Number one for English language teachers

General: pairing and grouping students

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

With current teaching methodology teachers are constantly needing to get students into pairs or small groups. A bit of variety can sometimes raise a smile and can also help you to mix up groupings a little.


With current teaching methodology teachers are constantly needing to get students into pairs or small groups. The commonest way of doing this is to tell students to “get into pairs” or to go round the class naming students A, B, A, B etc – effective but it can become a little repetitive and dull. A bit of variety can sometimes raise a smile and can also help you to mix up groupings a little, so that students get to work with people they may not otherwise have chosen.

Alternatives to saying “A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B..."

Change A, B, C into the names of some real world items (you could use this to surreptitiously remind students of a few vocabulary items). The names are purely for making the groups and can then immediately be forgotten. Of course when students know their labels you can either ask them to get together with others of the same name – or to make a set with different members.

Apple, banana, cherry, apple, banana, cherry… ; Purple, crimson, turquoise; Rain, sun, snow…; Volkswagen, Ford, Rolls Royce …; Preposition, adverb, conjunction; Kylie, Madonna, Janet …; Suit, Tie, Waistcoat …; Spring, autumn, winter …; Big Ben, London Eye, Tower Bridge; Hamlet, Macbeth, Prospero …; Homer, Marge, Krusty …; Present perfect, past simple, going to; Williams, McLaren, Ferrrari … (“Ok all Ferraris drive over here and meet up, all McLarens race over there …”); Eggs, coffee, bacon … (“Get together and make a complete breakfast …”)

Cut up cards

Prepare a set of cards so that there’s one for each student. On each card write one word from a set of vocabulary items you’d like to reinforce with the class (e.g. kitchen words: fridge, mixer, sink, saucepan, cooker, microwave). If you want groups of six students, there should be sets with six different words, and so on. Shuffle and distribute the cards, then ask students to meet up in groups where everyone has a different word.


Work with someone …

… you have never worked with before
… who has the same colour socks or tights as you
… you think you’ll strongly disagree with
… whose home is as far away from yours as possible
… who smiles at you across the room now

Anagram partners

Ask students to write down their first name and surname then rearrange all the letters to make an anagram which they write on a new piece of paper. Collect in the anagrams and redistribute. Students try to unravel the anagram and find their new partner’s name.


Hello. Who’s there?

Hand out a small piece of paper to each student. Ask each student to write down their mobile phone number on the paper then collect in the pieces and shuffle them. Students then pick out a piece of paper at random and ring the number to find out who their new partner is. (Students without mobile phones should write “chatroom” and gather in a designated corner of the room). This technique would be especially suitable for telephone practice pairwork activities that can then actually be done over the phone.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • What a great idea! Many thanks for the suggestion bartonim, we hope other teachers will find it useful.
    Best wishes,
    The onestopenglish team

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  • My comment above should have the Yen symbol, but it does not appear, unfortunately. Basically, I think this is understood! Sorry for the question mark!

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  • I have seen some teachers use a set of playing cards, divided into the same colours and numbers in pairs--for example, red twos, black threes, and so on. The teacher can simply pre-choose the pairs, and then let students pick a card--which they naturally cannot see until it is overturned--and then the match is their partner. This is all the better if noverlty or themed cards (such as mechandise from a film or popular cartoon series, etc) are used. Furthermore, on this note, recently clear plastic playing cards (with a design to hide the suite, etc) have become a fairly hot item here in Japan where I live and teach. I assume they are available elsewhere. The best thing about these is they are sold at the Japenese equivelent of the dollar store: the ?100 shop!

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