“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler

This is my second and final post on EFFECTIVE GROUP WORK IN THE CLASSROOM and please access the first one here.

Groups work best when they have been together for quite some time. This means students get to know each other and besides the camaraderie created, they become committed and work for each other. Of course there are exceptions but knowing the elements for effective group work can help teachers to build and maintain high-performance teams throughout the duration of the task at hand.

group hand fist bump

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David Ingram identifies FIVE key conditions for teamwork to prosper. Whilst his ideas work well among colleagues at work, I felt the conditions he set up can easily be applied to the classroom IF ONLY, we, as teachers, teach these to our students: These are:

  1. Commitment and Trust . . . Each member must devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to advancing the group’s mission and must be able to trust that all other team members are doing the same.
  2. Communication . . . Effective teams must have open lines of communication. Communication must be honest and flow between all team members equally.
  3. Diversity of Capabilities . . . Take time to ensure that each team member possesses skills and strengths that complement the skills, strengths and weaknesses of other team members.
  4. Adaptability . . . The group must be flexible and adaptable to changing conditions. Team strategies, goals, tasks, workflows and even members can change over the life of the team. Team members should be able to rally together and meet new challenges head-on,
  5. Creative Freedom . . . All team members should feel free to think creatively, that is, to try new things and fail without the fear of consequences.

Some More Types Of Groups

“There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.” – George Shinn

BUZZ GROUPS – These groups involve students engaging in short, informal discussions, often in response to a particular sentence starter or question. At a transitional moment in the class, have students turn to 1-3 neighbours to discuss any difficulties in understanding, answer a prepared question, define or give examples of key concepts, or speculate on what will happen next in the class. The best discussions are those in which students make judgments regarding the relative merits, relevance, or usefulness of an aspect of the lesson.

MICRO LAB – This is a structured small group approach to an issue, question, or problem. This involves only speaking and listening-it is not a time for discussion or dialogue. It means the teacher forms groups of three or four students in small circles. Within each circle, each student has a minute to speak. Designate a volunteer in each group to speak first. Announce when time is up.

MOVING OPINION POLL – The poll is a way to activate students, to gain insight into the possibility that people can disagree without arguing or fighting, that they can listen respectfully to views different from their own, perhaps even change their minds.

Post two large signs on opposite sides of the room: “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.” Tell students they are to participate in a moving opinion poll. Each time students hear a statement they are to move to the place along the imaginary line that most closely reflects their opinion. For strong disagreement, move all the way to one side of the room. For strong agreement, move to the opposite side.

FISH BOWL –  This is an especially good for involving the whole class in one small group discussion when students have very different views on a controversial issue. The teacher begins with a conversation asking five to seven students to make a circle with their chairs in the middle of the room. Try to ensure that the group reflects diverse points of view. Ask everyone else to make a circle of chairs around the fish bowl to create a larger circle around the smaller circle. Only people in the fish bowl can speak.

After 15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger circle to participate in the fish bowl conversation by tapping a fish bowl student on the shoulder and moving into that student’s seat. Continue with additional questions.

ROTATING TRIOS – This strategy involves students discussing issues with many of their fellow classmates in turn. Beforehand, prepare discussion questions. In class, students form trios, with the groups arranged in a large circle or square formation. Give the students a question and suggest that each person takes a turn answering. After a suitable time period, ask the trios to assign a 0, 1, or 2 to each of its members. Then direct the #1s to rotate one trio clockwise, the #2s to rotate two trios clockwise, and the #0s to remain in the same place; the result will be completely new trios. Now introduce a new, slightly more difficult question. Rotate trios and introduce new questions as many times as you would like.

THE BELIEVING GAME – This activity asks students to enter as fully as possible into a point of view that may be unfamiliar or even disagreeable, to suspend judgment and experience it, to look for virtues and strengths that might otherwise be missed.

“Everyone agrees in theory that we can’t judge a new idea or point of view unless we enter into it and try it out, but the practice itself is rare,” writes Peter Elbow.

In their discussions, students are to make only statements that support the viewpoint presented. They are not role-playing, but working to find anything with which they can genuinely agree.

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

PLEASE try some of the suggestions above and see your class achieve more.

I have used most of the group work activities above and my top FOUR best of all time are:

  1. Fish Bowl
  2. Buzz Groups
  3. Moving Opinion Poll
  4. Rotating Trios

Good luck in all your endeavours.




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