How to Form Cooperative Learning Teams


Team Formation Tips from Laura Candler

Forming effective teams is a important when implementing cooperative learning strategies, but it’s not always easy to figure out the best way to form teams of students who will work well together. Here are some tips, strategies, and free resources to help you get started!

What’s the Most Effective Team Size?

Research has shown that a team of four students is the  most effective size for several reasons. A four-person team allows for many different kinds of interactions. The group can work as a team, or it can be broken down into two sets of partners. Each team should be as heterogeneous as possible so that kids can learn to work with all different kinds of people.

When Should You Form Teams?

Teachers often wonder if they should start out with their students in rows and move them into teams after the first week, or if they should seat them in teams from the first day of school.

Personally, I like to start off on Day 1 with the kids in random teams (since I don’t know enough about them to form heterogeneous teams). I want them to know that this is the usual way we do things, and that cooperative learning is not just fun and games.  I teach them from the very beginning how to have self-control when sitting in a team, and how to deal with problems and distractions. Each day for the first 3 or 4 days I randomly assign them to different teams so they can get to know all of their classmates quickly.

Important Factors to Consider

  • If possible, each team should consist of one high-performing student, two average students, and one low-performing student.
  • Teams should generally include both boys and girls.
  • Each team should reflect the ethnic diversity of your classroom.
  • Cooperative Learning teams generally stay together for about six weeks in upper elementary classrooms. Older students may be fine in the same team for an entire grading period.
  • Cooperative Learning teams generally stay together for about six weeks in upper elementary classrooms. Older students may be fine in the same team for an entire grading period.
  • After forming your teams, provide opportunities for them to get to know each other. These icebreaker activities are called “team builders” and they are essential.

Two Methods of Forming Effective Teams

Option #1: Quick and Easy Index Card Method

  1. Write each student’s name on an index card.
  2. Deal the cards into 4 equal piles according to student ability (High, Medium High, Medium Low, and Low)
  3. Choose one card from each pile. Be sure to include a mix of students (according to gender, race, and personality). Set this stack aside as Team 1.
  4. Form the remaining teams in the same way. Assign a team number to each stack of cards.
  5. On a separate sheet of paper, record the name of each team and its team members. That way you’ll have something to refer to the next time you form teams. You don’t want kids to end up on the same teams over and over.

 

Option #2: Team Formation Cards Method

Team Formation CardThis method isn’t much harder than the index card method, but it has more steps. You will also need a set of the Team Formation Cards shown on the right. Here’s a sample card to help you follow along with the explanation.

Step by Step Directions:

