I've come to realize that how I organize and prepare my students for productive group work can make or break my lessons. I've always seen the value in grouping students to complete tasks, but during my first years in the classroom I was so busy planning 'what' students would do that I rarely put much thought into 'how' productive they would really be. It wasn't until the past few years that I have really polished my group work routines and I have seen a world of difference in my instruction.
Some general DO's and DON'Ts of Group Work
DON'T just expect your students to peacefully and productively accomplish great things in small groups. Never..gonna..happen! Ok...maybe you have this amazing, sweet, perfect group of kiddos that does everything you ask. If so, stop reading now. The rest of you who teach in the real world, read on.
DO realize that part of our job is to teach students how to work together and be prepared with some strategies that will help them become the best group members they can be.
Here are a few strategies and one "bright idea" that I use to maximize nearly every group-oriented task in my classroom.
A few general suggestions about group work:
- Purposeful Pairing: I almost always deliberately group students for the task at hand. This can be time consuming, but having task-specific groups and a wide variety of grouping options will help keep your groups fresh and focused.
- Text Cures Amnesia: What are we supposed to do? (This is how 90% of middle school group discussions start out by the way.) Despite how perfectly we explained the directions aloud, there are always kids who where not listening or who just struggle to process verbal directions. Whenever possible, I give written directions to outline the task. When I started posting written directions for even the shortest "think-pair-share" discussions, I noticed a big improvement in group productivity.
- Keep it Lively: Use a wide variety of strategies to help teach your students how to be a productive contributors. Here are a few strategies that I find work well in 6th grade:
A-B Discussions: (One student is A, the other B) Student A must talk on the topic for 30 seconds while student B listens. When the timer goes off, student B must talk on the same topic for 30 but is not allowed to say any of the exact same things that person A said. Short...sweet and effective!
Flip Chip: Using bingo or poker chips, students flip chips over to represent their contributions to a group discussion. I put a sticker on one side of each chip and give each student 2-5 chips depending on the complexity of the group task. When everyone in the group has flipped their chips, they can call the teacher over to check in. Although this can seem like a race, it really encourages kids to speak up, help each other and stay on target. (I do however suggest reviewing some basic etiquette rules about interrupting!)
MM's: At the end of a more lengthy group activity, have students secretly vote for the "most memorable" group moment and the person who contributed the idea. (Students are asked not to vote for themselves.) I have students do this on a post-it note where they anonymously write about something great that happened in their group. I keep track of these and have M&Ms for students who are nominated 3x!
This last strategy is my BRIGHT IDEA, since I just started using it regularly and it has been such a game-changer in my classroom!
Involve students in their own time management with
Group Status Boards:
Provide each group with a number. Create a visual description for the group work requirements on the board (see examples in the photos below). Place all group numbers on the first requirement and then instruct students to check in on the board by moving their group number to the next task after each accomplishment. Not only does this keep groups on task, but it gets kids up and moving regularly during a group work activity. In addition, I create a special parking area where groups can move their number if they are in need of teacher support.
Why it works in my classroom...
- This keeps groups FOCUSED, which has always been a struggle with my chatty middle schoolers.
- This strategy helps me keep tabs on every group at the same time.
Sorry for the quality of this cell phone photo of my Promethean Board. For this status board I just posted the document they were using (a lab chart) on the screen and then just added number images. SO easy, since I already had the document up for giving directions earlier in my lesson.
I hope you try a group status board with your class and have as much success as I have!
Please browse the link-up below for more bright ideas from over 100 other teacher-bloggers. There are ideas for all different grade levels and disciplines.
If you are interested in more ideas to help improve your classroom instruction please to follow me at TpT, Facebook or Bloglovin!