Mild, Medium and Spicy Strategic Grouping

Strategic groupings and appropriate learning activities support student mastery
571 teachers like this strategy
Mild, Medium and Spicy Grouping Overview

About This Strategy

Students need to engage in activities that meet their needs. Strategic grouping using formative data provides a systematic approach for grouping students based on formative assessment data. Based on these groups, a teacher carefully crafts learning activities to address this group's needs. Strategic groupings and differentiated activities enable students to practice skills at an appropriate level.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. Use formative data, benchmark data, and observation data to group your students into three proficiency levels (you can call these mild, medium, and spicy).

  2. Determine the desired outcome of each proficiency level.

    • Will you meet with each group?

    • Will students engage in differentiated work based on their level?

  3. Based on your desired outcome, explain which group students are in and what they will be doing within that group.

  4. Frequently assess to fluidly change these groups

Groups for Differentiating Learning Activities

This is a great way for teachers to strategically group students and provide opportunities of differentiated practice.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Once your students are in strategic groups, create learning activities that align to the needs of each proficiency level

  2. Create clear routines and procedures that enable students the expectations during mild, medium, and spicy

    • Where do students go?

    • How do students know what work to complete

    • How do students advocate for help?

  3. Introduce Mild, Medium, and Spicy to the students

  4. Provide feedback to students and assess students

Groups for Student Choice

This is a great way for students to own the process of picking the most appropriate activity that will meet their individual needs.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Create differentiated activities based on students' levels of proficiency

  2. Introduce the levels of activities (you can call these mild, medium, and spicy)

  3. Explain to students that they will have the opportunity to pick the level that meets their needs.

  4. Create clear routines and procedures that enable students the expectations during mild, medium, and spicy

    • Where do students go?

    • How do students know what work to complete

    • How do students advocate for help?

  5.  Have students engage in the activities. It may be helpful to pause after 5 minutes to ask students to reflect on whether or not they picked the appropriate level. Allow students to switch levels if needed.

    • Is the level you are working on too easy?

    • Is the level you are working on too hard?

    • Check in with students if you think it would be beneficial for them to switch their level.

  6. Ask students to reflect on whether or not they engaged in the right level of work and if it meet their individual needs.

    • You may have a discussion or ask students to complete a written reflection.

Mild, Medium, and Spicy Strategic Grouping For Distance Learning

Kathleen Rockefeller
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Mild, Medium, and Spicy Strategic Grouping provides teachers with a method for strategically grouping students based on formative assessment data during synchronous distance learning sessions.  Once students are grouped, the teacher can assign differentiated activities for each group based on the students' needs. 

Implementation steps:

  1. After conducting a formative assessment, use the data to group students into three groups (mild, medium, or spicy).  

    • The Edutopia article, linked in the resources section below, offers suggestions on how to incorporate formative assessment into distance learning. 

    • Allowing students to complete a formative assessment using the technology tool, Formative, provides the teacher with live student data.  The teacher can immediately use this data to differentiate assignments and/or break students into groups based on the data. The resource, Formative Tutorial, provides a description on how to set up a Formative assessment.  

    • Quizizz is another great tool for conducting formative assessments during synchronous and asynchronous distance learning.  The tutorial linked below, Quizizz Tutorial, provides a description on how to setup Quizizz assessments. 

    • Formative assessments can be completed synchronously or asynchronously.  If students are completing assessments as an asynchronous task, it may be helpful to provide parents or family members with information or expectations on the support they can provide for students during an assessment.  Let the parents/family members know that students should complete a formative assessment independently, and that it is ok if they don't know the answer to every question. Ensure the parents/family members that this provides you with valuable data to better address the student's needs. 

  2. Determine how you will differentiate the assignment or activity based on the mild, medium, or spicy grouping.  Plan how you will differentiate the activity or assignment before the synchronous learning session begins in order to prepare the materials needed for each leveled group.  The Mild, Medium, Spicy Example Choice Board, linked below provides an example of how to differentiate assignments based on the leveled groups.  

  3. Re-teach, monitor and assess student work specific to each group's individual needs.  

    • Utilizing breakout rooms or scheduling separate times for each leveled group to meet synchronously is a great way to re-teach, monitor, and re-assess students in each leveled group. 

