Random Grouping Tools for Teachers


This year I’ve introduced some different random grouping tools to my English Language Arts classes. I alternate between assigned grouping and random grouping, depending on what activities students are doing. I found it was getting old to always have them counting off, so here are some successful tools you can try in your classroom.

Partner Sticks

Set of 20 partner sticks

For pair work, I found I was falling into a rut of always letting the students work with the person next to them. A quick and easy way to split them up into new pairs is to use “partner sticks.” Since my biggest class has 20 students, I used 20 tongue depressors and wrote 5 different categories of matching items on them.

The use of different colors for each category is helpful for giving directions, so students won’t get confused between and “E” and an upsidedown “3” for example. When students choose, they don’t know which of the 5 categories you are going to choose, so it helps avoid students choosing the same number or color as their friends.

How to use them: Decide which category of symbols you are going to use. Count out the correct number of sticks before students arrive. Have students choose or simply distribute. Then you can split them up by that category. Combine two categories, such as stars and equal signs, for groups of 4.

Tip: Make sure students give them back! A few missing partner sticks can get confusing when you try to use them again.

Group Sticks

Set of "group sticks" for groups of 4 or 5

These are the same concept, but I created them with groups of 4 or 5 in mind. I then count them out based on how many students are in the class and what category I want to use. Of course, you can also just count out 3 of each if you want less groups, but then you will need more colors.

For these ones, I chose colored pop-sickle sticks so I could also use color as a grouping category.

Tip: Students will likely have the urge to chew on them; collect immediately!

Colored Straws

Set of colored straws in varying lengths

A slightly different version of the above can be done with colored straws. I like this one, because I can assign group member roles by the length of the straw. For example: The person with the longest straw is the group recorder, while the person with the shortest straw will be responsible to share orally with the whole class. The person with the medium-length straw is responsible to manage the materials for the activity. The length of the straws can also be used to determine what order students should complete an activity.

Tip: These seem to get more easily lost than the others. Make two sets to start with, so when one becomes unusable, you’ve got a backup.

Name Magnets

Name magnets

In our school, each student and teacher is assigned to one of four houses. At the beginning of the year, I put each student’s name on a magnet matching the color of his house. I then can use these magnets for assigned or random grouping. I can split students up by house for competitive activities.

Another thing I tried, but have not been consistent with, is having students come to class, and whoever gets ready by following my instructions on the board can move their name magnet to the “ready” column before the bell rings. I can then award points to the house that had the highest percent of students ready before class started.

To make the magnets, I cut up some plain foam board in different colors. I then put a small piece of magnet with double-sided tape on the back of each one and wrote the names in permanent marker. These magnets are fun, and I hope I can use them more consistently for grouping and other class activities.

Tip: If your school doesn’t have houses or teams, try assigning magnets based on favorite color, birthday month, or personality test results.

Do you have any ideas for random grouping? What’s your favorite way to split students up so they work with different classmates?

2 Comments on “Random Grouping Tools for Teachers

  1. Trying to find a expat and wife living in Nam, I think either Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City ??? Anyway they were stationed with me in Japan, Camp Zama 1999-2004. He was in Transportation and I was working for Commissaries – we were close friends. The wife had a rice farm in Nam, they retired there around 2007 or so, close to the same time as me. We are going to visit Thailand Nov/Dec of this year and want to go to Nam, hopefully to visit them. Any thoughts on how to find them would be very help ful.

    • Hi Sandy & Dang,

      You should try joining the expat groups on Facebook for Vietnam and put out a message there!


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