It’s March – Spring break is on the horizon. Half of the school year is over. You’ve conquered January and February at full throttle. It wasn’t easy! Students had to relearn some skills and procedures. You had to get back into the swing of things yourself! With numerous new projects from field trips to standardized testing preparation.
Now that you’re in a place of feeling prepared, it’s time to shake things up. Yes - new student groupings!
Try out new structures for a creative and more culminating application of skills. Collaboration in the classroom is proven to help students achieve higher grades, learn at a deeper level, retain information longer, and improve communication and teamwork skills (Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne, 2000). Compared to traditional methods, the effective implementation of student groups requires more consistent norms and on-point planning and pacing.
Here are some basic groups you can test out in your classroom:
Turn and Talks
Teachers use this handy tool on a daily basis. Students are asked to “turn” to their shoulder partner and “talk” about the question or topic at hand.
When setting this up, make sure you put structures in place, so both students get to talk. For example, specify that the partner on the right will share their response first, and then the partner on the left must respond. Give time limits, so students are on task and feel the urgency of the activity. Use this time to monitor them and utilize the turn and talk to inform class discussion.
Small and whole group readings can get boring. Partner reading mixes things up and helps students become more independent, asking their peers questions rather than their teacher. Partner reading is flexible for a variety of skills and tasks, and you can choose to either aggressively monitor or work with a small group at this time.
To scaffold this process and allow equal participation, have one student read while the other annotates to answer a focus question provided by the teacher, such as “How does Poe use a variety of sentence types to develop a theme?” After a checkpoint of a few minutes or a page, switch roles until they finish.
This technique is very student-led after the teacher arranges the groups. Each student is assigned a different reading or piece of information (4-5 readings at most).
First, those with the same reading work together and master their topic. Next, students are scrambled to create groups with one person from each reading. Each student has a piece of the puzzle, and the group shares their findings in a graphic organizer, group discussion, or culminating visual project.
Jigsaws can be done with any content area, such as primary documents for social studies or competing theories for science.
Same and Mixed Level Skill Groups
Play with groups students by skill level and mixing them up. Same-skill groups are great for differentiation. Designing small groups based on reading level or skill level provides an opportunity to use a more diverse array of readings and activities.
Mixed-level groups allow students with different strengths to work together. This structure works well for group projects and any activity that requires multiple skills and parts. If you are keen on using a variety of roles, you can assign a couple of students to circulate the room and score each group on their teamwork based on a rubric. These students could then share out what they noticed worked well and where we may need to improve as a class.
Try out one or two new groupings – you’ll be surprised how this small tweak in your daily activities can invigorate students. Though they’ll take more management at first, groupings also allow students to become more independent thinkers as they share their thoughts and ideas with peers. No matter how it is done (and regardless of trial and error) group work helps students prepare for the real world.
Amanda Amanullah is a 7th grade English teacher. Her inspiration comes from her journey in becoming a better reader and writer. Through teaching, she wants to help others discover and pursue their strengths and interests, making an impact in their communities and beyond. She would be remiss not to mention that the most interesting poetry she's ever read was written by her 4th-grade students in Philadelphia - quoting Robert Frost in a rap never looked so good.