards on a ring. When you are ready to place your students in groups, hand each student a card at random. Decide on the size of each group that you want. Then, ask students to find their partner(s) by color, animal, letter, or number depending on the size of the groups that you want.


Try this!  Print out these cards to use as a flexible grouping strategy in your classroom. Keep them close to your teaching area. After you have completed your whole group portion of your lesson, grab the cards and use them to group your students quickly. Use the reference page as a guide to how you can group your students depending on the size of the groups that you wish to have. Monitor your students as they work and see the benefits that group work can have in your classroom.


Copy and paste these links into your web browser to view these additional resources!

  • Article: How to Group Students in the Classroom
  • Article: What are the benefits of group work?
  • Article: Organizing Small Groups: Do You Know All the Options?
  • Article: Flexible Grouping as a Differentiated Instruction Strategy

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