Many teachers realize that there are many benefits to small group instruction. Small group activities encourage collaboration, greater student participation, increased feedback, and greater opportunities to tailor lessons to students’ individual needs. The trick is, how do we manage the process? How do we keep students accountable for their work? How do we set up groups to function easily? How do we transition from collaborative work to independent work? Here are a few ideas to make small group management manageable.
Keeping Students Accountable
Students must have some sort of accountability for their individual learning in order for small group work to be most effective. One way to hold students accountable for their work is by following up small group with individual assessments of learning based on the group’s work. A second way to hold students accountable is by grading effort of each student during the group portion of the lesson. I often have students self-assess their own effort during the group as well as the effort put in by other members of their team. This can be done with a prepared rubric or a simple 1 – 4 rating (4 = above expectations behavior and effort, 3 = expected behavior and effort, 2 – below expected behavior and effort, and 1 = not following expected behavior and effort). You can average this effort grade and adjust their grade accordingly.
Planning and Organizing for Small Group Success
Team work does not come naturally. Students (especially younger student) often need direction on how to work in a small group. Prior to small group activities, develop a set of norms and expectations for student effort and behavior. Brainstorm together and create an anchor chart like this to remind students of what is expected.
My students love this video for modeling the differences between good team work and bad team work.
Although students should be doing the majority of work during a small group activity, a little bit of pre-planning by the teacher goes a long way! Place all items that will be needed for the activity in small buckets, tubs or caddies that can be easily distributed and then picked up again after the lesson. Create an easy to follow color-coded system or chart to help students know what group there are in. Provide students with clear written directions or checklists for the activity to follow along with so there is no confusion about what they should be doing. I love this Desktop Flip Stand for quick and easy direction display.
How to Differentiate
Small group instruction in itself can be a form of differentiation. Students can be grouped together by ability or level to work on various assignments or skills at the same time. Alternatively, students can be placed in mixed ability groups where the stronger students can assist students who may not have the skills needed to complete the activity on their own.
Teachers can also provide modified assignments or work that either scaffold or push the students’ thinking. You might have “clues” hidden in envelopes that students can access when they are struggling. To push students, you might offer additional challenge tasks when a group has finished work ahead of the rest of the class.
Transitioning to Independent Work After Small Group Collaboration
Develop a routine for ending activities so that your class isn’t in complete chaos after a group activity. I like to have students place all items into a bin for one member to return to me. We work to beat our transition times from the last group activity. This extra incentive helps them to move quickly. This is also when I pass out their exit tickets to assess individual learning. In this way, transitions from small group to independent work are seamless.
How do you make sure small group work is effective? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Kelly Malloy is a 4th grade teacher in Northern Nevada. She has previously taught 3rd grade and 7th grade math as well. She is passionate about engaging students in with activities that are both educationally rigorous, but also fun at the same time. She blogs regularly at An Apple for the Teacher.