The bottom line for working together in the classroom | Mentoring in the Middle

The bottom line for working together in the classroom

I hate making seating charts.  It's. My. Least. Favorite. Thing. To. Do.
I hate it even more than reading and grading common unit assessments.

I think I have my 6th graders figured out:
A look at creating student groups.  Hands together to form a group.
  • who gets along with whom
  • who works well with someone else
  • space the squirrely kids out so they don't distract each other
  • this kid can handle sitting next to that one - but not for too long  
  • these two are like oil and water
And then I discover that two kids who were friends last week aren't talking to each other now.  Or, that those two that I separated can see each other, and are making faces across the room.

But, when it comes to collaborative groups....that's a whole other story.  In my classroom, collaborative groups need to work together relatively smoothly, often for a longer period of time, and sometimes with an end product in mind.  If you think of the four C's, they have to be able to: communicate, think critically, be creative, and collaborate.

Here's a look at four ways that you can put students into groups.  I use them all, but for larger projects, I have a favorite.

They Choose

    A look at creating student groups.  Some kids feel left out.
  • They like the people they're working with
  • They have more enthusiasm about working together
  • They don't always make good choices
  • Some students feel left out
  • A group that wants to include all their friends, but that means being bigger than what you said
  • One student will claim he or she wants to work alone

You Choose

  • You can pair up students who should work together
  • A couple of hard-working students can pull a more reluctant student in
  • There's less likely to be a group that you roll your eyes about
  • You have to be careful that you aren't making stronger students caretakers of weaker ones
  • Students can be angry about the group they're in
  • There might be less initial collaboration if they haven't gotten to a place of agreement

Random Choice

  • It doesn't take a lot of planning.  A deck of cards, paint chips, having kids count off, lining up by height or birthdays, there are a number of fun ways to do this.
  • Students know that who they work with is up to chance
  • Finding their partners can be a movement-filled activity.  Even better when you make them find their group-mates without talking!
  • Students might be unhappy about the group they're working with
  • If you have one or more students goofing around, the others can get frustrated
  • There's less incentive within the group to pull in a student who's less inclined to join in

Limited input choices

Since I've never taught below sixth grade, I don't know if it would work as well in the lower grades, but I find my sixth grade students to be very honest.  And when I acknowledge some of their choices, they feel like I've heard them.

  1. Give students an index card and ask them to draw a line down the middle.  On one side, they put a plus sign and on the other, a minus sign.
  2. They list anyone in the classroom that they know would be a good choice for them to work with, and also anyone they know would pull them off-task.
  3. Take the cards and form groups.
While it sounds complicated, it really isn't.  You see patterns of kids almost right away.
  • kids who know they work well together
  • those students who will work with anyone
  • those who know who they need to stay away from 
And they're honest!  They might put their best friend as someone they shouldn't work with.  I try to honor that.  And they're inclusive.  This is a safer way for them to choose.

I hope I've given you some food for thought!  If you have other ways that you create groups, share, share, share.  There's room for all of us to learn from each other!

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