One way of including a range of different students is to work with groups.
Groups function like small classes within the classroom. The groups can be homogeneous, or diverse according to the students’ learning needs:
- Initially, the groups can be formed at random, although it is likely that a teacher with knowledge of the students in their class will make certain judicious choices so that each group has a fair chance of succeeding with the activity.
- The group should be small but not too small. Depending on the size of the class, 4 to 6 groups can be made with 4 to 6 students in each group. (For class sizes from 16 to 36 students.)
- The groups should not be permanent, indeed a group could be formed for less than the length of the lesson, or for 10-20 minutes.
- There is an initial effort involved in building groups, when the teacher is not used to forming groups, and when the students are not yet used to working in groups.
- However, over time, the resistance to working in groups diminishes. And by the third or fourth time group activities are used, both parties will be more comfortable with the process and the benefits of working in groups will begin to show.
Making Groups – Four Corners Activities
An effective way to get started working with groups is to use a Four Corners activity with the teacher as controller or director. In these activities, the students are encouraged to stand in one of four corners in the room depending on which response or answer they wish to give to the teachers prompt or question.
It should be noted that a Four Corners activity should include a mix of questions of a factual nature with prompts for opinions that are not provocative or controversial. Having said that, Four Corners is an excellent way of promoting deep conversations on controversial issues. That is not our purpose here. We are finding ways to form groups.
Factual Question “What is the capital of France?”
A) Paris B) Berlin C) London or D) give me a clue
Opinion Prompt “How was the school lunch yesterday? It was…”
A) delicious B) edible C) nutritious or D) palatable
When several groups of students have self-selected to stand in corners, you can start a conversation within the group, by asking, “What made you choose this corner?”.
You can then invite them to study further within the group, by asking, “What else do you know about ..?” and “What else would you like to know about …?”
Making groups – by Luck
There are many temptations when making groups. Students may choose to be in a group with their friends rather than challenge themselves to work with someone who is different. Teachers might seek to ‘protect’ certain students or strategize to ‘guarantee’ good results. Whilst having full respect for those concerns, there is a risk of limiting the learning from getting the groups ‘wrong’. It is worth the risk of giving luck a hand in making the groups.
Here’s a lucky way to make groups.
- Prepare a pack of playing cards (or similar) with
- Enough cards for one per student
- Groupings by colour or card or number
- Give each student a card as they come into the room, telling them to make groups based on the colour or suit of the card or the number on it.
It’s quick. And, yes, some teachers do use this method and manage to ‘slip the right card’ to ‘certain students’, and some students will swap cards so they can get into the group they want.
Making groups in advance
Prepare group lists before the start of the lesson, based on whatever criteria you choose. There is a small risk in this strategy of some students arriving late, or not at all, and thus affecting the ideal composition of the group.
Making groups by counting
According to where they are sitting or standing at the time. You can count aloud:
“Group A is, you, you, you… and you” or
“You are in… Group A, Group B, Group C etc. Group A over here. Group B over there etc”
At a higher level of student responsibility, you can involve them in the composition of their own groups. Say “Choose people you have not worked with before”.
Mature students handle this beautifully even in their teens.
Getting started with Groups
Start small, and develop group activities gradually. The first Four Corners group activity might be done at any time during the lesson – when the students need to move around for example – so the teacher and the students can begin to experiment with dividing up the class in different ways.