A method for pairing students?

Question:I teach middle school and want to do more cooperative activities. The problem I have with letting students pair up themselves is they'll choose their friends and then fool around and get no work done and some students don't find partners and then feel bad that I then choose a partner for them.

I want to implement a system (I've seen a clock type thing) to efficiently and appropriately pair up students with different partners and have them get work done.

As this year winds down, I'm looking for ways to improve for next year. Any and all advice would be welcome. Thanks.

I use "clock appointments", and it could be the one you were speaking of. Each student has a clock with only the 12, 3, 6, and 9 showing. I give them a few minutes to walk around the room and make their appointments. For example, if Susie makes a 12:00 appointment with Johnny, Susie will write Johnny's name on her 12:00 spot and Johnny will write Susie's name on his. In my class, I require the students to make appointments with someone other than their "best" friends. It's easier for me to monitor this because our school is really small. I usually don't go into this right away, but I save it until the end of the lesson to use as an assessment. After the lesson, I might tell the students to go to their 12:00 appointment and complete #10. After a few minutes, I ask pairs to share how they solved #10. You'll get instant feedback, and the students love it! I use the same appointments for a few weeks, then I allow them to change.
pass out cards and ones with matching values are partners.
It will take a little prep time, but will be worth it because you can use these items year after year.

Make packs of "pairing cards". Each pack has 2 colors (whichever you choose). Pass out one color to 1/2 the group and the other color to the other 1/2 of the group. They work like this . . .

1. States and capitals. States are on orange, capitals on yellow. Match the state to the capital, and find your partner.

2. Match historical figures with something he/she is famous for.

3. Math--You could do all kinds of things with math. . . .

4. Match continents and countries. (this one would allow countries to have their choice of students to choose from, since several students will all have the same continent)

5. vocabulary. Match vocabulary terms to their definition.

The list could go on and on. As you begin this project, you'll no doubt think of many more ideas.
There are tons of methods of pairing students. You can do it randomly, like handing out numbers or colored sheets of paper and having the students match them up. You can also pair students up by ability levels. You may want to pair strong and weak students. You can even pair students based on things like multiple intelligences...the spatial learner can be with the more artistic learner. You just need to observe your students to see what works best with them.

One other thing that I suggest is making sure you make the students accountable. Part of your students project grade should include a self and partner evaluation. Have your students give themselves grades.
I have found that this allows them to unload some of their frustrations about having to be in pre-selected groups.

Good Luck!
I give each student a special number at the beginning of the year. It is alphabetical. I have them put their numbers on all work handed in, because it is easier for me to number-batize (if you can follow my meaning) than alphabetize papers when putting the grades in my gradebook.

That said, I call out a magic number that the students need to sum to equal when I want them in pairs. for example, the number may be 31. Thus student #30 can pair with student #1 and so forth. The next time, the number may be 32 or some other number. I always make sure that #1 has someone to pair with and that my last student has someone to pair with. This helps me determine my magic number AND gives a random pairing in the class. Plus, it requires very little advanced prep which, on some days, is a godsend.
If you're familiar with your students' abilities, then pair them up based on that. You don't want to pair up high skilled students with other high skilled students, but you don't want to go to the other extreme and pair up high skilled students with low skilled students. It is best to pair up high skill with medium high skill; medium skill with higher level low skill, etc.

I took a Kagan workshop that recommended giving the students color coded sticky notes on your seating chart. The colors are based on their skill levels, which only you know. Then you can easily arrange seats in to the most ideal groups.
I teach middle school science. Sometimes I allow students to choose their partner, but you are right about some not working. I have tried the following other methods:

Depending upon your seating arrangement, work with the person across from you or behind you.

Use playing cards, put red 2's together and black 2's together, or red kings together. Or you can have them choose a card and tell them they must pair up with another even numbered card, or another odd numbered card.

Put stickers on note cards, have students choose a card upon entering the classroom then tell them that the pink smiley sticker partners with the blue smiley sticker.
What about a personality test?
You could find one and hand it out, or have them do it online. Record their scores and pair them up with students who scored simalarly. Hopefully they will be able to get along, and they might make friends with people who they never would have considered working with.
I had the same problem when I first started teaching. Now I have tried several methods. the one that has worked best for me is:
Buy some popsicle sticks, then put a name of each student on each popsicle stick. you randomly pull them out, and VIOLA! Instant pair!

WARNING! Do NOT write the names on the popsicle sticks until AFTER the first day of school. This way, you will already know all the nicknames that children want to go by. It usually embarasses kids when you constantly use their given name instead.

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