Ways to Pair Up Students

For some projects and activities, you’ll want to place students into pairs. There are a few ways to do that, and we’ll cover some of the pros and cons for each in this article.

Let the Students Choose


  • Students who are happy with their partners are more likely to have a positive attitude.
  • There’s less likely to be conflict between partners.


  • Students who partner with their friends are more liable to get distracted, or more generally see their time as an opportunity to hang out instead of work.
  • Time might be wasted as students make decisions on whom to pair with.
  • Whereas most of the pairs will be happy, you might end up with a few very unhappy pairs (made up of people left out from odd-numbered friend groups)
  • Pairs may not be optimized for the best way to complete the project or activity.

Randomly Select

(like drawing names out of a hat)


  • This method is potentially a balance between the pros and cons of the other methods on this list.
  • An arguably ‘fair’ way to divide up students (or at least an unbiased one); leave it up to chance instead of making someone’s choices responsible.


  • While fair in theory, in practice pairs are very likely to be unbalanced (some students end up with friends while others don’t; or they could be unbalanced in terms of skill)
  • Pairs may not be optimized for the best way to complete the project or activity.

Pair by Like Proficiency

Advanced students are paired with other advanced students, and struggling students are paired with other struggling students.


  • The two members of a pairs can progress at a similar pace.
  • Students can rely on each other for help, but not on one to have all the answers for the other.


  • If the task is equal across all groups, advanced pairs might find it too easy, or struggling pairs might find it too difficult.

This method is nice if you can provide different challenges to different pairs, and/or if is not necessary for all the pairs to finished at the same time. This could also be a good option if you (the teacher) have the time to give more attention to the struggling pairs, trusting the advanced pairs to carry on without you (at least to an extent).

Pair by Contrasting Proficiency

Advanced students are paired with other struggling students, and struggling students are paired with other advanced students.


  • While the proficiency level of individuals might vary across the classroom, the proficiency level of pairs will be more evenly distributed.
  • A struggling student can benefit from their partner’s grasp on the subject material.
  • Advanced students can help ‘teach’ the material to their partners, which might in turn solidify their own understanding of the subject.


  • Some pairs might end up having the advanced student do all the work while the struggle student contributes little.
  • Either member of a pair might be frustrated at the difference in proficiency between them and their partner.


This method is often good when there is a limited amount of time for the pairs to finished the project or activity (and preferably they’d all finish around the same time). It’s also usually good for review sessions.

Pair by Complementary Skills

It’s not always about general language proficiency; sometimes more specific skills are relevant, like pronunciation or public speaking, or non-English skills like drawing, storytelling, penmanship, or critical thinking.


  • If a task requires more specific skills, you can make it more likely that every pair has at least one member how can (or perhaps likes to) do each skill required.
  • Pairs can break up the tasks for their project or activity depending on what each is good at (which means they have different roles and can contribute different things).


  • If you don’t have at least half the class skilled in one of the areas you’re looking for, some pairs won’t benefit from these pros.
  • If you don’t know your students well, it can be hard to figure out who complements whom.
  • Of all the methods, this one probably takes the most amount of preparation.

In conclusion, the best method might vary from one project or activity to the next, depending on the requirements and constraints of each. Furthermore, your own favorite way of pairing students might depend on what’s special about your class. In any case, it’s good to consider these options before starting on a new project.

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