Whole-group instruction and seatwork aren't always the order of the day. When it's time to form small groups, keep your options fluid and flexible. Your students will welcome the many opportunities to work with different classmates in different ways. Here are eight classroom grouping techniques and the best times to use them!

  1. Random Grouping: This is completely arbitrary grouping. Use this technique when your focus is on management and forming groups of equal size. Random grouping can also help students get to know each other better.

  2. Achievement or Ability Grouping: In this grouping situation, students with similar achievement levels or academic strengths are placed in the same group.

  3. Social (Cooperative) Grouping: With this kind of grouping, you assign each of your students a different role (e.g., leader, presenter, or helper) in order to give them the opportunity to practice specific social skills.

  4. Interest Grouping: With this kind of grouping, you assign students to a group or have them assign themselves to a group based on their interest in particular topics of study.

  5. Task Grouping: With this kind of grouping, you put together students who are successful in completing given types of activities. For example, students who find drawing enjoyable are grouped together to construct scenery to re-enact a story.

  6. Knowledge of Subject Grouping: Here, you put together students with background knowledge of a given subject or hobby. Use it when you want students to see likenesses among one another and share information. For example, students who are interested in baseball cards are grouped together to share the statistics of their favorite players.

  7. Skill/Strategy Grouping: Here, you group together students who need practice with a specific skill or strategy.

  8. Student Choice Grouping: Allow students to group themselves according to a shared preference, for an author or genre in reading, for example, or historical period or country in social studies. This grouping system is good to use when student success is not dependent on choice, when you want students to take the lead.


This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway, and Flexible Grouping in Reading: Practical Ways to Help All Students Become Better Readers by Michael F. Opitz.