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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnson

Grouping Students for Success

Updated: Jun 29, 2023



A common question I receive is how to group students in a way that promotes success for all the varying levels in the classroom. Does mixing levels only help the struggling students? How can I push my advanced students each day, when so many others are lower? How can I plan to differentiate and still have time for everything else on my plate?


Homogenous Leveling

When students are grouped by their level, you are able to differentiate the whole group's assignment, rather than an individual assignment for each student. Students could be assigned to groups to work individually, in partners, or as a group but they are all on very similar levels so they are able to complete the same task. My favorite time to use this type of grouping is when students are reviewing for a test or quiz. This way they can work together at a similar pace, and work together to solve common difficulties.. I will also use this type of grouping when we are going over tests and students are completing test corrections. Students will be grouped by how successful they were on the assignment so there are common conversations, rather than a student earning an A and being grouped with a student who was not so successful.


My breakdown for test corrections is typically as follows: 90's, 80's, 70's, 69-50, and below 50%. This allows me to work closely with the students who struggled to understand the unit.


Lastly, I use homogeneous grouping on Thursdays. For my advanced students, I have an extension activity that they do prior to a quiz or test on Fridays. For my struggling students, Thursday is an extra day that I will pull them into my small group for the entire center period.

Heterogeneous Leveling

For the majority of our math centers, I have my students' abilities mixed, with a high student, a low student, and two or three average students in each group. This allows them to help each other. For the higher students, this challenges them to support the lower students by "teaching" them and coming up with a way those students might better understand. Therefore, this benefits the struggling students because they have an opportunity to hear the concept from someone other than me, explained in a different way.


Grouping for Daily Centers

I do NOT have set center groups that my students work in. I only have rules for the groups. This allows my small group to be fluid, rather than on a set schedule for each day. This also allows me to make quick changes and activities, without disturbing up a routine. Advanced students must be split up, except on Thursdays. (On Thursdays, I typically have an extension task for my advanced students to complete.)

  1. My advanced students are my "blue group", based on the pretest for that unit. This means the blue group can change, but typically includes the same students.

  2. Lower students must also be split up. On Thursdays, I work with them for the entire center time. They are my green group.

  3. No more than five people can be at a center each day.

  4. All centers must be completed before going to a center a second time (You can find more information about making math centers successful in my blog postHERE!)

Who should I pull in my small group each day?

You should pull all of your students, no matter what their level, throughout the week. Some students need more attention than others, and that is okay. However, even your highest students should still be worked with weekly. Each day, following my mini-lesson, students complete a "Ticket to Centers" (most people use these at the end of class for an exit slip or ticket-out-the-door), which consists of one or two problems for students to quickly solve from the mini-lesson skill. They solve the problem and hand it to me to check. Based on how they do on the ticket out the door, I will tell them to head to a center or head to my table. As long as they follow the above center rules, they can go to the next center they have not completed. I only meet with five students at a time, and how long I meet with them depends on how successful they are in completing the task.. On average, I keep each group for 15 minutes and then send them off to complete the center tasks. Sometimes, one student may need the whole time and I will just "swap out" four of the students.


Other Ways to Mix Up Grouping

Sometimes it is great to just mix things up! This helps students learn to work with everyone. (In our classroom, we are all family. They don't have to be best friends with everyone but they need to respect and learn to work together.)

  • Pull random names for partners (draw sticks, paper, online name picker, etc.)

  • Students pick a partner, group of 3, group of 5, etc.

  • Groups based on random descriptions (people who have 1 brother, people wearing green, people wearing shorts, etc.)

If you are interested in more information about how I run my math centers, you can check out my full blog post Math Centers in Upper Elementary! There are tips and tricks for saving you time and making each day successful.


Putting students into groups is a huge part of Workshop Model, so I need to ask. Do you use workshop model in your classroom? In my online course, Elementary Math Workshop Academy, I talk all about organizing centers, creating groups, and running them effectively. I highly suggest checking it out if you also use Workshop Model in your classroom.


What is your favorite way to group your students for centers or small groups? Tell me about it!
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