Teacher’s Corner: Grouping Students Intentionally

November 06, 2018

Intentional Grouping in the Classroom, by Janel Madeley

Some days, the advanced learners in the class will be bored as they wait for the challenging material to come around. Other days, struggling learners will feel like concepts are sailing over their head, as if the class is happening on a totally different playing field. For teachers, differentiation in the classroom can be quite the test! We at Explore caught up with Janel Madeley in Little Elm ISD, who has researched the subject of grouping in the classroom and she has some valuable insights for teachers. Janel is the K-12 Math Coordinator for Little Elm ISD and her 10 years in education include experience as a national, state, and local professional learning facilitator.  Read on to learn more from Janel about intentional grouping in the classroom:


Depending on the subject area, grade level, standard, behavior, specific needs, etc., we all group kids to build intentional collaboration in within your classroom…but sometimes it ends up looking like a Pinterest fail.

What happened? You grouped the kids to the best of your ability, you provided activities, you’ve done everything you’ve been told…but something’s not working… You may ask yourself, “Why aren’t they talking? Why aren’t they learning from each other? What I wouldn’t give to be able to collaborate with others when I was in school…”

The first question I would ask is, “How did you group your students?”


  • High-level learners learn BEST when grouped with other high-level learners (not reciprocal teaching). Some high-level learners enjoy helping their peers, and some don’t. Either way, they are not building dendrites and LEARNING this way.
  • On-level learners learn BEST when doing reciprocal teaching to a peer that is LOWER in academics than they are. This provides time for processing when explaining and builds confidence along the way!
  • Below-level learners learn BEST when working with a peer they feel safe with that is ABOVE their academic level. They learn best by modeling and example. Multi-sensory learning is HUGE with this group. Be cautious not to put them with a high-level learner, as this lowers their self-confidence.


Some follow up questions to reflect on:

  • What data are you going to use to group your students? Groups will change based on the standard/topic you are teaching.
  • Are the learning targets clear at each station?
  • Have you provided questioning stems?
  • What are fast finishers going to do once done?
  • How are you checking for understanding and providing feedback?
  • How long (time) are your stations?
  • Are you using a timer? Can the kids see the timer so they can stay on track?
  • What intentional strategies and/or essential questions have you placed in the station to ensure the learning is happening?
  • Are your stations multi-sensory?
  • Are your stations multi-level (some more/less rigorous than others)?
  • How long are your transitions between stations?


An easy way to self-reflect is to put a tablet or smartphone in the corner of your room. Record a lesson–don’t worry, no one else will see it, but you! Watch your lesson and write down areas you’d like to improve on. Ask a mentor for some help in that area. You’ve got this!


Written by Janel Madeley

K-12 Math Coordinator of Little Elm ISD, Masters in Art of Teaching Mathematics, TWU, Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, TWU


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