Instructional Strategy: Affinity Diagram

Awhile back I posted a list of instructional strategies I found online. This lesson-planning menu covers many different types of activities, assessments, and projects.

I decided I was going to keep this list in my lesson planning binder and research one every week and try to incorporate it in my class.

The first one on the list is the Affinity Diagram.

A quick search for a definition gives me this: “…a business tool used to organize ideas and data. It is one of the Seven Management and Planning Tools…” (wikipedia.org)

I looked at a few websites and quickly decided how to incorporate this into my lessons. I have posted pictures below with an explanation of how each affinity diagram came to be. I tweaked the process each time and each time, the students surprised me (and themselves) with their understanding.

Preparation is simple. You need post-it notes, butcher paper, and a Sharpie.

The first attempt: (Sorry this one is not as legible)affinity4.jpg

  • Students were rotating through stations one day. One of these stations required students to look at a pile of nonfiction books on the topic of pirates (which we had been reading about).
  • They were asked to write two new facts down – one per post-it note. They put these post-its on the butcher paper.
  • The next day, as we visited the library, students were invited to go to the paper and move the post-its around on the paper into some sort of grouping. Those were the only directions I gave them.
  • Day 3 – We gathered around our large round table and discussed the groupings and students decided on keywords for the headings.

Second attempt:affinity1.jpg

  • Students received three post-it notes and were asked to write down three things they wanted for Christmas.
  • We gathered around the large round table and shared our wish lists, placing each item on the green butcher paper.
  • We then categorized the items into groups which they chose: Electronics, Clothing, Video Games, Shoes, Sporting Goods, Music, and “Girl Stuff.”
  • They were able to take it a step further and divided those categories into smaller groups yet, as you can see in the photograph.

Third attempt:affinity2.jpg

  • Students received 2-3 post-it notes at random. I had already written the words – which included a variety of holiday/winter related words.
  • They shared their post-its and categorized them as a class. (Lots of shouting out and over-riding ideas….I had to put a stop to that.)
  • I chose the words myself for a few reasons: variety, spelling, and time.
  • After we completed the diagram, students made suggestions for additional words to add to each category.

Fourth attempt:affinity3.jpg

  • Again, I passed out post-it notes with what they determined to be “Snacks (Junk Food)”.
  • As you can see our discussion and our categorizing went much further this time. They wanted to get very technical, breaking down the items as far as they could. I didn’t shoot down any suggestions unless they were blatantly wrong (ex. Milk Duds are not fruit-flavored.)
  • Students supplied some additional ideas for each category as well.

The students were really into this activity and it was often hard to contain an excited student with a great idea, as I mentioned above. As I hung the 4th chart on the bulletin board, one student noted how detailed they were this time. “Wow! We keep getting better and better!”

I can see this activity being used in many ways with an endless list of topics. I think it demonstrates a student’s ability to understand a topic and make connections.

Other ways I may try to use affinity diagrams:

  • Exit tickets – “What did you learn?”
  • Pre-reading – “What do you know about…..?”
  • Group discussion and Debate – Groups of students would have the same lists and would have to categorize and then defend their reasons.

How would you use an affinity diagram in your classroom?

Share your ideas with the comment link at the top of this post.

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4 responses

  1. Very interesting! I’ve heard this type of activity called something else (as it exists in the CRISS manual). I love the way you used scaffolded instruction. What wonderful feedback for the kids. Did you show the kids the pictures of their progress and ask how they had improved…what was different in their minds as they sorted?

    LOVE this! Thanks!

    1. We had them hanging up across the back of the room and they noticed how they improved. 🙂

  2. I’ve used this activiy in classes, but I call it “Sticky Note Brainstorming.” Students do enjoy it. Thanks for the reminder–I think I’ll try it again soon.

    1. That’s probably what we actually call it in class too!! Haha!

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