Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Effective Strategies for Implementing Flexible Grouping in Your Classroom

By Susan Fitzell

Flexible grouping can be a great strategy to incorporate into your lessons, especially if you are co-teaching.  With flexible grouping, students’ level of learning, no matter what the curriculum, is assessed when leaving class, usually with exit cards or some other form of assessment.  Then, students are grouped according to their level of understanding.  With this strategy, students are not put in a group and then forced to stay at that level- they can advance or get more instruction at their own pace.

Some examples of flexible grouping include:

  • Flexible grouping is the most commonly referenced form of station teaching when researching co-teaching models. Exit cards work beautifully for flexible grouping. For instance, if I’m doing flexible grouping, I might have one enrichment group, one on-track group, and one review group. I could have each teacher facilitate one of the two groups and one group working on its own.
  • You might also have three mixed-ability groups differentiated by process. For example, one group of students engages in a hands-on activity to learn the planets. Another group of students uses a computer-based activity to determine how far apart planets are from one another. The third group creates a dramatic skit to teach the rest of the class about the solar system and the planets. This type of flexible grouping is ‘differentiating by process.’
  • Another model for flexible grouping has each mixed-ability group working on the same concept and output requirements. However, each group may vary on how they collaborate to accomplish that assignment. In this model, teachers circulate among the groups, supporting students as needed. Another option: one teacher supervises and supports while the other teacher collects data.

Small Groups and Flexible Grouping Basics

For teachers who are most comfortable with direct teaching via whole-class teaching, moving toward small groups and flexible grouping can be very intimidating. This is especially true in situations where group dynamics in the classroom are extra-lively and teachers are concerned about managing behavior and keeping kids on task. This section provides strategies and techniques for effectively implementing small groups and flexible groups.

What Constitutes Effective Small-Group Construction?

Effective small-group instruction:

  • Uses assessment data to create lesson plans and determine the groups.
  • Keeps groups small, preferably three to four students to a group. Sometimes it might even be appropriate to have pairs.
  • Groups are flexible. This means that groups change as students grow, test out of a curriculum section, choose activities based on the type of activity required, etc.
  • Learning profile instructional materials are geared toward student ability levels when activities are not based on differentiating by process or student.
  • Small-group activities are tailored to address student needs.

Ineffective small-group instruction:

  • Has kids in groups, but all activity is directed by the teacher.
  • Keeps kids in the same groups continually, usually in same-ability groups. This is actually tracking within a class.
  • Uses the same materials with all students in all groups.
  • Uses the same independent-state work assignments for the entire class.
  • Uses small groups to complete worksheets, and more worksheets, and more worksheets.


  • An ability group is a group where all the students are at the same level.
  • A mixed-ability group includes students of all different levels together, strategically placed.
  • A flexible group is one which will have different members at different times. That, by the way, is the main goal. Students don’t get pigeonholed or typecast this way.

Excerpted from Special Needs in the General Classroom, 500+ Teaching Strategies to Differentiate Instruction

About the author

Susan Gingras Fitzell, M. Ed, CSP specializes in transforming teaching from whole class instruction that teaches to the middle to instruction that structures and enhances lessons to reach every student, whether gifted or struggling. She’s a dynamic, nationally recognized presenter, author of over a dozen books for teachers and parents, and an educational consultant. Susan speaks from experience in the classroom! Her work focuses on building caring school communities and helping students and teachers succeed in the inclusive classroom.
Reprint permissions:
Permission to reprint articles by Susan Fitzell, M.Ed., CSP is hereby given to
Full permissions available at:





Comment on this article...

Next Article...
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 and is filed under *ISSUES, May 2017, Susan Fitzell. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.14 No.2 Jun 2017
Cover Story by Sarah Powley
Wicked Cool
More Teacher Articles...
»Classroom Management Articles by Harry and Rosemary WongHarry K. & Rosemary Wong
»Effective Strategies for Implementing Flexible Grouping in Your ClassroomSusan Fitzell
»Green Man DayTodd R. Nelson
»Latest Articles!News Desk
»Everything I Needed to Know I Learned on the School BusAlan Haskvitz
»Apple Seeds Quotes for EducatorsBarb Stutesman
»A Poem a Day - Todd NelsonTodd R. Nelson
»Promote Critical Thinking: A 3-column Note Taking StrategySusan Fitzell
»Teachers - Our National TreasureNews Desk
»Public School: How Does It Rank Against An Alternative Education?Brenda Berg
»All In The GameSarah Powley
»Happy Earth Day PRINTABLE Piggyback Song SheetNews Desk
»PRINTABLE Earth Day Song: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Piggyback tune)News Desk
»Earth Day Piggyback Song: We've Got the Whole World in Our HandsNews Desk
»10 Crucial Errors: A Retired Teacher's Guide for Retiring TeachersAlan Haskvitz

By State
AL   AK   AZ   AR   CA   CO   CT   DE   DC   FL   GA   HI   ID   IL   IN   IA   KS   KY   LA    ME   MD   MA   MI   MN   MS   MO   MT   NE   NV   NH   NJ   NM   NY   NC   ND   OH   OK   OR   PA   RI   SC   SD   TN   TX   UT   VT     VA   WA   WV   WI   WY