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7 Reasons to Collaboratively Group Your Classroom

posted Jan 21, 2013, 1:44 PM by Kate Petty   [ updated Jan 21, 2013, 1:45 PM ]

12. 7 Reasons to Collaboratively Group Your Classroom

WRITTEN BY: KATE PETTY -originally published MAR• 29•12

Collaborative grouping gives students a setting to learn from each other and gives the teacher a break…in many ways.


To prepare for my foray into flipping and project-based learning classes this year, the first thing I did was group the desks in the classroom.  I began with groups of four but I’ve ended up with groups of six.  I’ve found awesome benefits for grouping students!
1.  Peer Interaction/Assistance
Grouping students allows them to talk.  Not just about what their plans are for the weekend but also, and most of the time, to discuss what we are studying.  They hear multiple points of view on the themes we are discussing and feel more comfortable expressing themselves in a small group setting.

Teacher Break: Students who don’t (or won’t) hear instructions won’t ask you to repeat yourself anymore, the students in the group will fill him/her in.  Also, absent students can be brought up-to-speed quietly and efficiently by their group members instead of you.

2.  Bell Ringer Challenges
Each morning my students come in and there are six different challenges/questions on the board.  The questions are usually review questions from some aspect of the current unit, a past unit, or last night’s homework.  It is a first-come, first-get challenge so groups choose a rep and answer the question on the board under the question of their choice or whatever is remaining.  This activity is great as a substitute for pop-quizzes or just reviewing stuff from way earlier in the semester.

Teacher Break: Great formative assessment!  Also, tardies dropped since doing this activity- students want to get to class to get the “easy” questions.

3.  Expert Group Set-Up
I’ve recently really enjoyed creating group expert assignments.  I give a different topic to each group and then they collaborate on a project about the concept.  I then number each group member and create new groups with each person coming from a group that had a different topic- an expert on each topic at each group.  The new groups are usually given some type of assignment in which each group member is looking for his/her topic in the assignment to contribute to some type of analysis.

Teacher Break: You don’t have to teach each concept- it shortens lesson plans and challenges the students to search for the information on their own.

4.  Heads Together and Think/Pair/Share Set Up
When I taught Read 180, I absolutely adored the “Red Routines” that are taught and used to help students with comprehension.  The first, Heads Together, is great for a quick, not-so-deep question to ponder.  Students literally tilt their heads toward each other and help each other figure out the answer to the question.  The second, Think/Pair/Share, is better for a deeper question.  You post the question (either on the board or orally) and ask students to spend a couple minutes answering it independently on a piece of paper.  Then, without whole-group discussion, students discuss their answers with each other and they add to or amend their own answers.  Finally, you initiate whole-group discussion and you will usually get a relevant, thoughtful discussion.

Teacher Break: Students have something to say and they figured out how to say it without help from you.  Also, you have an opportunity to walk around, listen to and guide students when needed.

5.  Grouped For Homework
Anyone who has tried using Google Docs for multiple classes has realized that 60-200 Google Doc assignments waiting in your inbox is overwhelming.  I’ve found that posting a quickwrite on one Google Doc per group and then asking each group member to answer the prompt limits the quantity from 35+ Google Docs to 6 per class.  Also, when you notice someone didn’t do it or if you have a comment for the group, simply adding a comment automatically sends an email to everyone in the group with the message.

Teacher Break:  A new way to establish accountability for the students with you and their group members.  6 online documents to glance over rather than 60+.

6.  Grouped for Collaborative Projects/Essays
This is my favorite part of grouping.  I’ve turned my English class into an inquiry-based/project-based classroom.  All end-of-unit projects are group projects and the collaborative seating allows students to discuss the projects at all time.  If it is an essay, the group has one Google Doc that they use for the outline, essay, and reflection.

Teacher Break: 6 outlines, 6 essays, 6 projects per class, priceless.

7.  Removes the Center of the Classroom

One of the things I keep hammering on this website is for the teacher to remove him/herself from the center of the classroom and take on the role of a guide or mentor instead.  Grouping students this way removes the attention from one point in the classroom.

Teacher Break: A small step to help teachers mentally move out of the center.

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