Planning for Next Year: Hogwarts' Houses

By Ruth Manna on May 4, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5

Right now we’re immersed in state tests that will run through the end of May, leaving just enough time for field days, class plays, and an all-school meeting before students board their buses for the last time. Many of us are thinking ahead to next year as we discuss class lists, consider groupings, and receive room assignments. Some of us will move to a new grade or school.

So now seems like an ideal time to share an idea about setting up small groups for next year. Keep reading to find out more. . . .

 

Hogwarts_crest[1] The idea of planning permanent small groups within a class appeals to me. When students do group work, I like to have confidence that groups are heterogeneous, accustomed to working together, and able to quickly and easily get down to business.

I need equitable groups with a mix of ethnicities, interests, abilities, and backgrounds, with

  • Leaders and followers
  • Fluent readers and struggling readers
  • Extroverts and introverts
  • Scientists and poets
  • Boys and girls

Previously, I'd noticed that when we formed small groups, the same students frequently ended up working together and that groups were unbalanced. This put some students at a disadvantage. I also noticed bickering in the small groups, as students with strong personalities vied for power. So I decided to create permanent small groups. To make it more fun, I selected the four Hogwarts' houses from Harry Potter. I like the idea of connecting the groups to literature. You could try Greek gods from mythology or animal characters from other books, depending on the age and interests of your students.

Here's what I do:

Spring and Summer

As soon as I get my class list, I begin dividing students into four groups. Depending on class size, houses have from five to seven students each. If I have a small class, I only use three houses, omitting Slytherin.

Since I don’t know my new students, I check with their current/previous year’s teachers. When we get together, we discuss students’ strengths and weaknesses. I take notes and think about how to divide the class. If I have a student whose older sibling was in Hufflepuff, I’ll assign the student to Hufflepuff and build the house around that student. Once I’m ready, I show the lists to my co-teachers, and they double-check for balance and potential personality conflicts.

Shields

Using the overhead projector, I project shield transparencies I’ve made onto butcher paper. With a Sharpie I trace the outline of each shield, making sure they are all the same size, about 24" high. Then I save the shields so students can fill them in with watercolor markers during the first few days of school. I purchase metallic pens for shield details. 

Then I download 3" shields, print out copies, cut them out, and laminate them. During the first days of school, students tape the shields to their desks where they stay all year as a visual reminder of what house they're in. I make four laminated sentence strips with names of the houses and four large cards with attributes of the members of each house, which include:

ImagesCA756AHZ Gryffindor
Courageous
Brave
Loyal
Risk-takers
Chivalrous

 

 

HufflepuffShield[1] Hufflepuff
Just
Loyal
Hard-working
Patient
Sociable



Ravenclaw[1] Ravenclaw
Witty
Wise
Kind
Creative
Intelligent

 

 

 
Shield_sly[1] Slytherin
Resourceful
Cunning (which can be a positive trait)
Determined
Ambitious
Leaders
 

 

 

 
Unnamed[1] The Sorting Hat

I use a witch hat as the Sorting Hat and write each student’s name and house on a small strip of paper. The Sorting Hat activity is one of our classroom rituals on the first day of school. 

First Day of School

At Morning Meeting I get out the Sorting Hat. We read one of the Sorting Hat songs, from book 1 or book 4, together. (Hint: You may want to change a word or two, so Slytherin is equally appealing and positive.) Later, large shields are colored and posted along with attribute cards for each house.

During the Year

Each house is featured once every four days. We keep track of whose day it is by rotating through the houses in alphabetical order. I post laminated sentence strips with names of houses on the board as a visual reminder for my class and for me. When a house is featured, the members of that house get special privileges, which include:

  • Lining up first (dismissing students by house avoids a rush for the door)
  • Going on errands to the library, office, etc.
  • Leading their class in song
  • Passing out papers
  • Picking whatever first

 

Character Education

Throughout the year there are opportunities to discuss and write about the character attributes of each house. Shields and character cards are posted for the entire year. All students have positive qualities, and they can identify their personal attributes with those of their house. For me, teaching character education this way is more engaging and meaningful.

Field Trips

Organizing for a field trip is much easier since field trip groups already exist.

End Result

The concept of stable, small groups within a class builds a strong sense of belonging, both to the class, Hogwarts, and to the individual houses. Former students who come back to visit often talk about their house and everyone remembers who was in Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw.

For me, houses mean I can say, “Get into your houses,” and know groups will be fairly balanced and that, as fellow house members, students will help those who need it. The stability of the groups makes transitions smoother and saves time that would otherwise be spent numbering off or assigning students to groups in some other way. I have never had to switch a student from one house to another. There are no surprises, and because students know what to expect, our classroom is calmer and more orderly. It’s a win-win for everyone.


Hogwarts_Houses_windows_by_guad[1]
 

Please note that this idea evolved over several years. For example, the first year I did not have a Sorting Hat. Try it out and add to it. Let me know how it works for you. I’m interested.