  1. Print enough Team Formation cards so that you have one card for each student in the class. Never show these cards to your students!
  2. Write each students’ name on a card, circle “boy” or “girl,” and fill out the section on race.
  3. For ability, decided if the student is High (H), Medium High (MH), Medium Low (ML), or Low(L). The numbers of students for each category need to be roughly the same. This judgement is very subjective and can include areas such as leadership ability, willingness to work hard and complete homework, organization skills, ability to follow directions, and so on.
  4. In the Notes section, write down any miscellaneous information such as learning disabilities, personalities, special needs, etc.
  5. After you fill out the cards, spread them out in rows on a table. For this example we will assume you have 28 students in your class, which means you will have 7 students in each category.
  6. Start by placing your 7 highest students in one COLUMN. Your Highs can be thought of as the leaders in your class; these are the kids you can count on to lead the group in a positive direction. Next, place your 7 Medium High students in a column beside the Highs. Continue with a column for the Medium Lows and the Lows.
  7. When you finish, you will have an array of cards that is 4 columns wide and 7 rows high. As you look over the array of cards, picture each ROW as a team. Look across each row and decide if you need to switch some cards to make the team more balanced. Do you have two boys and two girls? Do you have one High, one Medium High, one Medium Low, and one Low student? Does each team accurately represent the ethnic composition of your class? Will the students get along with each other? Look at all the teams and continue switching cards in each column until you have teams that are as heterogeneous as possible.
  8. It’s important to have a way of keeping track of who has been on which team. The Team Number boxes will help you remember who has been on each team throughout the year. After forming teams, record each student’s team number in the box on the bottom of his or her card. To assign team numbers, start with the top row and call it Team 1. Write a 1 in the first box on every team member’s card. The next team becomes Team 2, so write the number 2 in the first box on their cards. Continue with all 7 teams. After six weeks have passed and you form new teams, you will be able to see at a glance who was on each team. That way you can make sure that most students are placed with new team members each time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What if the number of students in my class isn’t divisible by four?You can have teams of three or teams of five also, but any more than five students seems to be a problem. I prefer teams of three if I have extras. This is because I notice that in a team of five, one student seems to be left out. Other teachers prefer to have a few teams of five because they have students who are frequently absent. They place these students on five-member teams so that any time that student is absent, the team has four members. However, sometimes I wonder if these students might be less likely to be absent if they perceived themselves to be important members of small teams. If they are seated at the end of a five-person team, they may feel that they are not needed.
  2. My school operates on a Nine Week schedule. Is it okay to keep teams together for nine weeks instead of six?If students stay together all day, six weeks is still the optimal number of weeks to keep teams together. I have learned this through my own experience. After this amount of time, I spend too much time dealing with social skills. If they are looking at each other ALL DAY every day, maybe they don’t need to be together more than six weeks! However, if you teach in a middle school or high school setting and you have the students for just one period a day, you can keep them together for nine weeks without any problem. Most of the middle school teachers I know do exactly that.
  3. What about that student who can’t get along with anyone?I place all my students on a team, but if I have someone who is extremely rude and hard to get along with, I provide another seat in the class also. I let the class know that working on a team is fun, but it comes with certain responsibilities. You have to respect the members on your team and treat them as you would like to be treated. If someone can’t seem to do that, I remove them from the team for that day and give them an alternate assignment that’s not nearly so fun. In fact, I make sure the assignment is very challenging and involves lots of paperwork. If they ask for help, I say that if they were on a team they could get help. I let them know that if they complete the assignment and come in the next day with a better attitude, they may rejoin their team. I have had very difficult students who would start every day with their team and by lunch time they were on their own. Gradually, though, they were able learn how to treat the other students with respect and stay in the team all the time. Just be clear about your expectations for behavior.
  4. What if my school tracks students into ability groups and I have all low-ability students? Even within a group of students who are similar in ability, some students stand out above the others as leaders. Spread those students out among the teams, and use the other factors such as race, gender, and personality to form heterogeneous groups. But above all, please use cooperative learning with these kids! They need it more than any other group!

Final Note: The tips and strategies in this post deal with deciding who should be in each team. For more information about how to physically arrange your desks to accommodate a team of four students, read my Cooperative Learning Seating Options post.



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What are Cooperative Learning Structures?


Cooperative Learning by Spencer KaganStructures are very specific strategies that can be used to organize interactions between students who are working in cooperative learning teams.

Most structures can be used with almost any academic content, but some structures are better than others for certain tasks. For example, some structures regulate interaction between pairs, some are best for team work, and others involve the entire class.

The key is to success with cooperative learning is developing a thorough understanding of which structure is best for a particular group size and instructional purpose.

Dr. Spencer Kagan has developed over 100 structures, but you don’t need to learn them all to use cooperative learning effectively. Most teachers adopt 10 or 15 favorite structures that they use on a regular basis. Each cooperative learning structure, or strategy, consists of very specific steps.

Dr. Kagan granted permission for me to share the steps of one of his most popular structures, Numbered Heads Together, along with suggestions for using it in your classroom. To learn more about the structural approach and how to use each strategy, read his book, Cooperative Learning. It’s the best resource around for cooperative learning, and it clearly explains dozens of structures!

Sample Structure: Numbered Heads Together

  1. Number students off from 1 to 4 within their teams.
  2. Call out a question or problem. Example: Where do plants get their energy?
  3. Students in teams put their heads together to discuss the answer. They must make sure everyone on the team knows the answer.
  4. Randomly call a number from 1 to 4. For this step, you can use a spinner, draw numbered craft sticks out of a cup, roll a die, use an online tool, etc.
  5. On each team, the student whose number was called writes the answer on the team response board. They may not receive any help from their team at this point! If they didn’t pay attention during the discussion, they need to make their best attempt without help. They place the response board face down when ready.
  6. When all teams are ready, ask the designated student to stand and hold up his or her response board to show the answer. Check each team’s answer for accuracy.
  7. Repeat with additional questions as time allows.

