How to Group Students in the Classroom

Four students grouped together and working on project
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Educational research indicates that grouping in classrooms positively affects learning outcomes if cooperative learning strategies are appropriately applied. Students also can discover new talents and hidden skills when taking on unfamiliar roles while working in groups. Group learning also can free teachers to more adequately meet students’ academic needs. You can enhance learning in your classroom by grouping students to work collaboratively rather than individually, providing an engaging and dynamic learning environment.

Explain assignment objectives and group expectations to the class up front. Before assigning groups, let the students know exactly what is expected of them. Provide them with specific goals. For example: “By the end of this group project, you will have created A, B and C to show or illustrate your knowledge of D.”

Match your group size to the assigned task. Time constraints affect student performance within groups of varying sizes. Generally, shorter the tasks require smaller groups, so assign students accordingly. Keep in mind, though, that groups of three to five students tend to function better.

Group students homogeneously if the pace of instruction within a particular task is a concern. Grouping high-achieving students with other high-achieving students allows them to move through the task or steps of the task at a faster pace. Grouping low-achieving students together, in contrast, allows students to move more slowly, allowing you time to address questions and to help them with specific challenges. Homogeneous groups also help you to lessen frustration levels for low achievers who struggle to keep up with high achievers.

Group students heterogeneously if your goal is a high level of collaboration between high-achieving and low-achieving students. If you group students together with a mix of ability levels, the high achievers tend to help the low achievers. You can use this type of grouping if you are especially concerned about labeling (smart group, slow group) or potential self-esteem issues for students.

Instruct the groups to assign specific tasks to members. After you have assigned students to groups, tell them that while they are all responsible for the group’s productivity, each one of them should have at least one particular job to do within the group. You can let them generate their own ways of breaking down the assignment, or you can give them jobs yourself, depending on the level of difficulty of the assignment and the academic level.

Evaluate the groups’ progress throughout the assignment. If students are in formal groups working on a long-term assignment, conduct frequent checks to make sure they stay on task and are making adequate progress toward the educational objectives of the assignment. These periodic evaluations also can help you to identify students who may not be doing their fair share of the work.

Assess groups as a whole and individually. Grades for all group work, whether in learning teams, homogeneous or heterogeneous, formal or informal, should reflect both individual performance and collaborative products. By evaluating work on both levels, you ensure that individual accountability remains high, while group cohesion to reach the final goal remains strong.

Sherri Jens has been writing since 1995, with articles published in “Visitor Behavior” and “Interpedge.” She has taught writing since 1998 and college-level writing since 2005. Jens holds both a Master of Education in English language arts and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Jacksonville State University.