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Grouping learners

Module Three | Classroom management

How are students grouped?


For the questions given below, match the activities with the most appropriate interaction pattern from the box.

Interaction patterns

A.       Pair or group work

B.       Individual work

C.       Whole-class work



  1. Students do a written test.
  2. Students write down their own stories.
  3. All the students act a play for their parents.
  4. Students decide together how to report their conclusions to the rest of the class.
  5. Students participate in a choral drill.
  6. Students do an information-gap activity with two sets of information.

Grouping students means the use of diverse ways to organise students when they are working in the classroom. Usually, they are to be organised to work in various ways during each of the lessons. The groupings chosen by the teacher usually depends on the kind of activity, the purpose of the activity and the students.

Teacher - student interaction patterns

Grouping learners 2

Students can be grouped in the classroom in two different ways. The first way is when the teacher selects specific interaction patterns for the students. This means the ways they can work together and with the teacher in the class. These include group work, open class, pair work and individual work. They also include the teacher to student(s) and student(s) to teacher.

This table shows the examples of different interaction patterns

Teaching purpose: Why?

Activity: What?

Interaction pattern: How?

Review the students’ knowledge of vocabulary and/or structure and the topic or context.


1. Groups: students to students (Ss —>Ss)

2. Feedback: students to teacher (Ss —>T)

Check students’ understanding of new vocabulary

Bingo game

Whole class: teacher to students


Give students practice in scanning

Reading and filling in a chart


2. Pair-work: student to student (S —> S)

In lesson plans, usually short forms are used to show interaction patterns. Eg: T —-> Ss rather than writing out ‘teacher to students’. ‘S’ means one student whereas ‘Ss’ means many students.

Grouping students in pairs or teams


When the teacher decides which students will be put together to work in pairs, teams or groups is the second way. Here, the teacher has to consider the students’ levels, their learning styles, their learner needs, personalities and relationships with other students in the class before she can ask them to work with one another. The teacher must consider which of the students will work with one another in the best way in order to learn in the best way.

When a teacher is to decide how best to group the students, she/he must consider a few factors:

  • The aim of teaching. When the teacher has decided on the lesson aim as well as the aim of each activity, she will find it easier to select how to group the students.
  • The learning styles of the students. Some students like to work in groups whereas others prefer to work alone. Each student has a different personality and fore find it easier to work with some partners or groups than with other students.
  • The ability and level of the students. Majority of classes are ‘mixed ability’ classes. This means that they include students who have various abilities. Students who possess similar abilities can be grouped for activities and for other activities, students of different abilities can be grouped to work together.
  • The personalities of the students. Usually, students work well together. However, there may be instances when there are students who do not work together in a positive way. for example if one student is a shy one and another student is a dominant one (dominant meaning always talking and stopping others from taking part in things). It is essential that the teacher thinks carefully about how best to group the students.
  • The size of the class. If the class has about 20 to 30 students, they can be paired and grouped easily. With classes larger than 30 students also it is possible to group and pair them, but needs to be planned more carefully.
  • The previous experience of students. If the students are not quite used to doing pair-work and group work, the teacher needs to plan how to introduce this method into his way of working. First short pair-work activities can be done and then bit by bit longer and more varied groupings can be introduced to the student.
  • The activities that have been chosen. Here is an example: a discussion activity is to be done in groups, a role-play can be done in pairs. However, the teacher can decide to do these activities differently. This depends on what the group needs and the lesson aims. For example, a discussion activity can be done either in pairs or as a whole class. A role-play can be done in groups.
  • The balance of interaction patterns in a lesson. If students are doing pair-work for an entire lesson, the lesson probably would not be successful. Students would become bored and there might even be disciplinary issues. If students are doing individual work for the entire lesson period, this might not be successful either. Students would lose concentrated and interest and would then become bored. In the same way, a lesson which is completely led by the teacher is not likely to be successful. The students need a balance of different interaction patterns.
  • The group dynamics of the class. This means the relationships between the students and how students will behave with one another.

A practical application:


This table shows the first part of a lesson plan taken from a methodology book for primary students. For each activity, the students have been grouped in various ways. They work as an entire class, alone or in groups.


Teacher’s activity

Pupils’ activity

5-10 minutes

Activity 1
Warmer: brief revision of colours, using a team game.

Pupils stand in lines behind flags of different colours. The teacher says a colour. Pupils behind the flag of that colour put up their hands.

10 minutes

Activity 2
Bring in a goldfish or a picture of a fish to introduce the topic to pupils. Discuss the fish-what it looks like, its colour, its parts. Check who has a fish at home.

Pupils gather round the tank and say what they know about fish. They tell each other something about their own fish

Activity 3
Tell pupils you are going to tell them a story. In groups pupils predict what the story will be. Get feedback from the groups.

Pupils talk together to try and guess what will be in the story.

Activity 4
Explain the activity, i.e. pupils have to colour their fish as the story requests. Give out colours and photocopies of a fish drawing.

Group monitors give out crayons and blank sheets.

10 minutes

Activity 5
Tell the first part of the story with actions and pictures. Continue the story with instructions for colouring.

Pupils colour in the fish drawings following instructions.

Here are the interaction patterns in this lesson:

  • Activity 1: two large groups/teams
  • Activities 2,3 and 4: entire class and groups. In activities 2 and 3, the teacher works with the entire class. Then, he/she divides the students into groups for the prediction activity.
  • Activity 5: individual work. Here the teaching is telling the story and the students are working alone, listening and colouring.

    (adapted from Children Learning English by Jayne Moon, Macmillan 2000)

Test Your Knowledge

In this table, you will find the second part of the same lesson. Identify the interaction patterns and their purposes for the stage of the lesson in each activity.


Teacher’s activity

Pupil’s activity

5 minutes


5 minutes




5 minutes

1.       Get the pupils to compare drawings.

2.       Class feedback. Elicit from different learners the colours of the little fish. Use sentence prompts, e.g. His face is…

3.       Ask pupils what they thought about the story, in L1 if necessary. Ask whether the big fish was right not to give the little fish colour for his lips.

Pupils compare drawings in pairs.


Pupils talk about the colours of the fish to the whole class, e.g. his face is…



Pupils give their opinions to the class.

(adapted from Children Learning English by Jayne Moon, Macmillan 2000)

Read the statements below and decide which ones you would agree with and why.

  1. My students don’t like group work so I do not do it at all.
  2. When students work in pairs or groups, they have more chances to speak than they would if they worked alone.
  3. I attempt to have a balanced set of different interaction patterns in a lesson.
  4. I think it’s best to separate the weak/strong or shy/dominant students into different groups or pairs.
  5. My students’ ages makes some interaction patterns hard.

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