Partner Picture Cards for Cooperative Learning and Group Activities

I dug up an old blog post that I wrote (back when I had a blog for about two minutes in 2011) about a set of picture cards I created for flexible student grouping. I thought this would be a great time of year to update and share this idea again. A printable version is available in my TpT store, but I’ll also show you the original set I made using stickers and index cards so that you can make your own!

partner picture cards for flexible student grouping in upper elementary

Every year during this long stretch between the winter holidays and spring break, I inevitably felt like my classroom needed a bit of a reset. I often wanted to redo classroom decor, revamp my organization systems, and replace routines that had fallen by the wayside. One simple idea for mixing things up is to change how you form student groups. When teachers ask students to find a partner or to make small groups, kids always gravitate toward their usual friends. Counting off by a set number drives me crazy because there’s always a few who forget which group they’re in. You can reinvigorate your classroom community with this easy regrouping tool that can be used for everything from morning meeting games to a get-out-of-your-seats academic review.

Partner picture cards like these are a fun and fast way to create groups of any size. Each card in the deck contains one picture from each of several different categories. For example, every card has exactly one dinosaur, one sports ball, one star, etc, though there are different colors or types of each category within the deck of cards. To put students in groups, give each student one card. Then call out, “Get in a group where everyone has the same kind of sports ball!” or, “Find everyone whose star matches yours!” Students won’t know who will be in their group, how many kids will be in each group, or how many groups there will be until everyone has compared cards.

It’s not totally random, however. You’ll use a teacher key to know each category’s corresponding group size! For example, if you want students to work in groups of three, tell them to find everyone whose card has the same seasonal symbol. The picture below shows four of the resulting groups. See the suns, snowflakes, acorns, and umbrellas?

Here’s another example in action. Students made groups of four by matching ocean animals (in this group, everyone has a turtle on his or her card):

four students pointing to the same picture on grouping cards
@aoitker on instagram uses flexible grouping cards to make groups of four students

Once all students have found their matches, give each group a task. Perhaps the group will work together for the rest of the class period. Or, maybe you’ll give each group three minutes to discuss a question before calling out another category to form new groups in a fast-paced, active session. You can also use cards like these to make two or three large group teams for a review game.

cooperative learning grouping cards product from Elementary Inquiry

I love the bright colors on this printable set! It’s also super easy to print additional copies of any cards that go missing. You can find this downloadable set of Flexible Student Grouping cards in my TpT store. The set includes 36 unique student cards in color and black/white, a teacher key and instructions, and a bonus “Get Together” activity that is perfect for building classroom community and can be easily adapted for academic content.

Partner Picture Cards Flexible Grouping Activity

Keep reading if you’d like to use stickers to create your own set of cards and see the original set I made! 

make your own partner picture grouping cards

To make your own deck of picture cards, you’ll need 3×5 index cards and at least 10 different categories of stickers in various quantities (see below).  This will allow you to create any size group, whether you want to form groups based on the number of students in each group or based on the total number of groups in the class.

how to make your own partner picture cards

  1. Number blank index cards 1-30 and lay them out in order. (I numbered my lightly in pencil on the back.)how to make student grouping cards
  2. To be able to form groups based on the number of students in each group, you’ll need:
  • To make groups of 2: 2 each of 15 different stickers (this was really hard to find – I used hand prints)
  • To make groups of 3: 3 each of 10 different stickers (I used stars)
  • To make groups of 4: 4 each of 8 different stickers (I used school supplies; you’ll only use 2 of the last kind if you’re making a set of 30 cards)
  • To make groups of 5: 5 each of 6 different stickers (I used music notes)

Place these sets of stickers on the index cards in order starting on card 1, placing each of the different varieties in a row: A, A, A, A, B, B, B, B, C, C, C, C, and so on. For example, I placed blue music notes on cards 1-5, green music notes on cards 6-10, etc.

  1. To be able to form groups based on the total number of groups you want, you’ll need:
  • To make 2 groups: 15 each of 2 different stickers (I used peace signs)
  • To make 3 groups: 10 each of 3 different stickers (I used fish)
  • To make 4 groups: 8 each of 4 different stickers (I used veggies)
  • To make 5 groups: 6 each of 5 different stickers (I used sports balls)

Place these sets of stickers on the index cards, starting on card 1, alternating each variety as if you were counting off: A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, and so on. When I was sticking on the veggies category, I put corn on card 1, carrots on card 2, lettuce on card 3, peas on card 4, and started the pattern again with corn on card 5, continuing until all cards had one veggie sticker.

use stickers to make partner picture cards

By placing the stickers this way, the last few cards can be removed to create a smaller set without messing up the groupings. It was only after I placed all of these stickers that I realized that I had a few redundancies. This is because, in a set of 30, making groups of 6 students is the same as making 5 groups! If you look closely at my cards, you’ll see that I also used penguins, planets, dots, and smiley faces. They don’t mess anything up, and I can still use them – they’re just unnecessary, because I already have all scenarios covered based on the lists above.

As you work, keep track of the sets of stickers you use by making a teacher key:

teacher key for partner picture cards

It’s also helpful to make a set of cards that each contain all of the varieties of one category of stickers. You can display these cards using a document camera if students need help identifying which picture they are trying to match.

sticker categories for partner picture cards

Don’t forget to laminate your cards so that you can use them all year long!

student grouping cards purple stars
matching purple stars
matching yellow stars

My sister (who has a masters degree in math and works as a software engineer!) and I thoroughly boggled our minds one Saturday night sorting this all out. The effort was well worth it, though, since my fifth-grade students and I loved using these cards several times each week. Whether you download the printable version or use stickers to make your own grouping cards, I hope they add some fun and enhance the function of partner and group activities in your classroom!

What ideas do you have for using these partner picture cards in your classroom? Leave a comment below!

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