Engaging students in collaborative discourse is critical to sense-making activities. In fact, most of the eight Science and Engineering Practices require students to act in a social context to fully engage in the practice. However, using collaborative groups effectively can be daunting and is not necessarily a simple task. This guide will help develop our Collaborative Groups Toolbox with some critical strategies for success.
One key understanding for successful groups is knowing the Five Key Aspects (see also below). Having this tool, teachers can plan for each of those aspects whenever they structure collaborative groups and ensure groups are interdependent, have a group goal, individuals are also accountable, and students have been taught the social skills necessary. For more details peruse the article from ASCD titled “Making Cooperative Learning Powerful.” and “Not Just Group Work - Productive Group Work!”
Another set of key foundational tools when planning for collaborative groups are setting classroom routines and norms. Ensuring students understand the parameters around things like voice level and how to get materials and supplies starts students off on the right foot. Developing classroom norms works together with teaching social skills. In the beginning of the year, the teacher will want to work together with students to develop a set of classroom norms. Here are some examples:
This will go hand in hand with teaching social skills such as these examples show. Some teachers also find it very helpful to assign student roles within groups as well. When teaching the social skills, and in assigning grades to group work, a good rubric will come in handy, such as these for grade K-2 and 3-5 and also this student friendly rubric. And finally having some good techniques to keep students on track with things such as noise level are very helpful such as described in “Productive Group Work: The First 20 Days”
With the classroom structured for success, and all 5 aspects of collaborative groups accounted for in the lesson, teachers are ready to consider some different structures. There are many ways to engage students in group work and often some go-to structures can be helpful. Here are some illustrations some helpful structures: