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Bigger Deal than You Realize- Create Groups for Them

Megan Whale Watching

Take yourself back to that feeling of finding a seat in the school cafeteria.

I remember walking out, holding my tray, looking up and looking down at the same time- really hoping I’d have a place to sit- someone who wanted to sit next to me or at least allow me to sit peacefully.

It’s a gut-wrenching feeling, and no matter how confident the facades, everyone is worried there won’t be a place they are wanted.

Cooperative learning is cemented into our lesson arrangements.

Imagine the insecurity we inadvertently induce by saying, “Choose your partner”.

What if no one wants to be my partner? What if I am the last students picked? What if the teacher has to assign me, and I have to worry about the disappointment I might see?

It may be challenging to remove those worries from the lunchroom, but we can certainly remove those worries from the classroom. Let the mental energy work towards the learning, not the ego protection.

What’s more- varied groupings of students can be fun, fascinating, and a learning experience on their own.

What if we put the talkers in one group, and the listeners in another? Someone will be challenged into a new role. What if we lift the quiet, reflective student into the named leader? What if the student who tends to dominate is assigned note-taker? There are so many lovely ways to make deliberate grouping decisions.

Photo of Women at the Meeting

Make their groups.

Alleviate a stress from their worried selves.

I like a system. When I have an extra few minutes, I might make a list of varied types of groupings I can pull out at any particular time.

When I don’t have an extra few minutes, I have Spencer Kagan’s Cooperative Learning Structures to fall back on.

Kagan has games to play- which are good. For example- when I need my students to be in partners, everyone stands and preps for an elbow bump. Find a partner by locking eyes and bumping elbows. Each partner shares their thought son the given topic, then shows their elbow to find another person in need of a partner. The rotation of partners keeps moving until you (the teacher) like the pairings you see.

There is a standing question, with standing rules- both partners share. Your answer must change with each pairing, but you may take the answer of your previous partner to your next pairing. Ideas for pairing questions:

  • Name a composite number, and proof that it’s composite. (48- 6×8)
  • Tell something you ate for dinner last night- or wish you ate for dinner last night.
  • Give one number, you partner gives the next even number, the next consecutive number, the next ten, etc.
  • Spell your partner’s name backwards.
  • Name a Spanish-speaking country.
  • Name a country and its capital.
  • Give a character in the novel with a one-work description.
  • Silently find a partner with some clothing that matches a color you’re wearing.
  • Tell your favorite childhood toy.
  • Give a descriptive word about the day/weather/story in Spanish/French/Arabic.
  • Use a more creative word to share your favorite color. (Blue to Aquamarine)
  • Name a soccer move you’d like to learn.
  • Name a place you’d like to travel to, a language you’d like to learn, a continent you know very little about, etc.

This is only one of many Kagan formats for creating partners that gets people up, connecting and into partners. Students will choose their buddies first and then keep moving. After 3 or 4 iterations, or maybe more- you’ll have some partners. You may want to make adjustments or put groups together- no problem with adjustments. It takes teaching the students to keep moving and practice- but it’s easier than popsicle sticks for each grouping.

Kagan’s Structures are used worldwide. I went to one two-day conference, and I was hooked. In Kagan Structures, there is a lot of celebrating, a lot of moving, and a lot of creative grouping and focus on engagement of all students.

My Favorite Kagan System that Solves SO MANY Tier 1 Teacher Issues: Table Organization

Kagan assures that groupings of four are optimal for learning– not too big, not too small- just right for including all voices.

The idea is to set your classroom up into tables with four students each- but I found groups of five okay, and six less okay, but workable in limited space.

Assuming at least one of your tables of 4 would need to be 5, here is how each table could be set up. I often print out the label below and either tape it to the middle of the table, or cut it up for each desk.

Front of classroom to the left

Imagine the possibilities-

Student Number 1, please get a handout for each person at your table.

Face partners (Facing each other- 1&4, 2&3), come up with three descriptive words for our protagonist.

Shoulder partners (3&4, 1&2), find a set of shoulder partners from another table, and work on your multiplication poster together.

Find all people from other tables with your number, and sit near each other while you work- assisting each other when necessary.

Student #3 is the scribe. Student #2 is the presenter. Student #4 is in charge of including all voices during the group discussion.

*The “annex” student gets free reign. They get to join either conversation at their table or choose their own number during other combinations. It’s a special spot.

And we didn’t even use the A/B possibilities.

I have created a collection of templates for a collection of table possibilities- in case you want to add these to your classroom today.

Please. Make their groups for them.

Another Tier 1 problem off of your head and their hearts.

Kagan Table Templates

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One Comment

  1. Yes so important. And so easily overlooked. I’m glad you brought all the possibilities of groupings up and the validity of doing so with intentionality. It’s vitally important.

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