Ways to Use Numbered Heads Together

  • Science – Reviewing for a test, discussing experiment results,
  • Math – Solving word problems, reviewing geometric shapes, reviewing terms like prime number, multiple
  • Health – Reviewing parts of the body and body systems, discussing the food pyramid, discussing issues related to drugs and violence
  • Spelling – Practicing the spellings and definitions of words, creating sentences when given a word
  • Reading – Discussing setting, plot, theme, characters of a book; listing character traits of various characters in a book; finding the main idea of articles in Weekly Reader or Scholastic News magazines; reviewing poetic terms (onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.); finding examples of poetic devices in poems
  • Writing – Revising and editing written work samples (place work sample on overhead, students put heads together to discuss specific errors in punctuation, spelling, etc.)
  • Grammar – Finding nouns, verbs, etc, in sentences; reviewing common versus proper nouns; plural versus possessive nouns; diagramming sentences
  • Social Studies – Learning about the stock market; practicing map skills, answering chapter discussion questions, reviewing for a test
  • Primary Grades – Reviewing basic shapes and colors, reviewing initial consonant sounds, working with rhyming words, answering questions about a read-aloud book, deciding when to add or subtract with math word problems, naming a pattern (AB, ABC, ABB, etc.), spelling simple words, discussing the results of an experiment, making up sentences with a given word, reviewing the parts of a plant, discussing the events of the day, talking about the calendar

More Favorite Structures

Remember that Numbered Heads Together is just ONE structure, and there over 100 more! Because each structure is a unique, it’s like having tools in a toolbox. All of the tools are worthwhile, but most of them are only effective when used for a particular purpose.  Visit Kagan Online to learn more about cooperative learning structures and how to use them. Some of my favorites include:

  • Roundrobin
  • Rallytable
  • Roundtable
  • Team Interview
  • Mix-Freeze-Pair
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Showdown
  • Line Ups
  • Teammates Consult
  • Jigsaw
  • Corners
  • Mix-N-Match
  • Find Someone Who



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Cooperative Learning Seating Options


Cooperative Learning Seating Options - Tips from Laura CandlerIf you’re new to using Cooperative Learning strategies, you might wonder how to seat your students so they are able to interact with each other without losing focus during direct instruction.

There are many possible options, but one thing to consider is whether you want them to sit together all day long or just for certain activities.

I described a few of my favorite options below, and you can see several more in the Seating Options PDF on this page.

Option #1: Seating in Permanent Teams

When I put my kids in teams, they sit together all the time. I am lucky enough to have flat-topped desks that I pull together to make a small table. Teachers who have the L-shaped desks put their kids together, too, but they have to leave a little gap between the chairs to allow the kids to get in and out.

If you have desks with slanted tops, sometimes you may want to have the kids move to a space on the floor when working on activities that require a flat space. Below I have tried to draw 2 of the arrangements I have used.

       

I prefer what I call the T-Table arrangement shown on the right above and in the photo below. With this arrangement, no one has his or her back to the front of the room and they don’t have eye-to-eye contact with each as they do in the face-to-face seating arrangement.

Cooperative Learning Seating - T-table formation 

When students are doing individual work, I have them put up “barriers.” These can be pieces of folded cardboard or just their 3-ring binder notebooks. We’ve also found that 2 file folders placed end-to-end and laminated together make a nice barrier.

Option #2: Seat in Rows; Form Teams for Activities

Some teachers leave their kids in rows at first but just seat the kids in each team close together. When they do a cooperative activity they have the kids pull their desks together for a short time or have the 2 kids in front turn around and use the 2 desks behind them. When they get more comfortable with CL, they let the kids sit together all the time.

 

How to Choose Students for Each Team

The options I described above refer only to your students physical seating arrangements. For more information about how to decide which students should be on each team, read my post, How to Form Cooperative Learning Teams.



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Math is More Than a Numbers Game


Free Math Vocabulary Building Webinar!

