Creative grouping techniques | Teacher training

In September, I taught a six day intensive teacher training program to a group of incredibly engaged and astute Master Trainers from across Maharashtra, which happens to be my home state. Over the next several months, these Master Trainers will go on to cascade this program to tens of thousands of teachers. One of my personal goals has been to model good practices which the Master Trainers will hopefully have observed and absorbed. I had close to 40 participants so one aspect that I inadvertently neglected was grouping. I tended to regroup participants only once a day (it’s extremely chaotic to do it more often when you have so many participants), and for the most part, I used run-of-the-mill grouping strategies. So, my sharp as a whip group helpfully pointed this out to me so I promised to rack my brain and write up a post.

Grouping

Here are some creative grouping techniques I know and use.

  1. Adjectives: Go around the room labelling Ss using positive adjectives. I love to use ‘intelligent’, ‘creative’, ‘innovative’, ‘brilliant’ etc. Then ask all the intelligent people to get together and so on. When everyone’s settled, ask “So where are the intelligent people?” Ss love answering this question. If you have a sporting group, you can be cheeky and use adjectives like ‘beautiful’ and ‘sexy’.
  2. Content-derived words: Ask Ss to think back to preceding sessions or the previous day’s content and suggest a number of words (preferably nouns) they think are important. Use these to label groups instead of adjectives.
  3. Task or content sections: If you have a longer task and plan to turn it into a jigsaw activity or if it’s designed to be split between groups, use content headings as group names. For example, you have 6 teacher profiles that you would like the Ss to analyze. Go around the room labelling Ss using these names, Joann, Ayesha, Paul, Ayokode, Nazir and Ruth. Then get all the Ruths together etc. Instruct that group to then only focus on Ruth’s profile. This could be a little bit boring if your task sections are labelled 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C but it lends itself well to tasks which involve analysing different categories such as types of games.
  4. Stress patterns: Involves a bit of work. If you have 30 Ss, you’ll need 30 different words with each set of 5 conforming to a stress pattern if you’d like to form 6 groups. For example, one set might have words such as ‘account’, ‘hotel’, ‘discuss’, ‘collapse’, ‘police’ and ‘behaved’ all of which have two syllables with the stress falling on the second syllable. Each set must have a different stress pattern. Distribute cutouts with these words and then ask Ss to find their group members who have words with the same stress pattern.
  5. Animal sounds: I don’t particularly like this one but a lot of people enjoy it. Write out the names of animals on chits of paper. If you want 6 groups, you’ll need six different animals. Popular ones include cats, dogs, sheep etc. But, it’s always fun to throw in a googly as we say in India – cockroach or ostrich and see what happens. Distribute the chits to the Ss and tell them that they must find their group members within 20 seconds but they’re only allowed to make the sound of the animal they’ve been given.
  6. Line-up game: Do you know this warmer? Get Ss into two lines and then give them a series of challenges to complete. Order yourself according to birthday, height, shoe size, etc. When you’ve completed the warmer, divide Ss based on where they’re standing. Voila, you’ll have new groups.
  7. On-screen group creator: I love the instant group creator from Tripitco, but ever since it became a paid app, I’ve really been missing its cheerful efficiency. The free instant classroom from superteachertools comes close though. You sign up for an instant classroom (just takes a few seconds). Create your class (enter your Ss’ names). Then all you need to do is to decide how many groups you want and the tool will randomly generate groups and display names on screen. You can also use the same tool to generate a classroom seating arrangement. But, it’s old school face the teacher in rows type seating. The only drawback with instant classroom is that it requires an Internet connection to use. Here’s another free site that supports similar features.
  8. Celebrity names: Go around the room labelling people using the names of great educators, scientists, contemporary thinkers & domain experts, or just for fun, figures from popular culture.
  9. Adjective + Noun: Ask an S what her favourite colour (pink) is. Write this on the board. Ask another S what her favourite vegetable is (pumpkin). You have a group name – Pink Pumpkin. Repeat until you have as many group names as you need. You can do this with all sorts of combinations such as adjectives that describe emotions (bubbly) plus animals (elephants) etc. I usually use this as a fun naming technique rather than a grouping technique so I don’t necessarily have people move into new groups after coming up with all the new group names. I learnt this technique from Usha Venkatachalam.
  10. Favourites: On sheets of paper, in large print, write out things that people might choose as a favourite (colours, day of the week, city, food etc.) You’ll need as many as the number of groups you want to form. Stick these on the walls of the classroom. When you’re ready to group Ss, signpost the stick-ups and ask Ss to select their favourite thing by running up to the sheet of paper and placing their hand on it. Only six people (or whatever number you want in each group) are allowed to be touching a label at the same time. You may want to ICQ this rule. Tell Ss that if anyone takes their hand off the sheet of paper, a new person is allowed to sneak in and claim a place in that group. I have seen some peers also place the sheets of paper on the floor and ask Ss to stand on it. However, I avoid activities where Ss have to stand on pieces of paper particularly if they have writing on it because in Indian culture, writing is considered a divine gift and placing your feet on any kind of writing dishonours the goddess of learning. But, if it works for you culturally, I can see how the jostling to stand on small sheet of paper could potentially be fun.
  11. Cards: You’ll need one deck of playing cards if you want to form four groups. You’ll need two decks if you want to form more than four. If you want to form four groups, you need to have to have as many cards as you have Ss with the cards drawn evenly from each suit. For example, if you have 12 Ss, you’ll need 3 hearts, 3 spades, 3 clubs and 3 diamonds. Shuffle the cards and distribute them to Ps. Ask them to find their group members – people who have the same suit as them, so all the hearts get together etc.  If you want to form more than four groups, combine 2 decks, and select cards that have the same value (all Kings, 2s, 7s etc). You’ll need as many cards of each value as you’d like participants in each group. For example, if you’re going to have 6 Ss in each group, you’ll need 6 Kings. Shuffle and distribute the cards. Ask Ss to find their group members.
  12. Synonyms: In the same vein as stress patterns, select and distribute sets of words which are synonyms and have Ss find their group members.

