Monday, October 1, 2012

Terrifying Twosomes

We've all heard that collective sigh of disappointment when our students are told they will be working in groups, and no, they won't be choosing their partners.  In middle school, being assigned to a group for an activity - even for just part of a class period - is akin to being in an arranged marriage.  The level of anxiety over who will be working with whom, if not manged effectively, can easily become the focus of the lesson and all good intentions behind the thought provoking, standards-linked instruction that you meticulously planned can be lost in the blink of an eye.

We know, as teachers, that there are reasons for creating the groups that we do. We know that it's extremely important for our students to understand that part of growing up is learning that you don't have to best friends with the people you work with, but you do need to learn to be respectful of the people with whom you work.  This is a life skill that must be learned if our kiddos are to graduate "college and career ready."  We may put students together based on skill levels, learning styles or in an effort to modify behaviors. We obviously need to make these decisions in the best interests of our students, yet - as is often true in middle school - it's remarkably easier if our students feel they have some ownership in decisions that are made...and rightfully so.

I have found that if my students have an opportunity to choose a friend to work with every once in a while, especially when taking part in quick, "Think-Pair-Share" types of activities, they are much more agreeable when assigned to partners at other times. That being said, I also know that if I were to just tell my 7th graders to get up and find a friend to share ideas with for a minute, that minute would turn into ten for just finding someone, not to mention performing the actual task at hand.  I simply don't have that much time to take away from instruction.  So...I have created a way for students to pre-select a few friends that they would like to work with at any given time, and that arrangement lasts for a month.  For October, my students work in Terrifying Twosomes of their choice.  Here's how it works:
  • Right in the beginning of class at the start of the month, students are given a paper that has four spots for names.  October's looks like this:

Click {here} for your copy of this freebie.
Make copies on cardstock, if possible, to make them more sturdy.
3-hole punch them along the top so that they can stay in the front of each student's binder for quick referencing. :)

  • Have students write their names on the back of their own paper.  This way, if it's lost, they have a chance to get it back.
  • Explain to your class that they are going to have the chance to pick some friends to work with for different activities during class.  For some students, it will be as though you just told them they hit the lottery, so wait for the buzz to die down.  Then explain that when they are finished filling out the cards together (They can't go ahead because there are specific directions.), everyone will have 4 different people to work with as partners at any given time.
  • It is very important to remind them about being respectful of the feelings of others, and that no one should feel left out when writing down names.  These are for quick tasks that last only a few minutes at a time, so it may be nice to have 1 or 2 people that you don't know as well on their cards, too.  It's a great way to make new friends! 
  • Tell students that they are going to pick 4 different people to work with this month.  Explain that when you call out a picture ("ghost," for example), students have 2 minutes to find a friend.  They must exchange papers, write their own name on the line next to the picture that you call ("ghost"), hand the paper back to it's owner and return to their own seat.  Once they are finished, they need to sit down so that people who are having a hard time finding a partner can see who else is still looking.
    • If you have an odd number of students, you can pair the student with an adult in the room OR create a group of 3.
  • Once everyone is sitting, call a couple of students to make sure they have each other's name in the same spot. (Student A and Student B are partners.  Student A should have Student B's name on the ghost line.  Student B should have Student A's name on the ghost line.  If you were to call "ghost" now, Student A and Student B would know to quickly find each other, follow your directions and then go back to their seats to continue with the lesson.)
  • The 1st time through can be a little tricky if students aren't listening.  I have found that if I wait to call an object until the last second, once I've given directions and everyone is silent and waiting to hear which picture they will be working with, it's much easier.
  • Once you've completed the 1st picture, fill out the other 3 in the same way.  Stress that they should have different people on each line. 
Now, when you want students to have a brain break, move around, and share with a peer, all you have to do is tell them to find their "ghosts" and they will be able to work with someone they've already chosen ahead of time.  Then, when you assign groups for a different kind of task and you hear complaints that they are not picking who they work with, you can remind them that they work with people they choose all of the time!

This post is linked to Classroom Freebies.  Be sure to also click below to find more great resources!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

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Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Stopping by through Classroom Freebies - what a fantastic way to group students. I also like the idea of changing up the groupings for each month and using a different theme.

    Stef from Miss Galvin Learns

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Stef! This definitely makes cooperative learning more fun for everyone. :)

  2. Found this through Classroom Freebies. This is great for finding partners, and I love the Halloween theme. Thanks for sharing!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. Hi, Andrea - thanks for stopping by! I just started contributing to Classroom Freebies a few weeks ago, and I love it. It's a great way to share ideas!

  3. I saw your link on We Teach! This is a very clever idea to be pro active about partner work and very helpful. Thank you so much for the excellent explanation and freebie! Carolyn

    1. Thank you, Carolyn! The kids really do like pairing-up this way, and I have definitely learned that, in middle school, it's all about being proactive! LOL

  4. Thanks so much for sharing. I love this! It's so much better than the clock we sometimes use. I can see upcoming months taking shape already. :)

    1. Ivy, thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I'm so glad you like this idea. I had to smile when I read your comment. I started using the Appointment Clocks a few years ago after a conference on cooperative learning, and although I liked the efficiency of it, the kids seemed to get bored after a while. Something as simple as switching up the themes and partners every month or so keeps it more fun for them. Be sure to comeback for my November freebie! :)

  5. I love the "Terrifying Twosomes" title! You seem to really "get" middle school kids and I bet they appreciate and enjoy your lessons more because of a little understanding (and preplanning) from you! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jackie, thank you so much for checking out my post! I have to tell you that your comment made my day! One of the challenges with middle schoolers is getting them to "buy-in." I've found that simplest little things like this get them to laugh and have a little fun - and before they know it - we're learning, taking chances and facing challenges together. It's a true win-win. :)


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