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May 4, 2011 Planning for Next Year: Hogwarts' Houses By Ruth Manna
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.


    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



    HufflepuffShield[1] Hufflepuff

    Ravenclaw[1] Ravenclaw



    Shield_sly[1] Slytherin
    Cunning (which can be a positive trait)



    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.


    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.


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