Creating Teams in Small Classes

In smaller classes with reasonable classroom space, you can simply line the students up. You can use various prompts to quickly order the line, such as:

  1. I want everyone with work experience at the front of the line.
  2. With the remaining students not yet lined up, who has a previous degree? Please line up behind them.
  3. With the remaining students not yet lined up, who has lived overseas? Please line up behind them.
  4. Everyone else line up at the end of the line.

Students will often fit into multiple categories, but you will begin the line with the categories that are most important for team success. This is not an exact process and doesn’t need to be. You are creating diverse teams with a range of talents. The questions and criteria you choose to use to order the line depends on who your students are and what assets and liability you want to distribute across all teams. Once the students are in the line, you do the simple math of how big the class is and how many teams you can have with five to seven students on each team. Once you know the number of teams you want, you simply count off the teams.

For example, in a class with 42 students, you have decided to have 7 teams with 6 students on each team. Now you would count off from the start of the line: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 until you run out of students. Don’t worry about being exact. The literature shows that randomly-formed teams perform almost as well as teacher-formed teams. So there’s no need to obsess over every last student getting into the exact right group. You might keep track of your most important sort criteria and do a few last-minute shuffles that might be necessary to get teams of equal strength. As an example, in a foundation engineering course, we might shuffle a few people at the end of the team formation process to ensure that each team has both a geological engineer and someone that is good with math.

This simple procedure has been used with great success in TBL classrooms for over 30 years. It might feel like it takes up valuable class time, but students really seem to enjoy the team formation process, and it is important that students know the teams were formed fairly and transparently. Once teams are formed, students will sit back down with their team, and we will give them a few minutes to do introductions inside their teams. Some teachers will at this point also ask the teams to come up with a team name.