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How to set up Cooperative Learning Groups in your Elementary Classroom

Nadia Distel is the author of the New Teachers Kit - a complete set of printable, editable classroom resources and teaching strategies, designed with the newly qualified teacher in mind.  Don't reinvent the wheel - work smart, not hard, with the New Teachers Kit!  Visit http://www.newteacherskit.com/ today.


As teachers know, demands are placed on educators today to individualize their programs to student needs.  For me in my first years of teaching, this was an extremely daunting task.  Initially, I was afraid I would need to write each student an individual education profile, but with experience I realized that this was working ‘hard’ but not ‘smart’.  In order to stretch the more capable learners, and nurture those less capable, I found it best to set up five heterogeneous cooperative learning groups in my classroom.

Setting up these groups is great for a variety of reasons.  The most capable group member is the ‘team leader’ and so is the students’ first port of call if they don’t know what to do during group time.  This benefits you, as you don’t have all your students demanding your attention when they have silly questions (one of my pet hates!).  Additionally, it stretches the more capable student because they’re required to demonstrate the depth of their understanding of your topic of focus by explaining it to others.  This can be a real challenge, particularly if the ‘less capable student’ in your group is far less capable!

The less capable student benefits from the instruction and support of their team, and those ‘in the middle’ so to speak are able to have concepts constantly reinforced and challenged by these interactions.  Within these groups, I usually try to balance gender and temperament also.  After all, a highly academic child will not necessarily be a ‘team leader’.  The student you choose as the team leader does not need to be static for the whole year either – you may find that rotating the ‘team leader’ position to students is a motivating way for them to learn to take responsibility for the workings of their team.  The team leader has other important roles in the group, including setting up rotation stations, reporting to the teacher on how their group has progressed, etc.

For manageability and ‘child friendliness’, I call each group the name of a jungle animal.  However, if you are working with older students, they might like to name their groups after a favorite actor or sporting hero!  This can be very motivating to students.  I have included the jungle animal signs I created for display in my class room below for you to print, laminate and use, and these can be easily adapted to suit the group name of your students’ choice, should you decide to give them this input.

Every week these groups participate in a block of what we call ‘Rotations’.  It’s a simple way to plan, takes the ‘what am I doing’ out of each morning, and establishes a routine that children feel comfortable with, and so moulds their behavior.

As there are five groups (lions, monkeys, leopards, elephants and giraffes, or whatever group names your students have chosen), there are also five activities set up in the room, and children complete one activity during each morning session.  I plan my morning sessions for 45 minutes, as that is the time I expect students will be able to remain ‘on task’ without my direct supervision.

I cover all areas of the curriculum in these rotations in an integrated way.  Usually, the five rotation stations will consist of:

1.       Language – guided writing (usually guided by me, or a parent or classroom assistant)

2.       Language – game or independent writing

3.       Math – game directed by team leader

4.       Math – consolidatory worksheet of concept covered

5.       Theme – something to do with the theme we’re covering that term

I spend approximately 20 minutes on Monday mornings explaining the rotations for the week.  This includes explaining the rules of any games that will be used to the whole class, and behavioral expectations. 

I have used rotations such as these very successfully in the upper primary classroom as well.  Students thrive on the independent nature of their workArticle Search, particularly when they feel trusted with the responsibility of achieving agreed upon outcomes.  Some projects I have used in a rotational format with upper primary include:

·        Spelling activities

·        Web quests

·        Literature reviews

·        Science project work

·        Etc

We hope these ideas help you to implement Cooperative Learning Groups in your classrooms!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Nadia Distel is the author of the New Teachers Kit - a complete set of printable, editable classroom resources and teaching strategies, designed with the newly qualified teacher in mind.  Don't reinvent the wheel - work smart, not hard, with the New Teachers Kit!  Visit http://www.newteacherskit.com/ today.



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