Grouping Sticks

I've been contemplating how to kick off my new blogging endeavor, and I think I know just what to do. I've already shared this little trick with several of my closest teacher friends, and we've found it to be a dream come true for establishing multiple grouping configurations.  (Interaction and multiple grouping configurations are absolutely essential for English learners to get the most from their content classes.)

About two years ago, I developed these grouping sticks to ensure that my students were able to work with all their classmates in different settings and in different groups. The concept is a little tricky to articulate, but I have taken pictures to support my attempt at a detailed explanation.  

The first decision is determining the number of sticks you need. For a class set, I usually use 25, although some of you probably need a class set of 36 (in which case, purchase 2 packs). You can purchase a pack of multi-colored Popsicle sticks at your local craft store. (My favorites are the jumbo sticks.) 

Begin by dividing your sticks into groups by color. There should be either five groups of five colors (for a class set of 25) or six groups of six colors (for a class set of 36).  Take one stick of each color and line them up to label them all with an A. Repeat this again and label the next group with B. Continue with this process until all your sticks have a letter on them. (You should have five groups with five letters or six groups with six letters.) (See photos below.)

Essentially, you've created grouping sticks with two ways of grouping so far. Students can use their Popsicle sticks to group themselves according to colors or letters.  But we're not finished yet!  Next, you will line your sticks up in alphabetical order with the same color pattern repeating in each group. Take the first stick from the A group, the second stick from the B group, the third stick from the C group, the fourth stick from the D group, and the fifth stick from the E group. (Unless you have six groups, in which case, you'll get your sixth stick from the F group.)  Label these sticks with a number 1, as shown below. When you're ready for the sticks to label as number 2, choose the stick that was second in the A group, third in the B group, fourth in the C group, and so on. Basically, you're moving to the stick to the right each time you select a new stick. These will become your sticks labeled with the number 2.

When you are finished with your grouping sticks, you should have 25 (or 36) completely different sticks.  You will need to create five or six matching signs to post in your classroom. Just use a color of cardstock to match each of your Popsicle stick colors. Write one letter and one number on each cardstock. That way, your students can clearly see where each group should "report" when you call out the ways they should group themselves.  

Each day when your students arrive, they can draw their stick from a tin can.  As you're ready for them to move around, call out, "Give me groups by color!" or "Give me groups by number!"  It may take a few rehearsals, especially with younger students, but they will catch on quickly. Once the procedure has been taught, you can use it to create an infinite number of student groupings in your classroom to make sure everyone has a chance to work with everyone else. 

Hope you enjoy!  Please feel free to post comments and feedback below!


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