Have you ever considered the importance of vocabulary instruction in math? If you think about it, success in math often hinges more on the ability to read and understand the language of mathematics than on the ability to perform mathematics computation.

In other words …
Math is more than a numbers game. 

Years ago, standardized tests consisted of page after page of computation, but today’s math tests require students to read challenging word problems and understand precise mathematical terminology in order find  the solution. For example, upper elementary students who don’t know the difference between factor and multiple or range and median are going to struggle to perform well on tests. Geometry is another area where accurate knowledge of the key vocabulary is closely tied to understanding of the essential concepts.

It’s pretty clear that mastering the language of math is just as important as mastering math facts or being able to solve complex computational problems.

So what’s the best way to teach math vocabulary? I can assure you that having kids is memorize words and definitions is NOT the way to go! Besides being extremely boring, rote memorization does not provide students with the opportunity to explore the complex nuances of meaning inherent in math terminology.

The good news is that the most powerful strategies for helping kids learn the language of math are also the most motivating and fun! Why? Because those methods encourage kids to TALK about math concepts and practice using the vocabulary correctly as they take part in hands-on activities and math strategy games.

Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary Webinar

Over the years, I’ve developed a collection of activities and games that are highly effective for building math vocabulary, and they’re super fun for kids, too. I enjoy sharing those strategies in a webinar for teachers called Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary. In the webinar I also share about 4 important phases of math vocabulary instruction and describe strategies for targeting each phase. If you’re interested in the webinar, click here to watch a replay. If you like a PD certificate for the webinar, it’s available when you purchase this webinar from my TpT store.


Recharge & Write Problem Solving Activity

Recharge &  Write is one of the strategies I share during the webinar, and it’s a perfect example of a cooperative learning activity that encourages math talk. In a nutshell, each team needs a “recharger” and one math problem worksheet per person. Students put their pencils into the recharger when discussing each problem, and they take their pencils out to solve each problem without talking. Recharge & Write is a bit difficult to explain, so I recorded a short video to show how it works.

How to Power Up Any Activity to Boost Vocabulary Development

One of my favorite parts of the webinar is diving into HOW to “power up” any activity to boost its effectiveness. I start by sharing how I modified the rules of the traditional “Guess My Number” game to make it a powerful tool for building math vocabulary. Mystery Number Detectives takes only a few minutes a day to play and requires very few materials, but while students are playing the game, they’re practicing and reinforcing important math vocabulary and concepts. The best part is that they’ll be having so much fun, they won’t even know they’re learning! In fact, my students loved this game so much that they begged to play it and didn’t want to stop for recess!


Free Webinar Replay and Handouts

The live session of Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary is over, but you can still watch a free replay of the webinar.  To learn more about what I covered during the webinar, download the free handouts from my TpT store and take a look. As you can see, this webinar is jam-packed with engaging strategies for helping kids master the vocabulary of math!



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Episode 4: I Wish My Teacher Knew



Episode 4 Summary

“I Wish My Teacher Knew” is a simple activity developed by 3rd grade teacher Kyle Schwartz that transformed her classroom. In this episode, I share how this simple strategy has helped thousands of teachers build relationships with their students, including the story of a 4th grade teacher who put a unique spin on the activity to make it even more effective. I wrap up by sharing tips for using this strategy in your own classroom and offering ways to adapt it to meet the needs of your students.

Listen to the Episode 4 Podcast

Click the play button to listen now, or listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

Episode 4 Resources and Links

Join the Conversation on Facebook

If you’d like to discuss this episode, head over to the Inspired Teaching Podcast Conversations group on Facebook and click on Unit 4 to find the discussion questions post. If you haven’t joined the group yet, be sure to answer all three questions that pop up when you make your request.



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You Can Put a STOP to Classroom Disruption!


Active engagement activities are an important part of classroom instruction, but if getting kids up and moving causes disruption, these activities become ineffective and chaotic.

The Erase-a-Letter Strategy is an easy way to keep students on task during cooperative learning lessons. This strategy is for “whole class” management when students are moving about the room or working in teams. It should not be used as a consequence for individual student misbehavior. It’s never fair to punish the whole class when one student acts out. I recommend the Stoplight Management system to address individual discipline problems.

Advanced Planning – Very Important!

