Tips for Teaching Combined Class/Multi-Grade Classes

If you’re teaching a split class (multi-grade or combined class) and need advice on classroom management and organization, you’ve come to the right place! You’ll find practical tips from teachers who have taught in multi-level classrooms and combined classes at all different grade levels.

Tips and tricks from teachers in combined class schools

Tips for Teaching Combined Class/Multi-Grade Classes

I’ve invited teacher-blogger Mary Mueller of Guided-Math to share more about her experience with teaching split classrooms. Thank you, Mary, for the helping tips!

Did you just find out you are teaching a split/combination/multi-age classroom? Are you in a bit of a panic mode trying to figure out how on earth you are going to handle two (sometimes more) grade levels at once?

Ten years ago, my teaching career began in a split classroom in a very large school district in Illinois. First of all, I can’t believe that I just wrote ten years! Secondly, now that I am counting, I can’t believe that seven of those years have been in combination classrooms! All of those questions and panic moments went through my head with the news of my first assignment. Back then, I never knew that first year, in a 1/2 split, would set me on a path of more split classrooms and would help positively shape who I am as a teacher today.

In the beginning, I saw combination teaching as a welcome challenge. This was a challenge that I was not going fail at. I was always looking at what I did and figuring out how I could make the structure better for both my students and I.

Throughout my years in 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 splits and three years in 4th grade, I realized that split teaching is really no different than a straight classroom. I found that I did not change how I taught or how I structured my day in a split classroom than I did for my straight grade.

Here are some things to think about when planning your combination classroom.

1. Talk to your administrator to find out what is required of you. Do you have to teach two separate curriculums? What subjects can you combine? How can your teammates support you?

2. Think of your class as a range of abilities rather than two different grade levels. The reality is a straight grade can have just a big of an ability spread as a combination classroom.

3. I recommend a balanced literacy format. Teach reading and writing lessons as a whole group, and then break up into small groups for guided reading or individual conferences. This is where you will meet the needs of your students.

4. Typically you will have to teach two separate math curriculums. I highly suggest you look at the Guided Math format. This will solve how to teach two math curriculums and gives you a chance to individualize math instruction.

5. Be prepared before the school year begins with information for parents. When those class lists go up, you are bound to have questions from parents. Being prepared to show them how you are going to effectively handle two grades will ease their fears. Create a brochure or newsletter with your teaching schedule, what curriculum you are going to cover, and details how you are going to meet the needs of your students.

6. Stay positive!! Get in the mindset that this is going to be a great experience, not just for the students but you as well!

Good luck with your combination classroom teaching assignment! I know that you can and will succeed! For more information and to read more about how I structure my math or multi-age classroom check out my website, Guided-Math.

Questions about split classes and multi-grade slasses

The following questions were submitted to me as part of the Ask Angela Anything blog post series. You can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’m including the two questions below here on this page instead of in the column to make it easier for teachers of combined classes to find answers all in one place.

I  am teaching a 2nd/3rd grade split. I’ve heard to call one level the juniors and the other level the seniors. My gut tells me not to start day one saying my 2nds or my 3rds but is it inevitable? What’s the best way to manage the classroom to create a team yet honor their grade levels? I don’t want any of my third graders to feel like they are still in second. 

Hi, Jane! There will be times when you need to refer to them by grade levels, and at those times, personally, I would call them second graders and third graders. But you can also let each grade level choose a name for themselves that reflects their unique identity as a class within a class. It can be part of your first week of school activities, kind of like some teachers do with reading groups. I think that would be a nice way to build a sense of community and give kids ownership over the classroom. They could also create a class name so they have one cohesive identity, too. For example, your whole class could be the whales, and your second graders could be the orcas and the third graders could be the belugas. Tell the kids about your dilemma on what to call them, and ask for their input! I bet they’ll come up with something way better than either of us could think of.

Tips for Teaching Combined Class/Multi-Grade Classes

I have applied for a job in a combined 4/5 classroom and I have a good chance that I will get an interview. I don’t have any experience in multi-level rooms, I don’t even know what kinds of questions to ask, and, although I can see how the Cornerstone book could be a help with this type of classroom, is there anything that your book does not mention to help me organize for this type of room?

I would imagine that the 4th and 5th graders would work together on many assignments; you’d be able to differentiate your instruction and activities by ability level and not just grade level. This would probably be the way the principal would like it, judging by what I see in recent educational trends. If you would teach that way, then it would probably be helpful–in preparation for the interview–to come up with a few specific examples of how you would do this. In terms of organizing, you may need to keep some things separate (maybe different bins for them to turn in their papers, etc.) but for the most part I don’t think the grade level split would change much about the room layout.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sibyl June 3, 2013 at 12:14 am

Thank you for this! I just got hired to teach K-3 this school year . This is also my first year of teaching. I will make this website my homepage! :)


2 Dana June 13, 2016 at 4:44 pm

I just got hired in a K-3 classroom and this is my first year as well! Do you have any tips for starting out?

