Group work in the elementary classroom is more than just kids chit-chatting away. It’s about letting them learn from each other, and get their collaboration on. Collaboration – it’s as essential for 21st Century Learning as PB&J in a lunchbox! But let’s be real, sometimes it can look like a hot mess.
Students don’t connect, the classroom turns chaotic, and some kiddos don’t even know what they’re doing.
But don’t worry, we’re going to reveal the secret to success when it comes to collaboration. I’ve got four tips to take your group work from chaos to classroom magic.
These tips are simple and effective for any constructive group project. Getting your kids to collaborate effectively doesn’t have to be rocket science; let’s simplify it together.
Tip #1: Set Clear Objectives
Know the Destination
Before putting your students in groups, you’ve got to determine the objective. What’s the difference between an objective and a goal? Think of a goal as the big picture and the objective as the step-by-step plan to get there. Make that plan clear as a bell so students know what’s expected.
Guide the Way
You’re the guide, not the dictator. Facilitate those objectives by leading conversations with speaking and listening prompts. Want to tap into those English language arts standards? Give students a shot at being both a listener and a speaker, taking turns practicing.
Time to Reflect
Give your kiddos a minute to think about their plans, ask questions, and get comfortable with what they’re doing before having them share. Build in a few moments for quiet thinking time, and remember, your job is to facilitate, not to instruct.
Start by identifying the common goal. Then, think about the process and what tasks students need to achieve at each stage. Some groups may be further along in the process than others. This is where you get to tailor the objectives to individual group needs.
This gives you an amazing opportunity to use groups to collaborate with one another. Those who are further along may be able to offer insights to those who are just starting.
You can use visual aids like charts or progress trackers so students can see where they are and where they need to go. Make sure to encourage your students while also being flexible and supportive throughout each stage. My favorite progress tracker can be found in this blog post.
These conversation starters guide students in having meaningful conversations with one another. There are 30 cards in this free download. Place them on a binder ring, and keep a set for each group.
Tip #2: Set Expectations for Group Activities
Before we dive into group work and all the collaboration fun, let’s talk about ground rules. Why do we set them? Why not just let the kids dive into the fun and learn as they go?
Well, here’s the scoop: Ground rules are the stepping stones to success. They lay the foundation for effective learning. Think of them as the rules of the road; without them, you’d have chaos, misunderstandings, and a classroom that looks more like a bumper car arena than a learning space.
When students know the rules, they know what’s expected, they feel safe, and they’re all ears. Here’s how I set ground rules and expectations with my class:
The Big Three: Prepping for Teamwork Success
- Be Kind: Explain to your students how to build a teamwork haven; respect’s the name of the game.
- Be Safe: If you’re using equipment, go over safety instructions first.
- Be Responsible: From pencils to ideas, encourage your students to own their stuff and shine.
Discuss these rules, set time limits, volume levels, and expectations. Make them as clear as a sunny day, and watch your group work transform.
Conflict Resolution: The Resolution Roadmap
Group work ain’t always smooth sailing, and that’s where The Resolution Roadmap comes in. But wait, who’s using this roadmap? Your students! That’s right, this ain’t a teacher-led thing; it’s a guide your students can follow like a treasure map to conflict-free collaboration.
Get The Resolution Roadmap for FREE when you subscribe to my weekly newsletters. Click here to download the Teamwork Toolkit!
So, how to teach students to use this roadmap? Make it a class affair. Role-play, discuss scenarios, ask questions, and let them practice with problem and solution scenarios. Once they learn the ropes, watch them navigate the bumps in the road with ease.
Hang The Resolution Roadmap in your classroom, and boom! You’ve got a tool that’s ready when conflicts pop up. Don’t have space for it? Print a copy for each group, so they have it readily available.
With clear expectations, guiding rules, and The Resolution Roadmap, you’re setting the stage for not just awesome group work, but skills that’ll last them a lifetime.
Tip #3: Assign Defined Roles
Putting together a collaborative group is like assembling a superhero team. I highly recommend assigning roles to students so that they each have the opportunity to try a different role. The following are some basic roles for a collaborative group structure:
Tailor these roles based on the objectives of your collaborative groups, or add a new role. It’s all about what your students need.
Now when they’re in groups with defined roles, you can easily help facilitate (not micromanage) your students’ groups. But wait, what’s the difference?
Facilitating vs. Micromanaging
Facilitating is all about guiding the learning process rather than dictating it. When facilitating, you’re setting up the environment, providing the resources, and asking the questions that help students explore and discover on their own. You’re there to support, encourage, and navigate while your students are the ones steering the ship. It’s empowering to them!
Here’s the difference:
Trust them, and watch them rise to the challenge.
Performance Rubric: Making Expectations Clear and Fun
Setting up a performance rubric doesn’t have to be complex. It’s like a map with directions for your students, helping them understand the path they should take to get to the objective and what’s expected of them. Review it when setting ground rules, and watch them take responsibility. Here’s an example you might follow:
This rubric is a game-changer! It’s crystal clear, letting students take charge of their responsibilities, without any room for favoritism or conflict. It’s a straightforward, practical tool that’ll guide your students as they team up and shoot for the stars in group work.
Let’s Take Group Work to the Next Level!
Collaboration can be the peanut butter to your classroom’s jelly. But it’s gotta be done right! With clear expectations, guiding rules, and a toolbox filled with creativity, respect, and fun, your group activities will go from chaos to classroom magic.
Feeling like you need more opportunities for group work? Dive into my STEAM All Year Resource, perfect for those collaborative projects that’ll make your students beg for more. Need to go back to the drawing board with your centers? Don’t sweat it! I’ve got you covered with my guide right here.
Together, we’re setting the stage for not just awesome group work but life skills that’ll last a lifetime. So put your teacher’s cap on! It’s time to make learning the adventure it should be.