How do you group students in project work? Do you choose for them or let them decide? How do you ensure everyone contributes? Do you appoint each group a team leader?

When I first started managing projects, I was horrible at grouping students. I tried to be the fun, idealistic, optimistic teacher who let students choose groups on their own. I gave pep talks to them about ‘not choosing their best friends,’ and to only choose people ‘who complimented them well.’

99% of the time they didn’t heed my advice. And it wasn’t their fault.

It was mine.

I had not provided them any basis for how to choose a group member or which of their peers would best ‘compliment’ their learning/ working style. They didn’t even know what their learning style was!

As explicit I was about academic instruction and the organization of content in a project, I was equally vague on how to work together as a group.

It took many failed attempts at grouping to finally discover three simple secrets that I still use today. I hope you find them useful.

Group Students According to Working Preferences

Like adults, students each have their preference in how they like to work. Some are the meticulous, detailed oriented strategists who long for perfection. Others are big picture thinkers who love to brainstorm ideas and imagine possibilities. Some just want to make sure everyone gets along. Each of these skill sets are crucial in a high functioning group. Work with students to identify their working preferences with this simple and straightforward leadership ‘compass assessment.’

After identifying their working preferences, have them identify the styles that would best compliment their strengths.

The ‘Blind Vote’ and Grouping According to Interest

To ensure students don’t choose groups solely based on friendships, try the ‘blind vote’ strategy. This strategy asks students vote blindly on their top preferences for topics within a project. For example, if you are leading a project on biodiversity on four types of animals, have students use fingers to vote from favorite to least favorite. After jotting down their preferences, arrange groups according to the best blend of working styles acquired in strategy #1.

Four Corners and Grouping According to Skill Set

The final strategy for student grouping is according to technical skill set. Let’s say you are leading a film making project that requires a writer, editor, producer and videographer. Place these roles/ job descriptions in each corner of the classroom and ask students to stand under the one that best matches their skills. After a bit of re-working to ensure corners have equal representation, ask students to form groups that have a member from each corner.

In Closing

Grouping is never easy. It requires an imperfect balance of personalities, interests, skills and working preferences. However, by using the grouping strategies above, I sincerely hope you find it easier to strike that balance. As always, don’t be afraid to involve your students in the discussion.

Got grouping strategies of your own? I would love to hear them. Flick me a quick e-mail and I will be sure to share them with my tribe!

With students first,