10 creative ways to group students in the classroom (2024)

Group work is an essential part of any student-centered classroom. Long gone are the days when kids were expected to work on assignments alone at desks arranged in neat rows — and for good reason. The National Education Association supports cooperative learning because of its research-proven benefits.

Teachers who find creative ways to group students in the classroom can see many positive results. When compared to competitive and individual learning methods, group work tends to see a higher increase in academic improvement, is more productive, and is more caring and supportive of classmates. It also promotes higher self-esteem and better social skills.

Figuring out ways to group students without creating behavior problems can be a bit challenging. However, doing so can boost your students’ overall learning experiences tenfold. Here are some trending options that can take your classroom to the next level.

Easily split your classroom into groups with Classcraft.

Option 1: You choose

I consider myself a semi-adventurous teacher when it comes to collaborative learning. I’m creative with my lesson plans and love using technology (we will talk more about tech grouping later.) I also like to have a little control over placement. Could you imagine allowing all the talkers to sit together while placing all the loners in a group? That probably wouldn’t work out too well.

Then there are certain assignments that require mixed grouping. I love having students take part in reading discussion groups. For these, you need a mix of abilities. Otherwise, the advanced kids finish too quickly, and those who struggle, sit there in silence.

For a teacher-selected mix, try these ideas out:

1. Find a classroom layout that works for you

Before you can decide on a grouping option, you’ll need to look at desk layouts and find the optimal one for group work. Some commonly used setups suggested by Create-Abilities include:

  • The Double E
  • Pairs (examples given later on)
  • Four square (my personal favorite)
  • Stadium seating
  • Double horseshoe front
  • Many Us
  • Groups of six or eight

2. Continents, patterns, and colors

Once you’ve decided on a layout, you can dive into other creative ways to group students in the classroom. In my last school, every classroom had a theme. Mine was travel, so I arranged my students in groups based on the names of the continents (i.e., Africa, South America, Asia, and so on).

Then, I grouped students’ desks in a “four square” setup like the one below. Sometimes when teaching in small groups, I would travel from section to section. At other times, each group would travel to a new continent to complete a stationed assignment.

10 creative ways to group students in the classroom (1)

If travel isn’t your thing, here are some other group name ideas:

  • Patterns: stars, dots, stripes, plaid
  • Colors: yellow, orange, blue, green
  • Under the sea: jellyfish, dolphins, turtles, sharks
  • Dinosaurs: spinosaurus, triceratops, ankylosaurus, stegosaurus
  • Plants: sunflowers, poppies, daisies, bluebells
  • Artists: Rembrandts, Kahlos, Picassos, Monets

3. Buttons and shapes

This is a great option if you need students to sit in a certain grouping because of accommodations or behavior but want to quickly pull them into other groupings for activities. It also works for any desk layout. So, if you choose something other than “four square” or individual groupings, buttons and shapes is a good option.

Walking around the room while students are seated, place a colored button (one color per group) on each student’s desk. Then, have the students stand and meet their partners at a particular place in the room. When they finish the assignment, they return to their individual groups. This can work with shapes, tiles, or any other small object that you have available.

4. Behavior grouping with tech

Even your most well-behaved student can benefit from this type of grouping. I like to mix my talkative students with the quieter ones, my “wiggle worms” with my more stoic kids, and so on. This helps with classroom reward systems as well.

For example, Classcraft allows you to group students in its classroom management system. Students can be warriors, mages, or healers. Assigning each group to a Classcraft team will not only encourage positive student behavior but also build a sense of social connection and teamwork.

5. Partner pairs

I get it. Sometimes, rows are the only thing that will work. If you must (or just really want to) group your students in traditional rows, consider two options.

The first is to make rows with pairs like in the example below:

10 creative ways to group students in the classroom (2)

Or, you could assign each student a “turn and talk” partner with whom they hold discussions during collaborative work. By assigning these partners yourself, you can cut down on the unnecessary drama and hurt feelings that tend to happen when certain students aren’t chosen by their peers.

Option 2: They choose

Teachers who are brave enough to let their students choose where to sit probably wouldn’t read this article. So, if you’re still reading, you might be wondering when, if ever, you should allow students to group themselves. Personally, I only do this as a reward or when ability/behavior does not factor into the assignment at all. If you decide to give it a try, consider these options:

1. Interest groups

This works especially well with history and reading but can work in other subjects as well. For example, if you were teaching a lesson about the Intercontinental Railroad, you could use centers around the room. One might involve creating a steam engine blueprint (art), one might have a find-and-color word search (reading), another might be STEM-based (building a model), and so on.

Students could make their own groups based on interests and then switch at the sound of a timer. This allows the groups to very and for each student to have a chance to participate in the activities that interest them the most.

2. Popsicle sticks

This is a random grouping teacher favorite, but students can use it as well. First, write each student’s name on a popsicle stick. Then, place them in a container. Allow each student to pull a stick. This gives them a sense of having some say in the selection process without allowing the group selection to become a popularity contest.

Side note: I have a strict policy when it comes to students considering others’ feelings during partner selections. During the first few days of school, I explain that any “aww, man!”s or disappointed faces during partner-picks will lead to them being assigned by me every time.

