Learning Groups: The Mid-Year Decision that Completely Changed my Classroom

In my 4th year of teaching 4th grade, I had a whiteboard prompt that asked, “What would make school better for you?”

One student’s response was, “Having a school newspaper.”

Once I read his response, I knew that I had an opportunity to say, “Yes,” to this request.

Little did he know that writing that one statement would change the trajectory of our class for the rest of the year.

Keep in mind that this was mid-September and procedures and routines had already been set in place, but the benefits of saying, “Yes,” would outweigh the time it would take to teach this new routine. 

To start Learning Groups, I met with that student and asked him if he’d be up for leading the newspaper group. He was up for it, so I drafted a form that asked the rest of the class if they’d be willing to lead a group and what topics they’d be interested in leading or learning about


From that initial survey, 3 groups were formed: Newspaper, Bible Study, and Speech/Student Council.

Since we started late September, groups would change 3 times that year. Based on student interest, we’d keep the same groups or start new ones.


Setting up Learning Groups took intentional planning, meeting with group leaders, and modeling appropriate group work. After the set-up, though, groups ran themselves and engagement skyrocketed.

Learning Groups can happen as early as 3rd grade all the way through high school. The only thing that will change for higher grades is the wording and parameters of the group.


For middle and high school, Learning Groups might consist of self-selected topics within the boundary of the class’ subject matter.


Here’s what you can expect if you choose to try out Learning Groups in your classroom!


Student Responsibilities

Students use a teacher-created organizer to answer the following items:

  • Attendance
  • Goal for today’s meeting
  • How the group will achieve that goal

At the end of the meeting, the group answered, “What did you do to meet your goal today? If you didn’t meet your goal, what will you need to work on throughout the week or next time to meet that goal?”


Teacher Responsibilities

It can be tempting to use Learning Groups as another planning period or teacher-centered time.

DO NOT fall into this trap! Learning Groups was one of the best teaching decisions I made because it allowed me to see creativity, cooperation, and learning happen in REAL time with self-selected topics.

The engagement was out of this world!

As a teacher, interfere as LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Take notes and offer bits of advice as needed. You can also use anecdotal information for parent/teacher conferences, report cards/portfolios, or documentation for services needed, especially if you notice a student needs more behaviorally-based services. 


In self-contained classrooms, Learning Groups can happen anytime during the week. I held Learning Groups every Thursday afternoon for 45 minutes.

Thursdays were my most difficult day because it wasn’t an early out day, nor was it Friday.

Learning Groups made Thursdays a little more bearable.


For block scheduling, hold Learning Groups twice a month for 45 minutes. Group members can also meet outside of class time if they want to move forward on a time-sensitive project.



I promise you that Learning Groups will change the culture of your classroom and increase learning buy-in. Let us know if you try Learning Groups or have any questions about starting your own Learning Groups!