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15 Quick and Creative Ways to Group and Partner Students

By Genia Connell on November 6, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Students work collaboratively in our classroom several times throughout the day, with partners and in small groups. There was a time when the mere mention of the word “partner” meant best friends shooting knowing looks across the room at one another. These days, however, my students look towards me, anxious to find out how their partner or group will be unveiled. This week, I'm happy to share with you some of the methods I use to put my students into collaborative partnerships (and a few to help you track them) along with my printable downloads to help you get started. 


1. My Favorite: Team Shake

My absolute favorite way to group students is with the app Team Shake. Simply enter your students’ names, select the number of groups you would like, give your tablet or smartphone a couple of shakes, and voilà, your teams have been created. Team Shake has settings that allow you to take gender and/or ability level into account when you group. 

My dirty little teacher secret? Sometimes I shake ahead of time until I find groupings that I like. I capture the image on my tablet, shake it, and then show the photo of the groupings to the class. Shhhh!


2. iPartners on Speed Dial 

This is by far, my students' favorite way to work with a partner. I captured images of the keypad and contact list off of my phone and printed them for the students. They glued them onto their own 4" x 12" piece of construction paper phone that they personalized with their own designs. 

To set up their contact (partner) list, students move about the room mutually agreeing to be partners with six other people. When it’s time to partner up for an activity, I’ll tell students to take out their phones and ". . . work with contact number two."  We normally “update” contact lists once a quarter.

iphone templates for partner phonesiPhone partners

Download my cell phone template to use in your classroom by clicking on the image above. 


3. Compass Partners

We use compass partners in social studies. Just like the speed dial partners above, my students find four different partners to work with, writing their names on the north, south, east and west lines. My students change their directional partners with every new unit in our book.


4. Clock Partners

Read how my friend and Troy colleague, Beth Newingham uses partner clocks to establish a set of 12 different pairings.


Random Pairs

In each of the following groupings, I pass out or have students select their own card, however they can easily be adapted to create teacher-selected partners. These activities are not only a fun way to find a partner, they help build and practice fundamental skills. 


5. Commutative Property Partners = Dollar Store Flashcards

Using addition or multiplication flash cards from the dollar store, students look for the partner that has the “flip flop” of their fact. Because the cards are two-sided, with different facts on each side, I put a dot on the side I want the students to use.


Partnerships that Enhance Vocabulary: 

I use the synonym and antonym cards for pairings, but I also use them throughout the year when we are doing word study activities. You may even be able to use them in one of vocabulary games Rhonda Stewart wrote about in her post Fun and Easy Vocabulary Games


6. Synonym Roll Partners

Students find the partner that has the synonym of their word. Download a set of 42 synonym cards you can use for partnering and so much more. 


7. Antonym Partners

Students find the partner that has the antonym of their card. Click on the images below to download the set of 48 cards.


8. Famous Book Pairs

I randomly pass out the cards and students look for a classmate who has another character from the same book. Although I use characters that most my students know well, a classmate is always willing to help out if someone is unfamiliar with a name. Download the famous book pairs for your class to try. 

Famous Book Pairs for Partners and Games


8. Old Maid Partners

Old Maid cards work well for pairing students. In years when I have an odd number of students, whoever gets the old maid card gets to work with the pair of their choice. This particular pack came from Walmart. 


9. Clothespin Partners

Brightly colored clothespins from the dollar store work well to keep track of who is partnering with who. 


Grouping Students

10. Book Cover Puzzles

Each year I scan several different favorite book covers that I print, laminate and cut into puzzle pieces.  Students search the room looking for classmates that have matching pieces to the puzzle. In the past I have also used the pages from old calendars to create the puzzles as well as U.S. landmarks.

Book puzzles for grouping


11. Super Teacher Tools Website 

Simply visit the website, Super Teacher Tools and type your students name into a roster and see the results. You can create groups of any size, or use it as a random name generator. 


12. Go Fish for Your Group

Students find the four matching cards to make up their group. I love that these cards (from Walmart) are four different colors which helps in assigning students roles within the group.

go fish partners


13. Dollar Store Décor Groups

The teacher aisle of Dollar Tree always has brightly-colored cutouts that come in packs of fifteen with three different designs. I purchase two packs and have a quick way for students to make groups.


14. Playing Cards

A standard deck of playing cards is perfect for making pairs or groups of four.

15. Magnets

These large magnets are perfect for forming or tracking group members. They are very easy to move and they stick to any magnetic surface. 

Storing it All

I keep my partner cards and puzzles in an expandable file with labeled pockets. The different cards are stored in zip-sealed plastic bags labeled with the number of cards and groups that can be made from them. 

creatively choose partners


I hope you have gotten an idea or two for new ways to partner or group your students. I would love to hear other ways you partner your students. Please share your ideas in the comment section below! 

Comments (13)

I use paint strips when teaching poetry to help with descriptive words. The names they give to paint colors are great examples to help "paint a picture worth a thousand words. Now that's a job I would like. Catchy naming of colors!

I teach science/social studies to kids who are a little older. As we may not partner each day, when we do partner work its tons of fun. The landmark puzzle idea is great for me. I also plan to tweak it a little to fit into science. Maybe using a food web image or steps in the Scientific Method. The book character match I am going to change as well to explorers and their explorations and scientists and their inventions. Thanks for giving me a great beginning and getting my creative juices flowing as well.

Wow!!! Thank you for sharing all of these ideas. I will absolutely be using them for grouping in my class.

Thanks for sharing all these ideas! The Famous Book Characters link doesn't seem to be working. Could that be fixed?

I grab paint samples from the paint store, which are free, and pass them out and then students have to find their partner with the same paint color. I have one set for pairs & one for groups of 4. The kids love it!

Hi Julie!

What a great idea. I have a bunch of paint samples sitting right in front of me for another project we did with them, so I'm adding your idea to my partner repertoire! ~Genia

Love all these ideas...use a couple already and needed some new ways!! Thanks for sharing>

Always great to find something new--glad these helped! Thanks for reading and commenting.

you always have such good ideas! thank you for sharing this one! i will be doing these in my classroom!

Thanks so much Anna for your kind words! I really appreciate your reading the blog and commenting! ~G

I use pictures from old calendars instead of book covers. I love the book cover idea.

Whoa, just amazing, Genia! I never, ever gave so much thought to creative, effective, and fun ways to assign partnerships and groups. I only got as far as a bag of popsicle "pick sticks" to randomly make partners. Of course, you take it to a whole new level - and have found an app for that! Thanks for even more inspiration - I can't wait to make the cell phone contact lists - the kids are going to love it!

Alycia, thanks so much for your kind words! FYI: I have completely copied your entire mentor text post for writing--absolutely brilliant!

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