+ some crowd-sourced suggestions: 

From Sandy Milin:

  1. Minimal pairs: Use minimal pairs of phonemes which Ss have trouble differentiating. For example, for Arabic speakers you might use bin/pin or just b/p.
  2. Jigsaw cards: Cut up cards with words on to make a kind of jigsaw, so Ss only have e.g. quarter of a word. They have to find all the other bits.

From Kate Lloyd: 

  1. Commonalities: Find someone who is wearing the same colour trousers, shoes or top as you. (I sometimes use a variant of this – find someone who has the same height as you or has a different height than you).

From Ravi Manohar: 

  1. Proverbs: You’ll need half the number of proverbs as there are Ss. Have each proverb printed on two slips of paper – with each slip having just one half of the proverb, (E.g. – “A stitch in time…” on one slip and “… saves nine.” on another slip.) Get each student to draw a slip from a box. When everyone has a slip, ask them to find their partners. If there is a need for three in a group, throw in another set of slips, these would have complete sentences that explain each proverb. (For our sample proverb, the third slip would have this sentence printed: “If you sort out a problem immediately, it may save extra work later.”) The student with a complete meaning sentence looks for two others whose slips together would form a proverb. These three would form a group.

A useful tip while grouping is to draw the classroom arrangement on the side of your board with the configuration of groups. This eliminates the need for vague pointing (group 1 over there).

Do you use any creative grouping techniques that I can add to this list? 

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6 thoughts on “Creative grouping techniques | Teacher training

  1. Great list Adi! You can use it to revise minimal pairs of phonemes which students have trouble differentiating. For example, for Arabic speakers you might use bin/pin or just b/p – they really have to concentrate! Not sure how it would work with a bigger group though.
    Another idea is to cut up cards with words on to make a kind of jigsaw, so students only have e.g. quarter of a word. They have to find all the other bits. I don’t do that very often though as it’s quite a lot of work for not much time in class, but if it’s something you can reuse with many groups it’s worth it.
    Sandy

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  2. Very interesting techniques, Aditya. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    Here’s an idea:

    If there is a need to pair Ss, then have half the number of proverbs as there are students. Have each proverb printed on two slips of paper – with each slip having just one half of the proverb,
    (E.g. – “A stitch in time…” on one slip and “… saves nine.” on another slip.) Get each student to draw a slip from a box. When everyone has a slip, ask them to find their partners.

    If there is a need for three in a group, throw in another set of slips, these would have complete sentences that explain each proverb. (For our sample proverb, the third slip would have this sentence printed: “If you sort out a problem immediately, it may save extra work later.”) The student with a complete meaning sentence looks for two others whose slips together would form a proverb. These three would form a group.

    Ravi
    PS – May I be “sporting” and say you sound very “cute” when you start the fifth technique on your list with this caveat:”I don’t particularly like this one but a lot of people enjoy it.”

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  3. These are awesome ideas sir. Since I was a part of your training it was lovely to experience it. You are really great sir. And all the comments suggesting other grouping techniques are also great. I am going to refer them time and again, especially during cascading. Thank you once again sir.

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