Partner, Practice & Participate: Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

In a recent post, I wrote about using TED talks to create a positive classroom culture. However, creating an inclusive learning environment takes multiple activities, and establishing student comfort for participation is one of the most important things a teacher can do.

With this in mind, I’ve developed strategies that let students “partner, practice, and participate.”  Basically, it gives students a chance to meet in pairs and practice sharing their ideas with one person before sharing them in a whole class discussion.  This is especially important at the beginning of the year when many students feel anxious or shy.  It also helps to involve ALL of the students- not just the extroverted ones who will sometimes monopolize the class discussion.

Of course, if I let students choose their partners, they will usually go to their friends.  That’s okay sometimes, but I want them to work with everyone in the class.  So here are some ideas for getting students into random pairs:

1.  Use popsicle sticks.  At the beginning of the school year, write each student’s name on a “participation” stick and keep them in a container.  When you want students to pair with one another, just pull two out at a time.  You can also involve your students in choosing names by walking around and having students “pull” participation sticks, too.  This can also be used when making small groups.

2.  Play music and have students walk around the room.  When the music stops, they partner with the student standing closest to them.  Want to get students even more involved?  Let them pick the music (school appropriate, of course).

3.  Use apps that randomly generate partners.  Although I haven’t used these yet, I plan to start this year: 
·      Stick Pick: It is similar to the popsicle sticks technique.
·      Select Spinners: The Partner Picker randomly picks  Partner A or Partner B with each spin.  These can also be used for larger groups.

4.  Use traditional methods like “turn and talk.”  I find this works best when I have carefully planned the class’s seating arrangements, so students are sitting next to others of varied abilities, interests, and high school social “status.”

5.  Finally, here’s another easy strategy that doesn’t require any preparation:   Just direct students to find partners by giving them a common characteristic.  For instance, tell them to meet with someone who has the same birthday month, someone wearing the same color, someone whose favorite food is the same…really the options are endless.  You can also ask students to create the pairing criteria.

What do you do to partner students in your classroom?  Share in the comments below.


  1. I love using popsicle sticks in class! I use them for everything, especially for cold-calling and fun jobs for the students.

  2. Partnering is so important! I love your ideas--thanks so much for sharing. I can't wait to try the Popsicle sticks!

  3. Kids love the randomness of grouping and you've given several fun ways to do it! I've also used a deck of cards. Groups of 4 would have same number and one of each suit. Groups of two: same number, same color.

    1. Thanks for the idea! This sounds super simple, also.

  4. I love stick pick! It is a great app to help randomly call on students. Also, the more students partner with new people, the more open they become to working with new people. Great post.

  5. You have great ideas for randomly pairing up kids. I use stickers on index cards. If you get the same sticker/card as someone else, then that's your partner or group.

  6. Love your suggestion for random-partner-picking! Thanks for sharing it and all your other ideas for helping to create a positive classroom community!

  7. I love getting kids to pair up and practice and this post has given me lots of new ideas to make it happen. Thanks!

  8. I LOVE the stick pick! I use that in class all the time to make sure I am not calling on the same students every day! :)

  9. I have to use sticks, numbers, and those crazy little DoJo characters to be sure that I don't lose anyone or let them slip through the cracks. It's very easy to get lost in groups. I also have a set of cards that can be used for random partner/group pairing in about 6 different ways. Keeps them guessing.

  10. I didn't know there were apps for making random pairings and groupings. Thanks for sharing. I'll have to try them out.



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