Flexible Grouping
Chelsea Saladino
  • Teachers who use flexible grouping create an environment that some students have not been exposed to before. Flexible grouping allows students to become teachers and assist the teacher in what can sometimes be a difficult process. Teachers should share the responsibility of teaching with the students to allow them an additional opportunity to learn. As a teacher, I group students in a variety of ways depending on the topic/assignment at hand and based on the behavior of the class that I am dealing with.
  • Through flexible grouping, students become responsible for the material. By working with their peers, students hear the material multiple times and through someone they view as a peer rather than an instructor. Flexible grouping is different based on how the facilitator groups the students. Heacox suggests grouping students in collaborative or cooperative groups. When using this method, students who are more capable and/or have more knowledge on the specific topic, be placed with those who might not be as capable or don’t have as much knowledge on the specific topic. Students may also be placed in specific groups based on how they interact with one another. For instance, you might place a more outgoing student with one that keeps to themselves or place an over-achiever with an under-achiever. Allowing students to form their own groups is another option. When implementing tiered assignments, it is important to group students together working on the same assignments. The students may choose to work alone, with a partner, or with a small group.
  • Heacox also suggests grouping students often but change the groups up. When doing this, you camouflage the fact that you are strategically placing students in particular groups for a certain reason. For example you might have five strong learners in the room that need to be split amongst the groups because they are your “leaders.” Change who they work with each time but keep them spread amongst the groups to ensure that each group has a “leader.”
Classroom management:
  • To keep some sort of sanity in the room, teachers must develop routines for these types of activities. Teachers should model what their expectations are in front of the class. After providing instructions, ask a student or even a student from each group to repeat what that group or the class is responsible for doing. Monitor the groups to ensure that everyone is on task. Providing the students with written instructions is helpful so the teacher isn’t repeating the instructions and interrupting all groups. Having the students check off the different steps of the assignment as they complete them is also helpful to the instructor so that their progress can be monitored. Students also need a timeline of when the assignment is due so each group can plan accordingly.
  • Developing routines for ending the period/group work is another way to avoid chaos. This should be done during the first group assignment and repeated with every group assignment to ensure all students cooperation.
  • Requiring each group to present their information can be useful but unnecessary as well. If each group has a different assignment, the students might benefit from hearing a presentation. However, if all students are going to present based on the same assignment, it can become repetitive and lead to an unmanageable classroom.
  • How and when to group students is a strategy developed over time. To promote maximum learning, the teacher should ensure that assessment is frequent, proper classroom management skills must exist, that high-quality instruction is always provided, and that the students are frequently moved into appropriate instructional groups according to their needs.

I found this table to be helpful:
Grouping Options
Teacher's Role
Whole Class/
Small Groups

  • Explains procedures
  • Provides instructional scaffold
  • Facilitates discussion
  • Provides explicit instruction
  • Affirms student diversity
Outlining day's agenda/schedule
  • Giving an overview of concepts
  • Sharing student work
  • Presenting strategies
  • Developing background knowledge
  • Guides individual development
  • Encourages individual student interests
  • Applying key concepts, strategies and skills
  • Composing written responses
  • Completing understanding
  • Creating own investigations
  • Describes students' roles
  • Describes students' interpersonal skills
  • Encourages student interaction
  • Monitors group effectiveness
  • Guides understanding
  • Affirms student diversity
  • Organizing collaborative project
  • Collaborating on projects
  • Sharing group projects
  • Discussing students' evaluation of group's success
  • Applying key strategies and concepts
  • Discussing different perspectives
  • Identifies students' needs
  • Provides instructional scaffold
  • Provides explicit instruction
  • Organizing short-term groups
  • Introducing new concepts
  • Teaching specific concepts, strategies and skills
Dyad (Pairs)
  • Identifies students' interests or needs
  • Models instructional strategies
  • Guides understanding
  • Assisting partners
  • Tutoring peers
  • Responding to peer writing
  • Collaborating

Heacox, D. (2009). Making Differentiation a Habit. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Valentino, C. (2000). Flexible Grouping. Retrieved from http://www.eduplace.com/science/profdev/articles/valentino.html

Chepachet, C. (2010). Teacher-to-Teacher. Retrieved from http://teachertoteacherblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/flexible-grouping-at-high-school-level.html