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Teacher & Training Tips

Manage Your Teams Like a Pro

Dr. Spencer Kagan & Miguel Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. Manage Your Teams Like a Pro San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #56. www.KaganOnline.com

Student teams are a hallmark of Kagan Cooperative Learning. Managing teams can be a little daunting at first. But have no fear, with these quick tips and illustrations you will know:

  • When to form teams of 3, 4, and 5.
  • How to number your students on each team.
  • Who is Partner A and Partner B on each team.
  • Where to seat your High, High Medium, Low Medium, and Low ability students on mixed-ability teams.
  • Who pairs up with who for Face Partners and Shoulder Partners.

Let's get to it!

Team Size

In the Kagan Cooperative Learning classroom, the standard team size is 4. We like teams of four because they maximize student engagement and break evenly into pairs. Many Kagan Structures are pair structures and having partners sitting next to each other makes getting into pairs quick and easy. Plus, many team-based Kagan Structures include students breaking into pairs as part of the process.

However, the classroom only divides perfectly into teams of 4 a quarter of the time. If your class breaks evenly into teams of 4, perfect. If not, don't fret. You will have either 1, 2, or 3 extra students. In these cases, we create all the teams of 4 we can, then create either one team of 5, one team of 3, or two teams of 3. Here are guidelines to keep it simple:

  • 1 Extra Student = 1 Team of 5
    Add the one extra student to one team of 4 to make one team of 5.
  • 2 Extra Students = 2 Teams of 3
    Steal a student from one team of 4 and create one extra team of 3. You will have two teams of 3—the new one with your extra students, and the old team of 4 where you stole a student.
  • 3 Extra Students = 1 Team of 3
    Create one team of 3 with the three extra students.

Seating, Achievement, and Student Numbers

Use the illustrations below as a guide for how to seat students based on their achievement levels and which numbers to give them. First, a few quick words about how to read these illustrations if they are not self-explanatory. The squares represent student desks pushed together as a team. The circles represent where students sit. The numbers on the desks are student numbers you give students when they are in teams. This makes it easy to to identify one unique student in every team. For example, "Student #1s, please stand." The letters A and B on the desks represent Partners A and B (and C for teams of 3 and 5). The letters in the circle are codes representing student ability levels for mixed-ability teams: H = High, HM = High Medium, LM = Low Medium, L = Low. The arrows show who are Face and Shoulder Partners on each team.

The illustrations below include achievement levels and are for your eyes only. We don't want students thinking they are the dummy on the team, especially since ability levels are just approximations and change over time and across subjects.

Teams of 4

For teams of 4, Shoulder Partners are the students seated next to each other. Face Partners are the students seated across from each other. When in Face or Shoulder Partners, there is always Partner A and a Partner B so it is easy to identify who does what. For example, "RallyRobin with your Face Partner. Partner A begins." Regarding ability levels, we seat the High and Low student kitty corner from each other because students sitting diagonally interact much less than Face and Shoulder partners. We do this because the ability gap between the high and low student on the team may make working together more challenging.

Teams of 3

For teams of 3, when the teacher calls for either Face Partners or Shoulder Partners, all three students work together as a triad. No student is left out as the other two pair up. Instead of doing a RallyRobin where partners go back-and-forth, the team of 3 does a RoundRobin, each taking a turn in sequence: 1-2-3. If you have two teams of 3, the achievement levels on the two teams may be different, so don't worry too much about matching the achievement levels on the illustration. You can shoot for a high, medium, and low student on the team, or form a team with all three students in the medium range. We like seating Student #2 so that they are close to Student #1, rather than on the end where Student #2 is far from both teammates. But again, use your discretion here based on your desk configurations. A final point for teams of 3 (and this applies to teams of 5, too) is there is a Partner C. We do this so there are never two Partner As or Bs in any triad. When you have teams of 3 or a team of 5 in your class, you can occasionally say, "For my teams of 3, start with Partner C."

Teams of 5

Teams of 5 look just like teams of 4, except there is an extra student on the end. We like seating that extra student close to Student #2, rather than on the end where he/she is farther from teammates. When the teacher calls for Face Partners, Students #2, #3, and #4 work together as a triad. When the teacher calls for Shoulder Partners, Students #1, #2, and #3 work together as a triad. (Technically, Student #3 could shoulder partner up with Students #4 and #5 too, but in this arrangement, Student #3 is closer to Student #2 which makes for easier interaction.)

Again, the illustrations above are for your reference only. You will want to provide your students a tool to help them know and remember: their student number, who is their Face Partner and Shoulder Partner, and who is Partner A or Partner B when in pairs. For this, Kagan offers TeamMats that you place on student desks. Below are descriptions of original TeamMats and TeamMats made just for primary students. But you can make your own set of mats, or even label student desks with marker, or tape down cards with student numbers and letters.

We know figuring out all this team stuff seems like a lot at first. But it's worth it! There is no better way to boost engagement and learning than getting your students to interact with partners and teammates. With these tips, you can now manage your student teams like a pro.

For More About Student Teams

For more details on the different types of teams, how to form teams, how long teams should stay together, and more, please see Chapter 7: Teams of Kagan Cooperative Learning.

Kagan Cooperative Learning
Dr. Spencer Kagan & Miguel Kagan (All Grades)
The book that started it all—is completely revised! Why would the Kagans update a classic that has sold nearly half a million copies? The answer: So much has changed! Click here to learn more!


Kagan has TeamMats available to help you manage your teams. The mats create a great visual reminder for your students. There is the original set, and now a new set designed for primary students, too.

TeamMats Class Set of 10
10 ManageMats & Fan-N-Pick Mats
In this class set, you receive 10 double-sided mats. One side is a ManageMat that helps you manage team and pair interactions like a pro. The other side is a Fan-N-Pick mat that leads students through this interactive structure, ensuring everyone keeps actively involved! Two awesome mats in one! Click here to learn more!

Primary TeamMats Class Set of 14
14 Number & Animal Mats
This class set is designed to help you manage your little ones as they work in teams. Each student has a unique color so you can select students by color. The colors match the other side so students can keep their colors when they are ready to graduate to the Number Mat. One glance at their mats and your little ones know exactly who needs to do what. Click here to learn more!

Team Formation Software

TeamTools™ Software
Creating effective teams can be a chore. We must juggle a myriad of variables: We want teams of four, but must form some teams of three or five to handle "extra" students. We want two boys and two girls per team, but when we run out of balanced sex teams we want same sex teams so the solo boy or girl is not given too much or too little attention. We want a high, high-medium, low-medium, and low ability student on each team to optimize tutoring and achievement. Brain-racking, right? Not anymore! Now you simply click a button. TeamTools takes your class info and recommends teams for you! Click here to learn more!