5 Ways to Group Students

Decorative: "Creating Great Teams," above a picture of a car, a dog, and a hamster


A. "5 Ways to Group Adult Students for Teamwork Online" (post) outlines five strategies for grouping students for "case studies, small group discussions, peer review, and other collaborative assignments."

"Everyone has a technique for doing it differently, based on any number of factors." 

  • "How many students are in your class?" 
  • "How many students should be in each group? "
  • "What if you have students 'left over'?"
  • "Should I group them with teammates they know? Teammates they don’t know? Teammates they choose? Teammates I choose?"

"Although the strategies are probably infinite," the post gives five options, "define[s] each technique [and] describe potential contexts for use." 

B. Group-Sorting Techniques

1. "Generate Random Groups"

a. What Is It?

  • Sorting is "left to chance."

b. When Should I Use It?

  • "Random groups can work well when students are just getting to know each other."
  • "It can give them an opportunity to meet peers they might not normally gravitate toward."
  • "[R]andom groups are their own lesson in working with people who are different and may emulate a work environment in which you cannot choose peers or project stakeholders."

2. "Choose the Topics and Have the Students Opt In"

a. What Is It?

  • Students respond to an instructor-composed prompt and "joi[n] other peers who are interested in the topic to complete the assignment."
  • The prompts may include "a few different case studies, articles, or videos that form the root of the response."
  • "[C]horeograph the numbers carefully–for example, if there are 20 students in your class, you might provide 5 topics and specify that each group should contain 4 students."

b. When Should I Use It?

  • This "can be particularly helpful for stoking conversation in small-group discussions or helping students maintain interest in a long-term project."

3. "Group Students by Skill Level"

a. What Is It?

  • "Students come into your class with a variety of backgrounds and different approaches to learning."
  • "You may consider grouping students with attention to their skill level for any number of reasons."
  • "For example, grouping students at high, medium, and low skill levels may allow you to devote more time to working directly with students at the lower levels."
  • "Creating groups by mixing skill levels may allow for more peer learning opportunities."

b. When Should I Use It?

  • "Creating groups for a video assignment which contain at least one student who is tech-savvy."
  • "Creating groups for a case-study response in which one group contains students who have experience in the field and another which contains students who do not; then, asking the groups to critique each other."
  • "Creating study groups for an exam that mix students who are performing well with students who could use extra support."

4. "Create Themes and Have Students Opt In"

a. What Is It?

  • "Sometimes a personal (rather than professional) bond can help students collaborate on group projects," e.g. the "House" system in Harry Potter.
  • "This gamified approach asks: How might you group students by interests?"

b. When Should I Use It?

"In small programs especially, it may be helpful for students to forge social connections that will help them hold each other accountable in group contexts."

  • "[S]tudents meeting early in their degree program may be yearning to align with their peers."
  • "[L]ater in their degree program, they may have been grouped with their peers many times before."
  • "This method allows students to see their peers with new–or fresh–eyes."

A few techniques to consider:

  • "Groups that sound like sports teams – The Ghosts (quiet, contemplative personality), The Tanks (loud, strong personality), The Lizards (quick, ambitious personality)"
  • "Groups that identify strengths – The Scribes (writers), The Bookworms (researchers), The Actors (presenters)"
  • "Groups that relate to hobbies – The Dancers, The Readers, The Binge-Watchers"
  • "Groups that respect time zones – The East Coast, The Midwest, The West Coast"

Note: "[I]t can be tough to regulate group size with this technique. Plan accordingly!"

5. "Ask Students to Fill Team Roles"

a. What Is It?

  • "Should one student argue for side A, another student argue for side B, and one student be the 'fact-checker'?"
  • "Should one student lead the team, another create a shared workspace, and another coordinate meeting times?"
  • "Should one student compose the executive summary, another develop the infographics, and another format the report with headings and page numbers?"
  • "This strategy asks students to find a job they’re well-suited for and then find a team that needs someone like them."

b. When Should I Use It?

  • "This ... can be good for role-playing discussions or long term projects, especially those that emulate workplace stakeholders."
  • "Students may feel like they’re setting themselves up for success by choosing a role they feel well-equipped to do."
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