Today I am going to touch on how I set up my classroom and how to get students working with their partners or groups.
For the last several years I taught, I always had my students in pairs and I LOVED it. So I had 3 or 4 columns of paired desks. Like so:
In this picture, Student 1 and Student 2 would be partners. Everyone is facing the front all nice and neat. Everyone is SUPER excited to be in math class. :) I encouraged (and forced) my students to talk to their partners for help, guidance, assistance, praise, etc. Throughout the class period, we worked out problems with our partners, we compared answers with our partners, we discussed solutions with our partners. I often would say 'I don't hear you talking! I should hear you talking to your partner about this problem!'. I think it really helped those students were are too embarassed to ask for help when they are forced to discuss the math with the person next to them. Those students start to gain confidence because they more than likely understand the material better than they think and can start to solve the problems on their now. This also helps the student who is helping the 'struggler' because they are learning by teaching and explaining. They are having to really understand what the math is to explain it to someone else. So, it is a win-win situation! I will posting tons of ideas of specifically how to do work in partners, but not quite yet...hang tight on that one!
Now, I also wanted to do group work or group projects often. So, I wanted the students to be able to quickly move their desks into groups. So, I had the students turn their desk so they are FACING their partner and then squish in to either the partner in front or behind them (depending on where they are in the column). So the first two pairs in the column is the first group of 4, the second two pairs is the second group of 4. This will take literally 20 seconds so it cuts down any excuse for not doing group activities in class. :)
In the picture above, partners 1 and 2 are now facing each other and are group with partners 3 and 4. So Student 1 and Student 3 are now shoulder to shoulder and Student 2 and Student 4 are should to shoulder. All students can easily see me at the board because no one's back is to me. I INSIST they move their desks like this so I don't have backs to me. I won't continue the class until everyone is in their groups exactly as I want them. Some students complain but they quickly realize it is wasted breath because they have to move anyways.
Obviously, I have very specific seating charts. I have been to a couple Kagan Cooperative Learning worskhops where they talk a great deal about how to seat your students. I found it kind of time consuming and so I just kind of did a shorter version of basically pairing a stronger and weaker student together based on a recent test score. However, I never paired the person with a 100 average with the person with a 20 average. There is just too great a gap there and wouldn't be beneficial to either student. I also had to make sure that when students were in groups, their group mates and 'shoulder' partner in their group was compatible. So it takes a little tweaking each six weeks when we switched seats. The best way I made the seating chart was using sticky notes for each student so I could literally move them on the paper to configure them the way I wanted. It is also easy to move a student to a different class period when schedules start changing. :)
Getting the kiddos to work as a partners or groups
Another big Kagan idea is to have partner building and class building activities throughout the year. It sounded kind of cheesy but I tried it out anyways and I really think it worked. These were very short and informal activities for students to get to know each other outside of math work. This would get them to know each other better as a person which would make them more comfortable with working with them during the math part of class.
One way I did this in partners was by having students answer questions. Every time we got new partners (or new groups), we introduced ourselves to our new partner (yes, even in May we had to introduce our names!) and I would have them answer questions. I had a whole list of questions at my desk and would just call two or three out to the class and they shared their answer with their partner. It only took a couple minutes, students got a break from math, and we moved on. Here is my list of questions I had handy. Feel free to download a copy for free! :) You can also find tons of questions online pretty easily if you have different ages of students or just want different questions.
Another way I had students get to know each other in groups was with an activity called "Likes and Dislikes". They shared the following:
1. Things they liked that they were supposed to like. (ex: candy)
2. Things they liked they weren't supposed to like. (ex: math)
3. Things they disliked they were supposed to dislike. (ex: veggies)
4. Things they disliked they were supposed to like. (ex: ice cream)
The kids gave some pretty interesting answers with this activity and if we had time I might have them share some answers with the class. Again, this takes maybe 5 minutes out of the class yet has a big impact on getting students to work together easier in the classroom. I think we can all spare 5 minutes once every other week or so, right?!
Do you have any fun partner-building tips to share?
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