Pedagogy, teaching, Technology

Wither the popsicle stick?

Popsicle Sticks for the Classroom – Image courtesy of

For the past few years, I’ve taken to using popsicle sticks as a central item to facilitate discussion and create groups in my classroom. At the beginning of the year I’d put every student’s name on a popsicle stick, group those sticks into different cups according to which period the students were in, and then as I needed to cajole responses or create small groups for working on a problem, I’d pull them out and arrange them as need be.

I always really liked the popsicle sticks for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were easy to use in an impromptu manner. Need to get feedback from a student but no one is raising his or her hand? Don’t worry….you’ve got popsicle sticks! The beauty of calling on students via this method is that it avoids any concerns that particular students were being picked on, as you drew from the impartial repository of the popsicle stick cup and it wasn’t up to you as the teacher who responded, but instead up to the fates of plastic containers and small pieces of wood.

Similarly, they were great for quickly creating groups and not having to worry about perfectly engineering social dynamics on the fly. In this way, the fates of the popsicle sticks could land you as the teacher with a group that might not be as productive as you’d like, but that risk tended to not be a huge deal as one day’s unproductive grouping would be a thing of the past at the end of the period.

However, in my first few weeks of school this year I hadn’t located any popsicle sticks on campus, and so I went a-Googling for digital alternatives to the popsicle stick and think that I’ve come up with two websites that serve both purposes for which I previously used the popsicle sticks.

The first website (though actually they both are through the same URL – is called the “Random Student Selector” and works pretty much exactly as it sounds. Plop your students’ names into the field…

Random Name Selector

…and then click away.

Random Name Selector – Burl Lescavage

You’ll generally get a good degree of variation in terms of who the Random Name Selector chooses, though unlike popsicle sticks, the website doesn’t remove the person from the pool of names once it has selected them. As a result, you occasionally have to do more clicking than you’d like to get a wide variety of participation from your class.

The other site is the “Random Group Creator,” which is also aptly and self-evidently named. Thus far, I like this one better as it’s much faster (which is a very marginal difference, in all honesty) than organizing groups of popsicle sticks by hand. And even better, if you don’t like the groups it gives you on the first go-round, just refresh the page and you’ll get to try again!

Random Group Creator

This site has some more variability in terms of how it creates groups for you (e.g. do you want balanced numbers? do you want a certain number of groups?), and those features are very straight-forward and easily customized.

Random Group Creator – now with groups full of wacky names!

Now, you might be thinking…isn’t it a huge pain and much more time intensive to type all your students’ names every time you want to use this site? While manually typing all your classes would in fact be a pain, my work-around was to create a Google Spreadsheet with the names of all my students organized by class, so that when I want to use these sites I simply call up that spreadsheet, copy all their names, paste them into the field, and then generate random groups.

You might also be worried about the potential privacy concerns raised by my screenshots of all my students’ names. Well, rest easy because I used yet another “Random” page, the “Random Name Generator,” to come up with the list of hypothetical students and thereby protect the privacy of real students. Nevertheless, I should offer an apology to the real version of any of the people who unwittingly lent their names to this blog post.

My sincerest apologies to:

Bradly Dockum
Lyndsay Deconti
Carin Trusello
Ahmed Buder
Thomasina Tanzman
Mikel Sobeski
Waldo Sierzenga
Jamison Sessin
Kip Sean
Noble Volpa
Hedwig Fanzo
Burl Lescavage
Mikel Hamidi
Bradly Papiernik
Ashely Vence
Brendon Marchionni
Zula Magdalena
Florencio Sietz
Bailey Seckletstewa
Fredric Gacia

Thank you for the use of your personage and I’m sorry to inform you that your names are 82% obscure – especially yours, Hedwig Fanzo.


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