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Classroom Management Strategies for Group Work

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Managing group work can be challenging for teachers. It seems as if you have groups being unproductive, or arguing, or just in general not getting anything accomplished. However, a few simple strategies can make all the difference in turning group work into a positive and successful experience for everyone.

Introduction

Imagine a classroom that looks like this: at one table students are arguing. At another, two students have obviously wandered off the group's path and are deep into a discussion of gossip or nails; it is hard to tell which. In yet another group, no one seems to be talking at all. Does any of this seem familiar to you? Group work can be a challenging classroom strategy to monitor, but there are some simple strategies you can implement to help make sure all of your students are involved and successful.

Establish Group Roles

Establishing clear roles for each member of the group is the first management strategy to put into place. If each student has a clearly delineated role, it helps eliminate conflicts that stem from one person doing too much or not enough within the group. Establishing group roles create a natural path of action as students work through the assignment or project. Group roles create jobs for each member of the team.

There are all kinds of different roles you can use depending on the project. For example:

  • Timekeeper: keeps everyone on the group on track so that the task gets completed on schedule.
  • Coordinator: keeps everyone in the group on task and makes sure everyone does their fair share of the work.
  • Recorder: makes sure everything gets written down.

Depending on the group work, you might need supply masters, or communication experts to be the intermediary between the group and the teacher. Just be sure you have roles that are suited to your particular task.

group 1

Teaching Teamwork

Often we throw students into groups assuming they have the skills needed to be successful, and when they don't, we face problems from off-task students to incomplete assignments, and several possible arguments in between. So for students to work in groups, we have to teach them how to work in groups successfully.

The first skill to teach is communication, and this is one you can revisit when you use group assignments. Students struggle with this skill in groups because a huge part of effective communication is listening, not just speaking, and frankly a lot of students don't do this very well. However, there are some easy strategies you can use to help students practice communication before they are working on an assignment together.

One activity to try is to have the students build lego sets. Partner A builds a lego tower out of different sized legos in various colors. Have them do this behind a divider so partner B cannot see. Partner A then communicates to partner B how to build an exact replica of their tower, without them seeing it, much like this:

Start with a red rectangle on the bottom. Add a blue square in the middle of the red rectangle. Add two yellow squares so half of each is hanging off the side of the blue square.

For this to be successful, Partner A's directions have to be clear and specific. Partner B needs to practice good listening, and ask quality questions when they are confused. Over time, activities like this one will help improve communication.

Teaching Conflict Resolution

Another management strategy necessary in getting students to work as a team on group assignments is conflict resolution. Groups can quickly devolve into situations of angry children, or off task children, and the whole group dynamic may be forever ruined. As teachers, we have to teach students how to manage conflicts within the group as they happen (and most of the time without teacher intervention).

To start with, teach students conflict management strategies. Conflict management is giving students skills to manage conflicts on their own, or with some teacher assistance while working in groups. For example:

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