Comments

I have done the same in grouping my students with the different houses. Since it has been a few years since the last Harry Potter book came out, and my current students are not into Harry Potter, I have changed the names of my groups to Saint houses. (We are a Catholic School.)
I especially find awarding points and taking away points a great tool for classroom management and at the end of each quarter, the house with the most points get a prize.
Linda

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I have been doing something very similar to this for the past 7 years and my kids love it. What I do differently is that everytime we start a new book, we start a "new year" and follow through with the sorting of the houses. By doing this, the houses change about every six weeks. I also incorporate Azkaban....if a student has to be "expelled" from a Hogwart house then the student ends up in Azkaban. This is used as a consequence and they are not allowed to earn points or incentives as houses do. They will have to wait until the next book for another opportunity. I also purchased Harry glasses for them and they all wear them as we read. My letters, notes, have an Owl as a letterhead:)

Teresa, You'll want to get a class list as soon as one is available to you. You'll also want to chat with your students' previous year's teachers. It takes time to make up the groups, but in the long run it will be SO worth it. Students will be more secure and there will be more time on task.

I love this idea and tend to read some of these and other books this summer to help get me started for this coming year. I am a first year teacher and LOVE these ideas!! Thank you!!

Tracey, Chronicles of Narnia would work well, as would other books. It's not about books as much as it's a way of organizing students into small groups. I hope you can find a way to make this work.

I teach in a Christian school and we would not use the Harry Potter books. I do, however, love this idea and will use it with another theme... perhaps the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis!

Hi Marissa, Here are fourth grade read=alouds. You'll want to read them first to see what you think and get to know your students a little and their reading levels. Ideally for a read-aloud you want a book that is beyond the reading levels of your students, so it's one they haven't already read. Also you want a book that hasn't slready been made into a film, so students can create their own vivid mental images and not be influenced by a film. Or if there is a film you may want to show it to your class after you read the book, as a compare/contrast activity. Another consideration is the science and social studies units you will teach and the need for your students to comprehend nonfiction. You may want to have a few nonfiction read-alouds that can do double duty as science and social studies texts. If you know your science and social studies topics, I will give you specific suggestions to go with your units. So, here are a few books to get you started. I'd suggest reading these books over the summer: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman A Photobiography of Abraham Lincoln by Russell Freedman Hatchet by Gary Paulsen Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by the D'Aulaires Creation Stories by Virginia Hamilton There's a Tarantula in My Purse by Jean Craighead George My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Hi Ruth! I was just reading this and I love this idea. I am a going to be a first year 4th grade teacher and would also like copy of other read-aloud chapter books you may have. I will be teaching at a private school and am not sure how they would feel about the Harry Potter books as well. Thanks again.

Melissa, There are lots of other books you could use. There are so many great read-alouds too. For Houses, use a book that has lots of characters or maybe a series. You could use nonfiction if, for example, you have four different science or social studies units, you could use units for groups. I'll send you a list of read-aloud chapter books. It will take me a little while to put together. You can write to me at ruth.manna@verizon.net

I'd love a list of read-aloud chapter books! I teach 4th grade, and Harry would be frowned upon.

Sara, I've used the Houses idea with second graders and with fifth graders and have read Harry Potter aloud to both grades. I don't know your community or the extent of the objections, but some parents who object are conservative Christians who see Harry Potter as upholding witchcraft and wizardry. Religious objections are sensitive, so I'd suggest you discuss this with your principal first. Maybe there is a way to excuse one or two students from class while you read aloud to the group? Even if you can't read it, there are tons of great books and if you'd like, I could suggest other read-aloud chapter books.

This is a great idea! What grade do you use this with? Also, I wanted to read Harry Potter to my students this year and found several parents who were opposed to it. How do you work around parents who are not willing to have their students read Harry Potter?

Stephanie, I like your idea about building the groups around Greek gods and goddesses. You and your students could design shields based on the Gods and their symbols. The gods and goddesses have both positive and negative traits so there's much to discuss. This type of grouping is a classroom management technique, not for reading or math. For reading and math I have skills-based groups that are homogeneous. These groups are for discussions, science experiments, social studies projects, trivia contests, etc. They are balanced, diverse groups. It takes time and help from my students' previous year's teachers to set up the groups. It's a good mix of students and helps everyone feel included. It's especially helpful for students who need a little extra help and encouragement.

Ruth,

This is a very cool idea. My students are learning about Greek mythology right now, and already align themselves with certain gods. They would love to be put into those types of houses/cabins.

I would like some more details about how you sort your kids into these groups and specific ways that you use these groups. Do these work as your reading/writing/math groups?

Melissa, 39 Clues is a great idea! Maybe you'll read one of the books aloud and make a display to get students into reading. I wrote a post about 39 Clues last Christmas. http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2010/12/-last-minute-shopping-the-39-clues.html#more

That is a cool idea. It gave me an idea to try it with the 39 Clues Series. I now have my summer project. Thanks for sharing.

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