In the world language classroom, it is critical to get students talking and listening to one another. Here are twenty grouping strategies to encourage teamwork, team building, a positive class culture, and communication. I'll be sure to do another post on group work structures, which help to make many of these grouping strategies more effective.
1. Permanent seats: Groups of 4. Choose groups carefully; each group should have a student leader and be diversified for skill level and student characteristics. I found it best to have a high-performing student with two typically middle-level students and one lower-skill student. The higher and lower should not be next to each other. Place students strategically so that best friends are separate or across the room facing in opposite directions. A group of four allows for interactions with three different people, easier management, and creates an environment focused on student-centered learning. I never liked groups of three, and would rather have a group of five. I occasionally used groups of six, but found groups of four to be the most productive.
2. Group by learning preference or learning style. Give students a learning styles survey; for certain activities, put students in groups based on how they learn, and give them an activity that suits this learning style.
3. Skill level. Based on a pre-test, group students for activities designed to match their mastery of objectives. These groups are flexible and will vary each time.
4. Interest. What do students want to learn about and/or what is their focus for a project? For example, group the students who love skateboarding to create an advertisement for their favorite skateboard park.
These can be tailored to fit the unit of study and can be more complex for each level. Students get into one line by communicating solely in the target language. These groupings can last three minutes to an entire class period, depending upon the activity. You can then break students into smaller groups to suit the needs of the activity, maybe groups of two or groups of four, or even larger. Ideas for random groupings:
5. Hair color. A way to review appearance vocabulary.
6. Deck of cards. You can sort students by card grouping or by suit.
7. Number of siblings. Review of family.
8. Rating scale. Ask students - how they feel about certain topics, and rate from highest to lowest. In level 1, it could be "pizza." In a higher level, it could be a question about which cultural practice is preferred. You could do a number of questions like this in a row, and ask students to make comments in the target language throughout the activity.
9. Number of buttons on an article of clothing. A fun way to review clothing and create conversation.
10. Mood for the day - happy to grumpy. This would be a great way to connect with students on a personal level.
Get them moving!
These are groups that allow students to get out of their seats and having conversations with each other.
11. Inside/outside circle. Line students up facing each other; I usually ask that they "high five" so they are certain who their partner is. Give them a prompt or a survey to complete. Rotate to communicate with different partners.
12. Four corners. Ask students to choose one of the four corners in the room, where you have placed different labels. Again, this can vary by unit of study. Favorite season in level 1; weekend rating scale in level 2; favorite character from a story in level 3; most important environmental issue in the target country in level four. You could then give students a task or conversation questions.
13. What's your favorite....? Place a different picture on each group of four. As students walk in, have them select their "favorite" of the series. Then, give them a series of questions to discuss or answer within that group.
14. Stations. Make each table of four desks a different activity. Require students to complete, for example, any five of those activities. They can move on as they finish. Ideas for stations: Listening station, game review, reading activity, practice quiz, computer task, etc. Or you could have stations to learn about a time in history, such as music, literature, or historical figures.
15. Gallery walk. You can use this for students to produce work or to review and discuss each other's work. To create work, put a number of large posters around the room, either on each table of four or on the wall. Ask students to fill in vocabulary about a topic, or give a one-word answer to a question. Groups can rotate as they finish or based on a timer. To review work, ask students to place their work in visible places, and then discuss with a number of classmates. A worksheet is helpful for students to write their feedback.
Ideas for groups of four
16. Student-chosen groups. I would rarely let students choose their own groups (except for interest-based activities), but would do it on occasion. I found this a helpful "carrot" for getting students to finish certain activities.
17. Conversation tables. Put a tented paper on each group of four with questions for students to ask and answer of each other. You can ask students to record a partner's answers or assign a recorder the task of summarizing group responses.
18. Dice. I loved to give prompts with dice. On the board, 1-6 would each have a different task, and occasionally, a second die would have different characters. Students complete the random prompt based on chance.
When all else fails...
19. Who's your favorite____(team? singer?)? Create teams based on student responses to preferences, such as "Yankees or Red Sox?"
20. Ask the students for ideas! Give them an exit slip to create different groups. You will get many ideas from them.
I hope these grouping ideas can improve your class culture, energize your students, aid learning, enable teacher facilitation, and increase communication. What grouping strategies have you used in your classroom?