When you plan an active engagement lesson that has the potential for excessive noise and off-task behavior, think of a back-up assignment to use if your original lesson doesn’t go according to plan. Make sure that your back-up plan is quiet, focused, and easy to complete individually. Tasks that involve using a text book, completing a worksheet, or writing in a journal work very well. The task needs to be something students can complete without your help, so review assignments are great for back-up plans. It should also be something they can finish at home if they don’t have time to finish at school.

Erase-a-Letter Procedure

  1. When you introduce your lesson, give your activity directions as usual. Be sure to include your expectations for noise level and acceptable movement in the classroom.
  2. Next, write the word STOP on the board or on chart paper in large letters.
  3. Explain that you expect your students to work well together and keep the noise level to a minimum, but if a large number of them are too noisy or off-task, you will erase a letter from the board. When all letters are erased, they will stop the activity and switch to an independent seatwork lesson. Feel free to let them know exactly what the alternate lesson will be – some students will feel you are bluffing and have nothing else planned for them.
  4. Each time you have to warn the class about being uncooperative, loud, rude, or anything else, cross off a letter. Be sure to draw their attention to the fact that you are erasing a letter and calmly explain why you are doing so.
  5. When all the letters have been crossed off, you simply stop the cooperative activity and give a seatwork assignment. That’s it! Usually a class will push you to the last letter of the word STOP the first time you use this. But if you have your alternate plan ready for them that time, the next time you use it you will only have to erase a few letters. You’ll even begin to hear them whispering, “Shh! Shh! We only have 2 letters left!”
  6. Be sure to require that students complete the seatwork assignment for homework if they don’t finish in class. What should you do if the kids don’t do the seatwork assignment? That’s easy. I always plan a fun cooperative activity for the next day. The kids who had the seatwork have earned their way back in and are allowed to participate. The ones who didn’t do it sit in at a table in the room and work on the assignment they should have done for homework. In some cases, I’ll even arrange with another teacher for those students to complete the assignment in his or her room.

Tips for Success:

Stoplight Freebie

  • Don’t use this technique if just one or two students are causing a problem. Use another technique such as the Stoplight Management System. Don’t punish the whole class if one person is misbehaving UNLESS the whole class is encouraging the behavior by laughing. When you punish the whole class, the other students feel that it’s unfair and you begin to lose their respect.
  • You can use another word instead of STOP, this one has just the right amount of letters. A teacher once told me that she writes the word HOMEWORK on the board and if she crosses off all the letters they have extra homework. I said, “I’ll bet you don’t see any improvement in behavior until you are down to the last few letters, right?” She saw my point immediately. She was coming across as very ineffective because she was giving 7 warnings before taking action!
  • Don’t lecture the students about their behavior when you cross off the last letter. Just calmly tell them to go back to their seats because you are going to stop the activity for the day. Let them know that you will give them another chance tomorrow, if they complete the assignment. If they linger and don’t get back in their seats immediately, let them know that it might take a few more days before they are ready for another activity . . . tomorrow might be too soon! They’ll get the point! Just don’t lecture the class. The ones who were causing a problem will tune you out, and the ones who weren’t causing the problem will be irritated at having to listen to a lecture when it wasn’t their fault. Remain pleasant and calm, and project the expectation that you know they will get the work done and be ready for more fun tomorrow. It’s amazing how well this works!



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Honoring 9/11 – A Delicate Balance



Each year on September 11th, we reflect on a series of horrific events that changed the course of history. As a teacher, you might be struggling with whether or not you should discuss 9/11 with your students. Although your students weren’t even born in 2001, it’s important to  recognize the events of that significant day in some way.

A few years ago, I discovered a great book to read aloud on September 11th, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. I want to share a few free resources  that I created to go with the book, as well as some teaching tips and management strategies for using this book in your classroom.

1. Read aloud The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

This classic children’s book describes amazing true story of Philippe Petit who walked on a high wire between the two towers right after they were constructed.  The Man Who Walked Between the Towers focuses on his daring feat and simply mentions at the end that the towers are gone and only live on in our memories. Be ready for the question that is sure to arise, “What happened to the towers?” How you answer that will depend on your students’ ages and what you feel is appropriate to share.

