Pairwork calculator

Yvonne Beaudry, Sakuragaoka Junior-Senior High School


Quick guide

  • Keywords:Pairwork, classroom management
  • Learner English level:All
  • Learner maturity level:Upper elementary school to adult
  • Preparation time:10 minutes
  • Activity time: 3 minutes
  • Materials:Student name list


This tool allows students to form pairs quickly and easily, and to work with a variety of partners. Pairwork Calculator is based on “Round the Clock Learning Buddies” as demonstrated by Dr. Michael Bostwick of Katoh Gakuen High School. In the original activity, students record their own partners on a clock-like graphic. Although the method is simple, it does require everyone to follow a precise procedure. Teaching high school, I found that some students signed their friends up several times under name, nickname, and surname, and left other classmates out of the process entirely. The following ‘Pairwork Calculator’ seeks to address these problems while maintaining the advantages of the original.


Step 1:Make a chart with student names in the first column and top row. The names must be the same order in row and column (see Appendix).

Step 2:Number the cells in the leftmost column from the bottom left cell (which becomes number 1), upwards till half the students here have numbers.

Step 3:For the next column, start in the second cell from the bottom (which becomes number 1), and put numbers in the same number of cells as in the previous column, upwards. When the numbers reach the top of the table, continue in the bottom cell of the same column, always numbering just half the students.

From this point the procedure for classes with odd and even number of students differs:

For classes with an even number of students(see Appendix figure 1):

Colour the cells black where the same name intersects with itself (This will be a diagonal line from the top left cell the bottom right). Looking at the bottom right cell in Figure 1, you can see that Sayid now has no number 2. The other student who does not have a number 2 is Eko. Put a 2 in the cells at the intersections of Sayid and Eko (remember that there are two of these intersections). Do the same for Kate and Des, neither of whom have a number 4.

For classes with an odd number of students(see Appendix figure 2):

Mark the cells where the same name intersects with itself in some way, perhaps by using a different font or colour or by adding a symbol before the number. If a student has the number in this special cell, they join a pair to make a group of three. I let my students choose which pair to work with unless I know they will make an unproductive choice. Managing the odd numbers in this way ensures that it is not always the same unpopular student or group of friends who are working in a triad.


Step 1:Give one copy of the chart to each student.

Step 2:Have the students highlight the row and column with their name and tape thechart in their textbook.

Step 3:At the beginning of class call out a number or write the “number of the day” on the whiteboard. You can cycle through the numbers in order or call them randomly.

Step 4:Students check the board as they come in and sit with their partner.


For very large classes you might want to make several charts of 15-20 names each. You can maximize pair variation by using a high number (15 in a class of 30) or maximize pair familiarity by using a low number (5 or 6). For variety, change the order of the names, for example sequencing by given name in one semester and surname in the next.

Unlike methods where students create their own unique pair list, all students and the teachers have the same information. This can be helpful if your class needs highbehaviourmanagement. In a class where students do not know each other, you will need to allow more time for finding partners at the beginning of the semester and may want to use a smaller number of partners.


Saphier, J. and  Haley, M. (1993). Summarizers: Activity Structures to Support Integration and Retention of New Learning. Research for Better Teaching: Massachusetts.

Appendix: Figures 1 and 2

Available below.