One Process for Forming Long-term Teams

Intentionally creating teams, rather than letting students pick their own or using a random selection method, can help create diversity in viewpoint, experience, and knowledge level.  You can use this method to create teams who will work together on small activities or labs throughout the semester and/or teams for a high-stakes long-term project. 

Ellen Yezierski, Miami’s Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Professor of Chemistry, uses this method to intentionally form teams who will work together for the full semester.

  1. Before the first day of class, have students take an inventory of some core course principles (or other relevant criteria) so you can evaluate their knowledge state upon entry. 
  2. Sort the students from highest to lowest scores and place them in high, med, and low groupings depending on the distribution; this is the prior knowledge criterion (PKC). 
  3. Also look at students’ majors and names.
  4. Do your best to distribute students so each group is assigned a high, low, and two medium PKC and has a variety of majors, genders, and maybe even different racial/ethnic backgrounds. (See Note.)
  5. In a face-to-face class, post their group numbers in two lists - One alpha by last name and one by group (so they can see who their group mates are). You can also publish a map of the classroom labeled with group numbers so students know where to sit when they begin group work
  6. In an online class, you can simply build Canvas groups, so the lists and maps wouldn’t be needed.

Note: Of course, the resulting sort is quite flawed due to making coarse judgements based on student names, but this method still helps to make groups far more diverse than if students just picked their friends or classmates who look like them. You may still get one or two dysfunctional groups in a large class, and sometimes a small portion of the groups turn out to be not as heterogeneous as desired.