2. Discuss The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Use this set of question cards to discuss the book with your students. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, I suggest discussing them as a whole class or in small guided reading groups rather than in cooperative learning teams. These questions deal specifically with Philippe Petit’s daring feat and they don’t mention the events of 9/11.

3. Compare Literature and Informational Text

Before you read aloud The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, explain that the story is based on a true event. Ask your students to help you create a list of questions about the event that include additional information they wonder about what happened. Then ask them to read a news account or an encyclopedia article about Petit’s walk between the towers.

I found a description of Petit’s walk in an article on Wikipedia.org, and I edited it to create a shorter PDF version to use with students. If you use it with your students, please remember that the details in the Wikipedia article may not be 100% accurate. After your students read the article, work together as a class to create a Venn diagram  to compare and contrast the two versions of the event. What was left out in the story? Why did the author leave out these details? Are any of the details different between the two versions?

4. Explore Numbers and Measurements

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers includes many references to lengths, heights, and widths, so I created a set of task cards that display those quantities. After reading and discussing the story with your students, show each of the task cards to your students, one at a time, and ask them to try to remember what each number referred to in the story.

You could even give each cooperative learning team a set of eight cards and have the students write that information on the back of each card. For example, on the back of the “Quarter of a mile” card, they might write “height of the towers.” After they work through the deck and make their guesses from memory, reread the story aloud to check and discuss answers.

5. Experiment with Center of Gravity

One thing that amazes me is the way Petit was so confident about his ability to walk across the wire without falling. The story does not get into the scientific aspects of how he’s able to do this, but his secret has to do with that 28-foot balance pole he carries. This is a perfect opportunity to have your students explore center of gravity concepts.

Rachel Lynette’s book Gravity: Forces and Motion has some excellent discovery activities for this concept. One of them involves trying to balance an orange on a pencil, which is nearly impossible, and then adding forks to the sides as shown below. Add a lump of modeling clay to each fork handle, and you can balance the orange easily. The lumps of clay move the center of gravity to a point lower than the orange, allowing it to balance.

You can find a more complete explanation in Gravity: Forces and Motion or other science books about force and motion. 

6. Discuss the Events of 9/11 (If Appropriate)

I realize that none of these suggestions deals with the events of 9/11. If you want to talk to your students about what happened on that day, I would suggest starting with the  BrainPOP video titled September 11th. I showed it to my 5th graders, and it was very really helpful as a foundation for a discussion about what happened.

The 6-minute video explains why these events occurred without going into unnecessary detail. Be sure you watch the video yourself before showing it to your students so you’ll know how to answer their questions. (Note: This video used to be free, but apparently it’s not free anymore. If you have an account, it’s a video worth watching.)

 

Every year, September 11th is a difficult day for those of us who were old enough to remember how the events unfolded. We remember that day with sadness, and also with an awareness of how quickly our lives can change. It was a day when we discovered that our sense of security about our own lives can evaporate in a flash. However, I don’t believe we should allow our feelings about those events to negatively impact our children. Children need to feel a sense of security in order to grow and thrive, and we should be mindful of this tomorrow. That’s one reason I love the book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Reading this story to our students allows us to honor the memory of the day the twin towers went down in a gentle way without instilling a sense of fear and insecurity in our children.



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How to Teach Social Skills, Step by Step



Seating students together is not enough to ensure teamwork. Many kids have very little idea how to interact appropriately with their classmates. They simply lack the social skills needed to perform the most basic cooperative learning tasks. Lack of social skills is probably the biggest factor contributing to lack of academic success in teams. Fortunately, social skills can be taught just like academic skills. If you use a systematic approach like the one described below, you’ll find that your students CAN learn how to interact appropriately and become productive team members.

Listen to the Podcast: How to Teach Social Skills for Working Together
For more information about how to teach social skills, listen to Episode 7 of my Inspired Teaching Made Easy podcast below.

Six Step Process for Teaching Social Skills

1. Discuss the Need for Social Skills
Before you can help students improve their social skills, they need to understand why these skills are important. You might begin by asking your students to think about problems they may have experienced when working in groups, such as team members not listening to each other or not taking turns. Explain that most of these problems are caused by poor “social skills,” sometimes known as “people skills.” You might even mention that sometimes adults need to work on their social skills, too! Brainstorm a list of social skills that might make it easier for students to work together in teams. If they can’t think of any social skills for working together, share some of the suggestions from the list below.