  4. Frequently assess students in order to adjust the groups based on the content being taught.  The leveled groups should be fluid based on the students' needs.  

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Mild, Medium and Spicy Strategic Groupings support students with disabilities by providing a structured opportunity to receive differentiated instruction. 

Effective strategic groupings require significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.) skills, written expression skills, reading skills, and/or verbal skills.  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas consider the following modifications:


  1.  Teachers who use strategic groups like mild, medium, and spicy should be mindful of student disability types and needs in addition to formative data when designing groups and activities.  For example, a teacher may create a grouping across different skill levels with activities involving more kinesthetic movement for students who struggle with attention deficits.
  2.  Teachers should thoughtfully plan modifications for any activities planned (see resources below).   A variety of modifications should be considered for each group’s activities, i.e. allow students with disabilities in a group access to read aloud for a text or provide sentence stems to write responses to a text for learners with writing impairments.
  3.  Use visual aids, timers, and verbal reminders to help students with task initiation and task completion in group activities. As an example, a teacher may say, “Now you will have two minutes to finish activity number one in your group packet.  After the timer for two minutes goes off, all groups must move on to activity number two in their group packet.  Please refer to our group work visual at the front of the room for what I will be looking to see when I circulate around the classroom.”

  4.  If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider having one teacher work in a small group of students with disabilities to provide them more modeling and more frequent feedback during their practice.  As an alternative, an additional teacher could also perform an alternative teaching lesson of a specific skill for one of the groups of students.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Using strategic grouping is a great way to provide differentiated instruction for English learners. Learners are able to complete tasks at their pace and level and build academic independence and confidence. 

English learners working in strategic groups are required to listen to, read, and follow directions. Learners may be asked to use all four domains of language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening during each level of activity. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Ensure English learners are grouped appropriately to their skill levels. Keep in mind that while English learners may not have the linguistic tools to express their knowledge, they still may be ready for the spicy level group. Create activities that provide a variety of ways for English learners to express learning including drawing, short phrases, matching words and pictures, multiple-choice, and cloze worksheets. 

  2. Ensure English learners understand all directions for their group before beginning to work e.g., ask for learners to restate directions. If the activities are new to learners, consider previewing or partnering with learners’ language specialist to preview for learners at lower levels of proficiency. (See Resource: Question Stems for Learner Facilitators by Language Level)

  3. Perform 1:1 check-ins with English learners. Use the small group work time to give English learners an opportunity to use their academic language, and teachers a chance to formatively assess content language use and to guide self-reflection. 

  4. Provide English learners with familiar reference sheets such as graphic organizers, word banks, sentence stems, formula sheets, etc., to use as needed during activities. 

  5. Provide comprehensible content in activities that require learners to read-to-learn. Consider providing home language content as available during independent or technology-based activities. When available, home language content can be a powerful tool in developing and progressing skills. (See resource: Research and Bilingual Content Sources for English Learners).


Coach Tips

Kelly Kennefick
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Mild, medium, and spicy is a great foundation for strategic grouping and differentiated practice. Students often enjoy having choices and feel more ownership over their work when given choices. If you want students to have more choices when assigned to a level or picking a level, you may be interested in adding choice within the strategic group activities.

When curating activities for the three proficiency levels, consider using a Choice Board such as the Mild, Medium, and Spicy in a Choice Board or providing two or more activities for each level that students can choose from.

Tech Tools


  • A HyperDoc can be used to provide structure and detail for a self-paced activity where students are assessing at different times. A HyperDoc can be designed from templates or created from scratch using a word processing program. Students can type directly into these documents or use them as a guide for learning a concept or skill

  • Hyperdocs can easily support this strategy by creating 3 pathways for practice time aligned with the mild-medium-spicy levels of mastery pre-defined by the teacher. It also makes it easier for students who choose a path first but feel ready to move to a more or less challenging path, to be given links to quick formative assessments allowing them to determine they need to move up or down a level. It also gives teachers a record of the data from these assessments.


  • Formative allows students to take a digital assessment when they are ready and teachers to track progress and scores live! Assessment can be created based off their library or any of your own assessments. It includes a PDF transformation option so that you don’t have to type up questions and answers inside the tool.

  • This tool makes creation of digital assessments easier. Students can take multiple standard-based assessments using links generated by Formative, and data is tracked inside the tool.