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3. Paint swatch secret ballot

This option is similar to interests but can be used with any activity. First, laminate enough color swatches for everyone in the class. For example, you might have five green, five red, five blue, etc. Have students come up in pairs to choose a color. Once the student has made a selection, instruct them to write their first name (or initials, class numbers, etc.) on a swatch and place it into a tub as if they were casting a secret ballot.

The last two called will have fewer options to choose from, so they get the special task of pulling out the other swatches and telling their peers how to group up. You can make this even more random by instructing students not to tell the others which color they chose.

4. Random name selector

Do a quick Google search for a random name selector (there are tons of these online) and enter your students’ names or class numbers. Decide how many groups you want, and choose that many students to be group leaders. Have each leader come to the smartboard (if you have one) or your computer and randomly select X number of students using the random selector. Voilà! This is another one of the many creative ways to group students in the classroom.

5. Team Shake

This last option is actually more random than it is teacher or student chosen, but it is still worth mentioning. Team Shake is a cool app that you can download on a classroom tablet. To use it, enter the number of groups desired, how many students are to be in each group and the names of your students. A special student is selected to be the “shaker” and is asked to shake the tablet. Like magic, the teams are assigned!

Which of these creative ways to group students in the classroom is your favorite? We’d love to hear your feedback!

Photo credit: feliphe schiarolli / unsplash

10 creative ways to group students in the classroom (2024)


How do you group students creatively? ›

Different ways of grouping students in the classroom
  1. Find a classroom layout that works for you. ...
  2. Continents, patterns, and colors. ...
  3. Buttons and shapes. ...
  4. Behavior grouping with tech. ...
  5. Partner pairs. ...
  6. Interest groups. ...
  7. Popsicle sticks. ...
  8. Paint swatch secret ballot.
Aug 22, 2019

How to group people in a fun way? ›

Here are a few to get you started….
  1. create a line up. From that line up you can either just divide the line into the right number of chunks or number the. ...
  2. do something physical. ...
  3. use props. ...
  4. polarisation (you can do this multiple times to get more groups) For example… ...
  5. clusters - ask people to from clusters according to…
Aug 15, 2023

What is one way you can form groups in your classroom? ›

Prepare a set of playing cards based on the number of students in the class and the number you want in each group. For a class of 20 students, you might prepare a set of playing cards with five of each suit and have each student select one. Students then get together with others who have the same suit.

What are grouping techniques? ›

Line-Ups. Asking students to line up according to a rule is a quick and easy way to create groups. Once everyone is standing in a line you can divide your students into any group size or simply fold the line in the middle to form pairs.

What is a grouping strategy? ›

A like-skill tiered grouping strategy where individuals of similar aptitude are grouped together; one group has considerably more skill than the other group. Picture classroom reading groups, where the more advanced readers are placed in one group and the less advanced readers in another group.

What is an example of flexible grouping in the classroom? ›

In elementary grades, this might look like students rotating among different learning stations, working in guided reading groups that change from week to week, or engaging in a “turn and talk” with different partners each time.

How do you break up cliques in the classroom? ›

Encourage Your Students to Try Different Things

Encourage your students to think of themselves as people with varied interests and skills. Even if they can't be involved in many activities, talk about how cool it is to see different facets of one person in the classroom.

What are the four types of ability grouping? ›

Subject-based ability grouping. Within-class ability grouping. Like-ability cooperative grouping. Cross-grade grouping by achievement level.

How to pair students in class? ›

13 Clever Ways to Pick Student Partners or Groups
  1. Make it easy with Post-its. ...
  2. Match up math questions and answers. ...
  3. Find your opposite. ...
  4. Use pipe cleaners. ...
  5. Use paint swatches to divide up students. ...
  6. Add curriculum challenges to a deck of cards. ...
  7. Try Scrabble tiles. ...
  8. Use sticks with numbers and draw as you go.
Sep 20, 2018

How are students grouped in classes? ›

Teachers assign students to specific groups based on many different reasons. These purposes may include reading or skill levels, interests, and a multitude of other reasons. Teachers delegate roles and responsibilities and assign every kid a different job such as timekeeper, recorder, speaker, and illustrator.

How do I make a group interactive? ›

11 Great Ways to Make Your Meetings Interactive
  1. Brainstorming Exercises. ...
  2. Icebreaker Games. ...
  3. Open discussion. ...
  4. Group activities. ...
  5. Interactive presentations. ...
  6. Q&A sessions. ...
  7. Team Building Breaks. ...
  8. Live polling.

What is group activity in a classroom? ›

Group work refers to learning experiences in which students work together on the same task. Group work can help build a positive and engaging learning community through peer learning and teaching. Promoting peer interactions can positively affect learning experiences by preparing students for work beyond the classroom.

What is a small group activity? ›

What are small group activities? Small group activities for preschoolers involve children being divided into smaller groups to work on specific skills. Unlike free play, small group learning should have a desired goal and encourage children to provide input and work collaboratively to complete their shared assignments.

What are group learning activities? ›

Working in small groups provides learners with opportunities to articulate ideas and understandings, uncover assumptions and misconceptions, and negotiate with others to create products or reach consensus. Group activities enable students to discover deeper meaning in the content and improve thinking skills.

How do you group gifted students? ›

Grouping options include full time ability grouping, cluster grouping, within-class flexible grouping, cross-class/grade grouping and pull-out grouping. Research shows significant academic achievement gains for gifted learners who are grouped with others of similar interest and abilities.


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