Social Skills
2. Select a Social Skill
Even though your students may need to work on several different social skills, it’s best to focus on just one skill at a time. You can start with the skill you feel is most important, or you can let your class decide which skill they need to work on at a given time. I like to start with “Praising,” which might also be stated as “Showing Appreciation,” because when kids master this skill, all of the other skills are easier to learn.

3. Teach the Social Skill
Step 3 is to teach the skill explicitly so that your students know exactly what to do and what to say in order to master the social skill. For this part of the lesson, you can use the Working Together Skills T-chart below by projecting it on a whiteboard or drawing it on anchor chart paper.

Write the name of the social skill in the box at the top of the Working Together Skills chart. Then ask your students to help you brainstorm what they might do and what they might say when demonstrating the social skill. Write what they might DO under the Looks Like heading because this is what the skill looks like when it is demonstrated. Write the words they might SAY under the Sounds Like heading because this is what the skill might sound like to someone who is observing the activity.

Examples for the social skill of Praising:
Looks Like: Thumbs up, Clapping, Smiling
Sounds Like: Terrific! I knew you could do it! Way to go! I like the way you…

4. Practice the Skill
After you complete the Working Together Skills chart with your students,  it’s important to have them practice the skill right away by participating in a structured cooperative learning activity. For example, if you taught Active Listening as the social skill, you might follow up with a team discussion activity in which students take turns answering questions or sharing ideas around the team. Here a a few suggestions for cooperative learning structures you can use to practice specific social skills:

Social Skills and Cooperative Learning Structures

Social Skills

Structures for Practice*

Active Listening Roundrobin, Think-Pair-Share, Mix-Freeze-Pair
Praising Rallytable, Roundtable, Pairs Check, Showdown
Taking Turns Rallytable, Pairs Check, Roundtable
Using Quiet Voices Think-Pair-Share, Numbered Heads Together, Showdown
Staying on Task Rallytable, Roundtable, Pairs Check, Showdown, Mix-N-Match
Helping or Coaching Rallytable, Pairs Check, Showdown, Mix-N-Match
Using Names Mix-N-Match, Mix-Freeze-Pair, Showdown
* For more information about these cooperative learning structures, check out Dr. Spencer Kagan’s book, Cooperative Learning.

5. Pause and Reflect
Sometime during the practice activity, use an attention signal to stop the class. Ask them to think about how they’ve been using the social skill. If you have observed teams or individuals doing a good job with the skill, share your observations with the class. Challenge students to continue to work on their use of the social skill as they complete the activity. Refer to your Working Together Skills T-chart if students have forgotten what the skill Looks Like and Sounds Like.

6. Review and Reflect
At the end of the activity, reflect again on how well the social skills were used. Take a few minutes to discuss the positive interactions that were happening, and aspects of the social skill that still need work. This is a also a perfect opportunity for personal journal writing and reflections. Consider these writing prompts:

  • How well was the social skill being used on your team? What specific examples do you remember?
  • How did you personally use the social skill? What did you do and/or say? To whom?
  • How might you improve in using this skill next time?

By the way, it’s not necessary to follow all six steps every time you teach a new social skill. The most important elements are explicitly teaching of the skill and immediately following the instruction with a cooperative activity to practice the skill. The reflection steps are important and should be included as often as possible, too.

Modification for Younger Students
Younger students or special needs students could benefit from watching an excellent video created by Model Me Kids called Time for School. This video shows students exactly how to perform specific social skills. Even if you don’t use the video with your students, you might be interested in viewing it yourself to see how social skills can be broken down into steps and taught. If the video is appropriate for your students, they could watch it before completing the Working Together Skills chart above.



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Google Classroom Management Tips

Guest blog post by Rhoda Toynbee

Using Google Classroom can streamline the tasks of assigning, collecting, grading, and returning student work. It saves hours of time and eliminates those dreaded piles of papers that need grading (you know the ones that mock you from the corner of your desk). One major bonus is of digital work and management is that you only need access to the internet to work on assigning and grading. Your huge teacher bag full of papers and workbooks will start collecting dust.

