When I first began to have students work in groups I gave it up immediately. Like literally, gave it up during the first activity I ever tried. As a new teacher I felt like half of the students were not paying attention to the task, kids were arguing, there was noise and chaos and I didn’t know what to do except abandon it. Luckily there was an instructional coach who came in and modeled what group work can look like…and then I could see the benefits. For a long time I was afraid of math talk because I felt like I was losing control of the class. I also had my own learning preference, that I personally like to work alone. I felt uncomfortable forcing students to work in a group. But having a balance in the classroom and teaching them those skills is SO important. I noticed that with practice every year, students became more comfortable and more accountable to the task they were asked to do.
Here are 5 things you can do to make group work really amazing:
- The Classic T-Chart: Have the students work in a group, share out what and record it on a t-chart. DEFINITELY do this together as a group. The ideas should come from them, then they’ll own it.
- The Role Model: Find a role model group and point it out. The best thing ever is to get the groups going, and then stop the whole class about 30-60 seconds in after you find one that is working really well. Point out the behaviors of the group and praise them: heads together, everyone is engaged, all hands on deck, they are clearly invested.
- The One Person Share: (THIS IS MY FAVORITE!) Tell the students ahead of time you are going to ask ONE student to explain the thinking for the group as you walk around. Do not tell them which student. In your mind choose a student from each group that you KNOW struggles to explain their thinking, or who might often check out. When you get to the group, do not allow others to talk when you approach that student. If the student cannot explain, tell the rest of the group members that their job is to ask questions and help until the student can explain. Tell them you’ll come back. The rest of the group will bring them up! Keep returning until that student can explain more about the task. It’s an AMAZING strategy.
- The Fishbowl: Try a fishbowl activity when students are getting lazy! They love to watch each other and learn what is expected. Read about how to do that here.
- The Task: Last, have naturally engaging activities for them to try that encourage math talk. Reasoning Puzzles(try them free!), games (like Sink that Ship), Equality Elimination (my newest kind of puzzle) or consider trying some deep tasks from YouCubed! An engaging task takes care of most of the group work problems right from the start.