Tricks for picking class groups

I always struggle to find new, creative ways to divide students into different groups in class. They usually want to work with their friends, although many will admit they don’t always get the best results with buddies.

As you may know, it’s important for students to learn to work in groups as many of them will have to work in teams in their eventual careers. Learning how to function with different people, and different types of people, is essential to mastering teamwork.

As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to come up with new ways to divide students into groups. In the past, I have occasionally let them pick their own members. Sometimes I bring a bag with different coloured squares. Students blindly pick these pieces out of a hat and then join classmates who hold the same coloured square.

Sometimes I have plain pieces of paper with numbers on them and students find classmates with the same numbers. I’ve also just counted heads. But I needed something fun and new. After all, good teaching should be entertaining as well as thought-provoking and I like to inject a little fun into just about everything I do in class.

My new favourite way to divide the class into groups involves chocolate. This lesson comes from my Instructional Delivery professor Elizabeth Woudsma, by the way. Buy a bunch of wrapped chocolate bars and make sure you have enough of each flavour to correspond to the number of people you want in each group and the number of groups. So, if you want six groups of four, you need to bring six types of chocolate bars and four of each of those types.

Then, either circulate with the box of chocolate or invite students to come to the front to grab a treat. Once they’ve had a good nibble, tell them to find the person (or people) who has the same wrapper as they do. Those people, you tell students, are going to be your teammates for the coming group exercise.

My mentor Christina uses stickers to do the same thing. She has other techniques and takes much delight in finding new, fun ways to help students work within different classmate environments.

Naturally, after learning this new chocolate bar technique, I had to tell Christina about it. After all she’s taught me, I am forever trying to give back to her. She’s really good, so it’s really hard to find stuff she doesn’t already know.

When I told her about the trick, she reached onto a shelf nearby and brought out a plastic pumpkin basket filled with Halloween treats. She’d just tried the technique this week. And, of course, students loved it.

If you know any other great tricks for dividing classmates into groups, please share them here. I’d love to hear from you.

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About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
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4 Responses to Tricks for picking class groups

  1. Christina Decarie says:

    Something fun to do, especially when you have lots of international students, is to find out where in the world everyone is from.

    Pick a wall in the classroom and imagine it represents a sort of linear globe. Show the class, moving from one side of the wall all the way to other, where Vancouver, Seattle, LA, the west coast of Mexico, etc, is and then move across the globe, being sure to mention points from north and south, as you move from west to east.

    Then students need to place themselves on this linear globe, talking to each other (communicating!) to figure out where they stand. Then they shout out to me where they are from.

    Then I have them count themselves off into as many groups as I need for the class. It’s energizing, interesting, and a lot of fun!

  2. Melanie Steers says:

    Frank – another technique (which you may already know but I think it’s a good one) is the technique that I call the “bingo” game. You have a sheet with various characteristics or interests in different boxes (about 9 on a page). These could be things like: I am a middle child, I have a motorcycle, I like dogs, I lived in another country, etc. The students are asked to find another student that has the same characteristic. It is a way for students to get to know something interesting about a peer and then work in partners on a task. This is best when the group is new.

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