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Saturday, January 17, 2009

So You Want To Work In Groups………

Teachers are often told, “jazz up your classroom, put your students in groups;” but that advice without proper training can lead to chaos in the classroom. When students work in groups that must have a specific activity to complete, a designated amount of time to complete the activity, and a set assessment they will complete/turn in upon the completion of the activity. Group Activities must be written with step by step instructions so that any group can work independently on their group assignment without assistance from the teacher.
As you devise your activity is it important to development guidelines and procedures (6” voices, 5 seconds to move, etc.) that will be used by all students during the activity. It is important to note that guidelines and procedures for working in-groups must be taught and practiced or they will not be successful. Often enclosing a checklist for the activity is useful so that all students working on a particular phase of the activity can initial it when that phase has been completed. I would also recommend that any group activity used with students be first completed in its entirety by the teacher. This is a great way to work out the bugs in a group activity and eliminate potential problems before they start. All group activities must have roles (specific jobs) for each member in the group to carry out so that all group members are contributing to the success of the group effort. Groups should be devised by the teacher and students should never be allowed to pick their own group members. When students are allowed to select their own groups, they select their friends and friends often do not work well together. When dividing your students into groups you need to make all groups equal in all areas (intelligence, social skills, work ethic). You would no more put all the smartest kids in the same group as you would put all of your behavioral problems in the same group. Many teachers will not utilize groups in their classroom because they are afraid they cannot effectively manage their students. I know with lots of organization you can be successful; so give it a try. Below you will find samples of procedures and roles that I have used effectively over the years.

Procedures and Guidelines For Group Work At a Glance

    • Have a room plan in place (What will the chairs/tables look like?)
    • Teacher selected group members. If you have problems working in groups start with groups of two and work your way up to groups of four. Any group with more than four students is usually not effective.
    • 5-second rule for getting into a group or moving from one segment of the activity to another.
    • Use 6” voices while working in-groups.
    • Have clearly defined roles (see enclosed list) and expectations. Define time frame for all activities. (use an egg timer and enforce the 3 minute warning)
    • Raised hand that means silence and wait for further instructions. Have a materials area and proper procedures for retrieving needed items to complete specific tasks.
    • Assess every group activity. (Examples: written quiz, oral presentation, questioning, roundrobin, roundtable, etc.)
    • Enact the 30 second clean-up. The teacher will tell each previously assigned role what they will clean-up as the teacher counts to 30.


Sample Roles You Can Use:

Leader: This person is in charge of the entire assignment and maintains a list of who has completed which tasks within the group. The leader will be held accountable for its completion in the allotted time frame. Also, it is the leader’s responsibility to remind students that an incomplete task list will negatively affect their grade.

Writer: This person takes all notes, fills out forms, and writes for the groups if necessary.

Presenter: This person gives all class presentations.

Materials Organizer: This person obtains all supplies and organizes them for use. They are the only student allowed out of their seat during group assignments. If visuals are being presented the Materials Organizer would secure them to the wall after the presentation.

Attention Getter: Often in group work the teacher will be checking at different intervals to see if work is completed or a group may run into trouble and need teacher assistance. The Attention Getter is the only one who can raise their hand in a group if one has been appointed.

The above roles are the ones I used in my classroom. I often had to merge roles if I needed more roles than I had group members. Please add roles you have used in your classroom in the comment section below and I will increase the list in an effort to help other teachers.


For more Classroom Management Tips go to the Classroom Management Tips Page.

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