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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Grouping Strategies for the First Weeks of School

Hi!  This is Sharon, from Classroom in the Middle.  I’m so glad to be posting with the Middle School Mob this year! 

Are you thinking about trying some new grouping strategies in your class next year?  Or wondering how to make the best use of group activities?  There are a lot of things to consider when planning ahead for group work during the school year – which strategies to choose, how best to practice the strategies, how to transition to and from group activities efficiently, and more. 

Types of Groups
Your first choice might be about which types of groups you want to use, maybe one type, maybe more than one.  This Scholastic article about grouping has more information and lists eight types of groups, but really I think it comes down to four main choices:
·        Ability Groups – Group kids by reading level, or another skill, so that you can do mini-lessons with each group.
·        Social Groups – To make activity more manageable, spread out the kids who are natural leaders, the kids who need more help, and the very active kids, or group kids who will work well together.
·        Interest Groups – For activities where kids get to choose their topic, you may want to group kids with similar interests.
·        Random Groups – Use a fun, but quick, grouping strategy to mix and remix the kids often.  This way, they get used to working with everyone.

Grouping Strategies
For the first three types, of course, you will choose the group members, but for random groups, there are plenty of fun strategies out there to mix and match the kids.  As an example, here are a few ways to do a card-matching strategy:
o   Puzzle pieces – Cut photos into puzzle pieces – one photo per group with the number of pieces depending on how many kids you want in each group.  Kids find their matches, and their group is formed!
o   Playing Cards – Use a deck of cards for a similar strategy that required no prep and can be used over and over.  Use two, three, or four suits of the cards depending on group size.
o   Matching Activity – For groups of two, make matching cards with items that go together, like characters from stories, synonyms, or vocabulary words and definitions.

Posting Charts
For groups that will stay together awhile, posting color-coded charts of the group members can help with smooth transitions.  When students forget which group they are in or just want to “discuss” changing groups, the answer is right there posted on the wall.  A chart of rules for group work is another useful thing to keep posted for quick reference.  It can save a lot of discussion, too!

Practice, Practice
Once kids are into their groups, it’s worthwhile to take some time for a few practice activities.  Let the kids get used to working together before they tackle lessons that you really need them to focus on.  A little ice breaker activity would be fun especially in the early weeks of the school year, or maybe a brief, hands-on craft to complete together.  Once they’ve got the idea, taskcards are a great source of material for group work.  Choose cards that fit an individual ability group’s needs, assign cards at random, or sort the cards by tasks and rotate groups through the sets.  Use cards about basic skills in reading or vocabulary at the beginning of the year, or use cards more specific to your lesson as the year progresses.

Whatever you choose to do, all of the advance work with the kids – teaching them how to get into groups, teaching the rules of group work, practicing working in groups – is sure to pay off later when it’s time to do one of your favorite group activities, and the kids know just how to go about it!  With group work, it’s all about advance preparation for smoother lessons later!


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