Yes, the struggle is real. Many teachers want their students to work together and this is a MUST for 21st Century Skills and Workforce Readiness. Here are the TOP 5 reasons teachers said are challenges with student teams:
- A student says they cannot work with another student
- One student does all the work
- One student did not do any work
- A student is bossy and takes over
- A student feels left out or unheard
Does this sound like something you have experienced? If so, then there are a number of things you can do to address these concerns. Although the word group and team are similar, there is a vast difference of what it means to work as a team. And this doesn’t happen without specific things in place.
Groups or group work is simply putting students together and giving them a task. While, teamwork means purposely providing equal opportunity for students to be successful. So, how do you do this? You have to teach students how to be a team, function as a team, how to resolve conflict and come to consensus. These are not easy skills for adults so it takes time and needs to be explicitly taught.
#1 Teams of Four is the Magic Number:
Aside from students working in pairs, a team should be a group of four. Once you get much larger than this is can be less manageable for teams and harder for a team to function. Also, with a team of four each person has two partners (face partner and shoulder partner) they can work with. I know from experience this is not always possible as our class size is out of our control. So if you have one less, then do a group of three and one more then a group of 5.
Forming teams is also something you have control of and can be a huge management tool. I would recommend purposely grouping your students heterogeneously (high sits next to low medium and low sits with high medium, but a high is never across from the lowest). I would also give them a number and letter. I love Kagan’s method the best. Where you have person 1A, 2B, 3A, and 4B.
Why? You can call on any team member by number to share, assign roles easily, and provide structure and routines. But sometimes you might want to allow students to choose their team or randomly form a team for an activity and that is fine to. But for overall seating arrangements I would purposely select teams and have teams work together for about 6 weeks.
Alright, now you have your teams created. But they are not ready to function as a team. You need to do some “FUN” non-academic team building. It needs to be fun because you want them to get to know their teams and enjoy it. These could be as simple as Get To Know You Questions Cards. With these cards you can do many different types of team building. For example, the cards are placed in the center of the table and each team member takes turns drawing a card and then they take turns giving their responses in a round robin. Additionally, teams can design a team name based on their favorite activities or design how they would spend one million dollars. No matter what you choose you should make it fun and structure it so everyone is involved. I recommend that when your form new teams to make sure you start with a team building activity. Then continue to do this at least once per week. Believe me, while time in our classes is precious, this simple act of about 5-10 minutes per week will help your teams thrive.
#3 Team Roles
Team roles are very important. They don’t have to stay the same each day or be the same team member each day. I often tell my teams who is doing what by number, but when teams are functioning well you can also let them choose. This could be: person 1 gets materials, person 2 reads the directions, person 3 keeps track of time, and 4 keeps everyone on task. It might also be that only 3 can cut the paper, 2 can write, 1 can glue, and 4 can tape.
Use roles however works best for the activity you want students to do. Anytime you are having students work together and they know they are responsible for something they rise to the occasion and feel wanted and needed. No matter the role, however, if students are completing an academic task I make sure they all know that they have to complete their paper or work. There are only a few exceptions to this when doing a practice activity where they share a paper or the activity doesn’t require this.
#4 Building Social Skills and Accountable Talk
Taking the time to work on social skills will save you a lot of management problems. We have all heard, “That’s stupid” or “Your wrong.” Avoid these comments by teaching students social skills and accountable talk. Social skills mean students being able to take turns, listen, share appropriately and be thoughtful. Accountable talk helps provide the language to accomplish this. To the right is my TOP 6 Stems I teach students immediatly.
Plan small activities where students have to take turns to share ideas, discuss a topic or brainstorm. Provide them with accountable talk sentence stems to hold their conversations. Model this with your students and have them work together on small tasks to practice. When working together have students have these in front of them on their desks and post them in your classroom Some accountable talk stems for nearly almost situation include those to agree, share, build on an idea, disagree, clarify, challenge, ask a question. Start small with some key phrases and then build on them.
#5 Individual Accountability Through Structures
There are a variety of team structures you can use to support learning. Many teachers have heard of a Pair-Share. But there are many more you can use from Round Robins, Fan-N-Pick, Numbered Heads Together, etc. Choosing the right structure depends on the task. By providing structure your students will know how to work together. For example, if students were brainstorming possible classroom rules or sharing what they know about space they could do a structure called All Write Round Robin in their notebook and if you use Thinking Maps you might have them do this on a Circle Map. You will tell them what student is starting and which direction to rotate. In an All Write Round Robin students take turns sharing an idea on something and everyone writes it down. Then the next person goes and it keeps going around until you call time. To learn more about various structures you can use with students here are some great videos that I have used to support teachers by Dr. Optimistic on YouTube: https://youtu.be/x5jLuRnqHBs. Just click on the name and you should see a list of 11 videos with cooperative learning structures.
While having students work in teams may feel like a challenge, with a few small tweaks and time upfront, you can turn any class into functioning teams! Each of the parts are important, so start small. What I mean by this is, keep it simple. Get your students in teams, make some basic roles to start, have accountable talk stems ready and pick a simple structure for students to use.
And to help get you started I created a Teambuilder just for you. Click on the image and GET YOUR FREE TEAMBUILDING ACTIVITY!!