Ways to Form Student Groups

forming groups Apr 20, 2017

I will be heading back to the classroom in May to teach an intensive EAP writing course. I'm looking forward to helping international students improve their writing and communication skills after a long break. There is always one group project in this particular COMM course that I will be teaching so I started to think about the students working in groups.  

Do you have students work in groups?  If so, how do you get your students into groups? Are the groups student-assigned, teacher-assigned or randomly chosen?  

Student-Assigned Groups

Based on my experience from 20 years of teaching, I have found that students prefer to form their own groups.  This works well when students know each other but I have discovered that in many post-secondary classes, students come from a variety of programs and therefore may not know anyone in the class.

Make sure you have students form groups in class and then have them submit a list of names to you. Also, ensure that every student is part of a group. You may need to facilitate this especially if students are shy or uncomfortable approaching groups. No one likes to be that person left out!

Teacher-Assigned Groups

If you wish to assign students to groups, here are a few ways to do this:

1. Randomly mixed up pre-assigned groups.  Provide a list of names to each group. Inform students that the groups are fixed (allowing for one or two changes will defeat the purpose of pre-assigning groups).

2. Grouped according to the same program.  You may wish to have students from the same program forms group, however, this may leave out a few students who are enrolled in programs that are not represented by others in the class.

3. Grouped to different programs. This ensures a mix of ideas and perspectives based on different post-secondary programs.

4. Grouped according to interest. If you’re aware of the different interests of your students or if students are choosing their own group work topics, you might want to put them together and have them connect their common interest to the task.

5. Alphabetical grouping. Group students based on the alphabetical order of their names or your class list.

Random Groups

1. Use sticks or names from a hat. Write students’ names on popsicle sticks, shake them up in a cup, and pick out the number of names you want in a group. (This works well with smaller classes.  I have had more than 50 students in some college communication courses). The sticks can also be used if you want to ask the class a question.  Just pick up a stick with the student's name.

2. Count off.  This is one of the fastest ways to get students into groups.  This is efficient and works well (if students remember their number).

3. Use a pack of playing cards. Pass out cards and group students based on having similar or different suits, black or red cards, cards in a specific order, the same numbers, or any other values you assign to the deck. Again, this works if you have less than 52 students in your class.

If you have other ideas for getting students into groups, please let me know.

Happy Teaching!  Patrice


Online Resources Library

The British Council is providing online access to many of the IATEFL Conferences presentations.  Thank you British Council!



Many teachers I know love to use TEDTalks in their lessons.  We know that teachers are busy people and that preparing a great lesson using a TEDTalk takes time.  Sapna Sehgal (a fellow Canadian living in Spain) has developed a wonderful resource that includes 25 lessons based on TEDTalks. Check out the resource here  http://courses.teachingcove.com/?affcode=91807_vcfgsnff.  If you would like a free sample of the full first TED Talk Lesson Plan and introduction in this resource, head to Sapna's Printables Library and download it from the April 2017 section https://www.teachingcove.com/printables-library/



About Me

My name is Patrice Palmer, OCELT, M.Ed., M.A. I have more than 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. I now work as a teacherpreneur http://www.teacherpreneur.ca doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, and instructional coaching for new teachers. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year. Download resources at http://www.patricepalmer.ca
Copyright © 2016 Patrice Palmer, Global Training, Coaching and Development. 

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