Thank you!


3 Ashley July 9, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Hi! I am getting ready to interview for a K/1 classroom. Just wondering if you had any helpful suggestions or any interview tips?


4 Angela Watson July 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm
5 Amanda Carrasco July 28, 2015 at 10:37 am

Hi! I am going into my 9th year in a multigrade classroom (2nd and 3rd this year) and i love it! I was just wondering how you write your lesson plans. Any tips or visual references would be much appreciated!


6 Claudia September 14, 2015 at 4:39 pm

I have a question. Is it worth to retain a student from grade level when the yearly classes are multi-grade level? Thank You.


7 Michelle September 26, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Hi, I have a question I just went on an interview to teach a multi grade class and was called back to do a demo lesson. What do you think is an appropriate lesson to do for a 2-3 class? It is the second week of school so I don’t want to make it too elaborate.
Thank you


8 Mrs. Lopez May 17, 2016 at 11:46 am

Hi, I am curious about how your demo lesson went? What did you present to the team?



9 Alexis October 22, 2015 at 12:50 am

This article is very informative, but I do have a question.
How can I teach a combined class with two distinctly different age groups?
Well, I’m a chess instructor for a small organisation within a school and I have regularly have new student joining, so they need to start from the very beginning of the curriculum. One of my groups has students from Grade 3-6, and the other from 16-18. I cannot move dates around and set classes for each group, so I’m left with two groups of students who think, act and interpret information differently. I do not have any other assistance at the moment, even though I am looking. Is there anything that I can do to create a better learning environment and effectively teach both groups?


10 Angela Watson October 24, 2015 at 4:24 pm

I’d imagine this would need to work a bit like the old one-room school houses: have the older students teach the younger students sometimes (there’s no better way to solidify your understanding of something than to teach it to someone else), and have the younger students do independent work while you teach the older students, then switch, so that each group has the opportunity to learn directly from you and then practice independently/with a partner.


11 Carol November 19, 2015 at 4:41 am

This is my first teaching and I have 3 grade bands grades 4-9 as an intervention specialist. Do you have any suggestions on how to meet all the standards and individual goals?


12 Robert November 22, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Hi, I am now in a K-9 classroom. Yes a one room school. I have an assistant to help with the K-2’s. I am pulling my hair out. I dream of a two grade split. How do I survive this?


13 Buena Kaylor April 20, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Our school is going to have 3 multi-grade classes next year. (1-2, 3-4 & 5-6) Our biggest question is which students should be in these classes. Suggestions are-high first grade and low second grade (I think this is the worst choice!), high first and high second, and forget high-low and choose students that can work independently and follow directions.
There may be other ways that we haven’t thought of…. (I use first/second…but you could substitute third/fourth or fifth/sixth.)
What are your suggestions?



14 Mrs. Lopez May 17, 2016 at 11:42 am

Thank you for this information! I just got hired to teach a split 3/4 grade and will also be my first year teaching! Although I am very nervous, I am also trying to keep a positive mindset and make it a good experience. : )


15 Georgia May 17, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Hi, Our community is starting a school and I think I will need to combine a few of the grades to maximize the space and resources. From your professional experience, what grades would you say go best together? 3/4 or 4/5 or 5/6? Would it be too much too have 3/4, 5/6, and 7/8?


16 Angela Watson May 19, 2016 at 7:01 am

3/4, 5/6, and 7/8 sound like workable combinations. Many schools do it that way.


17 Mary May 17, 2016 at 11:59 pm

I’m teaching 2/3 class next year. Do you suggest sething up the desks by grade levels or mixing the classes up?
Also, do you have any ideas for math and reading centers and how to organize them?


18 Lee June 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm

We are a small private school that has only one 3rd grade student enrolled for this coming school year. We are trying to keep the family, but we are unsure as to how to handle the situation. Multi-age with either 2nd or 4th would make sense if there was more than one student. Any thoughts on how to accommodate this student?


19 Beth Moore June 24, 2016 at 11:29 pm

I was curious if anyone had a scope and sequence, pacing guide, or curriculum map for grades 4/5. I live in Indiana but would be willing to see anything at this point…


20 Desarae July 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Hi There.

I have to teach Grade 4/5, 6/7 and 7/8 Health. All the grades have different but similar topics; should I combine both topics? Should I teach the younger grades the older grade’s topics?


21 Krystal August 4, 2016 at 10:18 pm

I was just hired to teach EBD at a new school (this is my third year of teaching, but first year teaching science). One of my classes is 7/8 science. The pacing guides have the students starting off on two completely different topics. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can effectively teach both groups of students two different unit topics in the same class period? Thanks!


22 Mrs Ferris September 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I am to teach a grade 3, 4, 5 split this year with some 3s learning to read or their sounds. 9 children have individual programs and there are 25 in the class. I’m looking for advice on planning and how to balance and meet various needs with such a large curriculum to cover.
Thnak you!


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