Having kids and young adults working in groups (and partners) is just part of everyday life as as teacher. It can feel wonderful when you see a small group of kids collaborating effectively and learning together about a new topic. It’s true that many kids really learn best from each other when compared to learning from a teacher at the front of the classroom. On the flip side, though, sometimes setting up groupings in your classroom can be a nightmare. Whether or not the groups work well can have a huge impact on your classroom management, lesson, and the entire flow of the classroom.
Here are some simple tips that teachers can implement in their classrooms to support and facilitate cooperative partners and groups.
Tips for Teachers During Group Work
1. Choose the groups ahead of time. It might be tempting to let kids pick their own partners, especially since it is quicker and easier on the teacher. Most of the time, this doesn’t work out nearly as effectively as teacher-chosen groupings. Spend the extra time up front to pick your groups and it will pay off ten fold. Ahead of time, you can make a list of a few possible groupings that work. Keep this as your backup if you forget to make groups ahead of time.
2. Give directions in many different ways. Once it is time to get started in a group, there are always a few kids who didn’t hear the directions and aren’t sure what to do. This can really create mayhem in group situations. Set up a routine with having directions written on the board, written on paper, said aloud, and/or listed on your website. Give kids multiple opportunities to go back to those directions without needing you right there in order to promote independence.
3. Teach skills for working in groups. Don’t assume that all kids know and understand how to work cooperatively in groups. Many don’t. Spend time teaching how to work effectively with partners and in small groups. Giving some “group ground rules” can save the day (and year).
4. Identify the kids who need stronger supports. Some students will need extra attention during partner and group time, such as reminder cards, frequent check-ins, or a checklist to keep themselves on track.
5. Give choice and differentiation in your group work. Provide choice and supports so that all kids have the opportunity to find success. Perhaps a student who struggles with writing doesn’t write the paper but draws for the group. You may also choose to have different groups doing different things. Give a lower level reading passage to those who have similar reading skills, for example. As long as each group is working and making progress, it’s okay if they get to their learning goal in different ways.
6. Modify assignments for students with special needs. Assignments that are just too challenging for kids with disabilities are a recipe for disaster when it comes to group work. Again, make sure that every student has a way to find success. Modifying each assignment specific to student needs is a way to reach that goal. Consider learning more about how to modify for students with special needs.
If you need more support in helping kids learn how to work effectively in groups, consider this Working With Others Workbook. Using this workbook, a teacher or specialist can work with a small or large group of kids to develop those cooperative learning skills necessary for success. The workbook is set up to be completed in order, with skills that build on each other. For example, kids will first learn and understand why it’s important to work effectively with others, understand how to be a responsible partner, and then even identify problem behaviors they might exhibit when working in groups.
When it comes to learning to work together, lots of guided practice will make the difference. Not only is group work is often something that kids really love, but a time when lots of student to student learning occurs. It will be worth the effort in the end!