How can I facilitate class discussions and group work?

Andrea KalchbennerBlog, GRID FAQ, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better, Mastery Done Better


  • Class discussions and group work can still be a part of a Grid Method classroom.
  • Use your tracker, or progress monitor, to form groups for discussions or group work.
  • The Grid Method provides opportunities for students to become leaders in the classroom.

At first, using The Grid Method can seem like such a radical shift to your classroom structure and pedagogy.  No longer are you standing in front of the classroom delivering content to everyone at the same exact time.

Instead, students are moving through various levels of the Grid at their own pace and assessing at different times. This often leaves teachers wondering if all of their students are working independently, do class discussions and group work disappear? Absolutely not!

In fact, my students (when we’re not virtually learning) work together more when using The Grid Method than ever before; the difference is in how I design our group work and literary discussions. 

Now that my students are completely virtual, student mentors look a little different. Sometimes they will jump into each other’s Google Docs and offer electronic feedback as an alternative to helping in person. Click To Tweet

Using the Tracker to Form Groups

As students are working through the Grid, they fill out their electronic tracker, which is a shared Google Sheet all students in the class have access to. This allows me, as well as the students, to track their progress together so that I can group them based on their levels. For example, I might take all of the students working on level one and have them sit together in a group to help one another out since they are working through the same content.

Throughout class, I am constantly conferencing with students, presenting mini-lessons, or having a literary discussion with them. Sometimes it’s 1:1, while other times it’s with a small group working on the same level. 

Classroom Mentors

In the pre-pandemic world, I utilized classroom mentors every day. Once students reached mastery on a particular topic or level, they were encouraged to mentor other students. They would monitor our electronic tracker and once they saw a classmate’s color change to yellow or red, they would jump in to help that student.

I would follow up with the student who needed help, but more often than not, the mentor was able to answer their question for them. Students really feel special when they can help each other. I love watching them take on the “teacher” role.

Now that my students are completely virtual, student mentors look a little different. Sometimes they will jump into each other’s Google Docs and offer electronic feedback as an alternative to helping in person. 

Using Technology for Collaboration

Utilizing technology is another way that I incorporate collaboration into my Grids. For example, I use Flipgrid for conversations on our guiding unit questions, to get student feedback on an event that happened in a story we are reading, or to get their reflection on a poem.

They record their ideas and then can comment on each other’s ideas as well. In addition, I also use Padlet, which is an online bulletin board for students to post their opinions about a discussion question. Instead of having the discussion as a whole class, students post whenever they are ready for that level.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Grid Change Up Day

On Fridays, it is usually “Grid Change Up Day”! I save these days for our whole class discussions and team-building activities. “Inside/Outside Circle” is one of my favorite discussion strategies and a way to bring everyone back together. Students create and share their own DOK questions based on whatever text we are currently reading. In order to avoid “spoiler alerts,” I base the circles on chapters if it’s a novel, or Grid levels if it’s not.

Whoever is in the inside circle asks a question, and then the person on the outside circle responds. After they switch roles, students rotate; it’s like speed-dating…but ELA-style! In addition, at the end of a Grid, we have whole-class discussions about whatever texts we read and give reflective feedback on the Grid overall as a whole group too. 

Another aspect of our “Grid Change Up Day” that is directed for collaboration is non-content-related. I believe it is really important to build classroom culture all year round. So much focus is typically spent on it at the beginning of the school year, but then it dwindles as the year goes on. I have students take a short break from the Grid to reconnect with each other by doing various team-building activities, as well as social-emotional activities like proactive and restorative circles.

Although running a self-paced, mastery-based classroom may seem like it is primarily focused on independent work, it does not have to be that way. You have the power to set up your classroom in whichever direction you choose. In my experiences, group work and class discussions thrive using The Grid Method; give it a try!

Impact Story

In the fall of 2019, we implemented the Grid Method in 2 of our classes.  By winter 2019, that had organically grown from 2 to 7, and to 17 by the fall of 2020. This included classrooms spanning all academic and enrichment disciplines, including P.E.!   The success that was seen in classrooms quickly spread throughout the building during the 2019-20 school year and has proven to be a game-changer for both in-person and remote learning. 

Student engagement levels and success were two factors positively impacted while implementing the Grid Method as the structure to organize our instructional content.  It provides the perfect structure to personalize learning and provide students the opportunity to have some voice and choice in their learning.  Students regularly say, “I love being able to keep going forward with my learning while the teacher works with the other kids on things I already know.”  In addition, students will comment, “I like the Grid classroom because I do not have to ask questions about what is difficult for me.  The teachers just know what I am struggling with.”  

Instruction, assessment, intervention, and extension are immediate and personalized to the needs of every individual learner in a Grid classroom.  Teachers are quickly able to adjust instruction by utilizing the tracking document and meet the needs of every kid.  Differentiating instruction becomes possible.  While it may sound crazy, the ability to have students in different places all in the same classroom can reduce the stress on teachers, primarily because they always know where every kid is at in their learning, and because there is always something for students to be doing as they move from mastering one skill to the next.  The Grid Method has a game-changer for teaching and learning. – Mark Heller, Principal & AIMS Board Member

About Andrea Kalchbrenner

Andrea is a 7th grade ELA teacher from the Chicago suburbs and Lead Ambassador for the Teach Better team. She has been teaching for over 12 years and has a Reading Masters degree. Andrea enjoys networking and sharing her ideas with other educators on Twitter and Instagram. In addition, she loves spending time with her infant son Luke, reading, and teaching dance.