No matter how entertaining you are, your students still need to move around and talk during class.

Here are some great ways to get students moving, talking, problem solving, and interacting with different classmates.

Here are 6 strategies to use to group your students.  These flexible grouping ideas will help with differentiation, projects, and discussions.

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What’s the perfect size for grouping students?

Students often struggle in groups. One student make take over and do all the work, other students are shy and may not respond at all. The larger the group, the more problems you can have.

No matter the task — projects, literature circles, or quick discussions, you’ll want to plan for your groups.

I prefer groups of three or four.

Larger groups seem to have one student who sits back and lets the others do the work. Smaller groups are easier for you to monitor as well.

You can quickly see who is responding and who is sitting back and letting others work.

Experiment with the size of your groups — don’t be afraid to keep them small. Yes, you’ll have more groups, but you will also (most likely) have more engagement.

Appointment clocks

I love using appointment clocks. If you haven’t used them, here is how they work:

  • provide students with a circle that is divided into 12 wedges. Each wedge is numbered 1 – 12.
  • all students go to the center of the room and find a partner. When they’ve found a partner, they move to the perimeter of the room. When everyone has a partner, the students write the name of their partners on their appointment clock.
  • repeat this procedure until everyone has filled in all 12 spaces.

When you want students to partner up, have them take out their appointment clocks. I often roll a set of dice to determine what “time” we will use. I tell students to make “meaningful eye contact” with their partner. When the task is set, the partners get together and work on the the task.

Why appointment clocks work:

They provide an opportunity for students to work with a variety of classmates.

Tips for making this successful:

  • after students have completed their clocks, collect them and make copies. That way you’ll be able to look up clocks for students who lose theirs (and yes, this will happen!)
  • if a student is absent or you end up with an odd number of students, make yourself a partner. When it’s time to partner up, I tell students that they can join any group they want. This usually takes the sting out of getting “stuck” with me!
  • remind students of the rules of an appointment. When you go to the dentist or doctor, you expect her to spend all of your appointment with YOU!! So, no fair having side conversations or disengaging. Focus on your appointment.


Provide each student with a craft stick. I let my students write their names on them and decorate them. You can keep it simple and just have students write their names on the sticks with sharpies or markers, or you can use brightly colored sticks (another way to sort them!). Plop the sticks in a jar or cup on your desk. Be sure to label the cup with the class. You can even make a little sign from a stick.

When you need students to gather in a group or work with a random partner, just pull sticks.

Why sticks work:

These are truly random and have so many applications! You can use sticks to determine the order of book talks, who gets to sit in the beanbag chair this week, or who chooses the weekly vocab bonus word.

Tips for making this successful:

  • label each stick jar by class
  • keep them within easy reach
  • make sure all names are legible
  • at the end of the year, give them to your students! I glue magnets on the back of them.

Playing cards

Got a spare deck of cards in your closet? Use them to randomly group students. Here’s how:

  • pull out the “four of a kinds” — aces, 10s, kings — however many you need for your class.
  • shuffle them up
  • as students enter your class, have them pick a card. Keep them face down.
  • group students accordingly — all the aces gather together, the 10s, kings, etc.

Why this works:

Students are group randomly. It’s a novel way to sort students; it’s quick and easy.

Tips for making this successful:

  • make sure your cards are ready before your class arrives!
  • turn the cards face down as students pick their card
  • when calling groups, it can help to have students hold their cards up. So you can say, “Everyone with an ace, hold it in the air. Look around. These are the people in your group. You will be meeting at table one.”
  • it is helpful to plan in advance where groups will meet. If your students sit at tables, you can number them. If not, designate an area in the classroom where they will meet.


Using the jigsaw method for grouping students is great for reviewing material or going addressing many different questions or angles to a problem. Here’s one way to do this:

  • decide how many groups you want. Choose a different color for each group. For example, if you will have 5 groups, choose 5 different colors.
  • create a card (index cards work great) for each student. Each card has a color and a number.
  • distribute the cards.
  • Students work first in their group according to color. Each group completes a different task. Each student in the group will be responsible for teaching that information to another group.
  • then, resort students according to the number on their card. So all the 1s go together, the 2s, etc. Each student in this new group will teach the information that they discussed in the color group.

Why this works:

Each student in the group is responsible for the material that is discussed in the group sorted by color because they have to teach that material to a different group of students.

This is a great way to help students understand the value of a study group. Each person in the group brings information and teaches it to others.

Tips for making this successful:

  • This can be confusing to put together the first time, but don’t give up. Once students go through this process, they will understand it.
  • Make sure each group has a different task.
  • Try using this for review or higher level comprehension questions. Yes or no / fact based questions don’t yield any opportunity for teaching. Opinion based questions and text evidence questions work well.

Count off

This good, old-fashioned gym class way of dividing students still works!

As students enter the room have them count off. Or, just walk around the room counting off students. Then sort into groups.

Why this works:

This is quick and easy. When you decide that you want random groups, this is the fastest way to make it happen!

Tips for making this successful:

  • if you are counting students off as they’re entering the room, they might swap numbers in order to be with a friend.
  • it can be helpful to have pre numbered tables so students can go directly to their group.


This method words well when you are reviewing formative assessments. As you notice students who have similar problems, for example, including text evidence to support a paragraph, put those assessments in a pile.

Sort through all your assessments looking for common elements.

Place a colored dot in the top corner of the page — you can use different colored highlighters or markers for this.

Use a blank piece of paper to write a task for each group. Make sure it is a task you’ve taught — you want students to work independently. You may want to refer them to a page in their resource book or a mini lesson you’ve done with them.

When students receive their assessments, ask them to gather with their group and give them the task sheet you’ve provided. They can work on their own assessments, help each other, and review the task as a group.

Why this works:

This is a great way to provide differentiation. Students work on a small, targeted task together. You can circulate around the room helping different groups.

Tips for making this successful:

  • keep the task manageable — even just focusing on sentence structure or a hook.
  • groups that are high level and be challenged to include complex sentences or improve word choice.
  • have students provide an exit card or revision as they complete the work. You want to make sure they are understanding and improving on their work.

We know that middle school students love to talk — providing group work gives them an opportunity to move in the classroom, interact with different classmates, and…talk!

What group activities work best for you?

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