How to group your students in class

photo copy 5These are glorious days to be a teacher. Not only is there all the fun of teaching that has always been there, but there is an increasingly active community interested in making teaching and learning as effective as possible. We are following the research on education, using evidence-based techniques. There are some amazing ideas out there available for anyone who wants to adopt them.

We learned about a lot of them from an excellent presentation Eleanor Pardini gave to our lab group last Tuesday. I hope to work through presenting them here. I’ll start with a really cool one about grouping students.

If you have your students work in groups, you have to have a way of grouping them. If the groups are informal and short-lived, you can just have them form according to where they sit on a given day. But sometimes having students in groups that last the whole semester is a good idea. I worry when I do this, because I want students to get a lot out of their group. I don’t want the groups to sort in some ways, and do want them to sort in other ways. When I was at Rice, I generally had the groups form according to residential college, to make meeting outside of class easier. Last semester I went through a complex interview process involving written questionnaires and private meetings with me to form the semester-long groups.IMG_3389

But from now on, I’ll form groups according to a tool Eleanor told us about called This site allows you to use the answers to questions to form groups and to get feedback on the groups. She said that it was particularly effective to sort students according to how much time they planned to put into the course. This sounded like a great idea to me. One thing I always want to avoid is the kind of thing that goes on when gym class teams are chosen and someone has to be last. Since a group can last all semester, it is really important to get this right. Eleanor said that when she used this tool to form the groups, she had happy groups that worked very well together.  I can’t wait to try it.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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