You will need to establish a routine for assigning and grading digital work. It can be just as daunting and overwhelming as traditional grading if you don’t have a method for wading through it all. Google Classroom is a tool, just like your grade book or textbook. How you use it will determine your success with it.

Organizing Your Google Classroom Content

Organize your content by folders (subject, month, topic) so it’s easier to access the activities you plan to assign. Most things that you assign in Google Classroom will come straight from your Google Drive. If you have a great system for organizing the content, the following year with your next class will be a breeze.

Does your school purchase the “digital” version or CD version of your textbooks and worksheets?

You can access these and then save the page as a JPG (picture format) to your drive or desktop. Next, open Google Slides and set your page size to 8.5 x 11 inches (regular paper size). Right-click on the slide and click “format background”. Instead of choosing a color, you can insert an image. Select the worksheet you want to assign, and it will become the background of the slide.

This ensures your students can’t move the page around or accidentally delete parts of it. They can still delete the slide though, so you may have to reassign the lesson to that particular student. Once you teach your students to create text boxes, they will be able to complete assignments and submit them all digitally.

Pro Tip: Turning all your worksheets into Google Classroom is time-consuming, and it’s not a true “integration of technology”. It’s a great paper saver as well as an organizational tool, but if an assignment is a “fill in the blank” digitally, that isn’t any different than a “fill in the blank” on paper. Maybe pick and choose the main resources you would like to present within Google Classroom and start by only converting those worksheets over to digital assignments. There are true interactive and integrated lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers that you can try as well.

Sharing Links and Resources

There are two ways to assign links to websites. You can create a “link” as an assignment and send it to all your students to access. This also works for videos that you want your students to watch for a lesson or additional information. If it’s a link that you will be using frequently, then you may want to consider adding this to the “about section” of your class. This is a great place to add typing websites, learning platforms, or websites that your students need to access on a regular basis. Don’t overuse this feature, but definitely put some information here to save yourself time.

Keep Your Google Classroom Feed Clean

The Google Classroom feed can become very busy and overwhelming if you are assigning multiple things each week. Deleting older assignments that you have graded is a great way to keep the feed clean and easy to navigate. The exception to this would be assignments that you will repeatedly assign and that won’t be changed much. These assignments can be re-used and posted again, and that includes the option to re-use them the following year. How you manage the feed is a personal preference. If you want to re-use things, then setting them up in a way that they can be quickly edited and re-used the first time you assign them will save you time later.

With younger students, it’s better to not “return” the assignment after you have graded it. This will clutter up your students’ feed, and they won’t understand why you are sending it back. They can view the grade, but it’s obscure and they probably won’t spend the time to check it. Returns can be reserved for those assignments that need corrections only. This way your students will know that if an assignment is back in their feed and not marked “done” that they need to improve the quality before they submit it again.

More Google Classroom Management Tips

Email Tips – Use the email feature if you have older students. It’s not a feature you will want to bother with for the younger grades. You will also want to decide your preference for email notifications that are sent to you when a student marks an assignment as “done.” With a class of 20-25 emails, your inbox will fill up SUPER fast if you get a notification each time a student finishes their work. There are 3 lines (the burger icon) in the top left of your Google Classroom window. Select “settings” at the bottom and then mark your email preference in the checkbox.

Online Discussion Tips – Students have the ability to start a discussion on an assignment. The display is similar to a forum or a chat window. You can choose to let them use this feature or incorporate it into some projects as part of their collaboration. You will definitely want to teach a lesson on classroom expectations and digital citizenship before you do this. You have the ability to mute discussions if they can’t keep the discussion on topic or if they only want to use the discussions for meaningless chat.

Grading Tips – If you have an online grading platform, it may or may not integrate with Google Classroom. You will have to do some research to see what your options are for your specific program. A workaround for any program is to open your grade book program in one window or tab and then shrink it down to one half the size of your monitor. Next, open up your Google Classroom grade list and shrink that tab or window down to fill in the other half of your screen. Now you can glance at your Google Classroom grades as you quickly add them to your grading program.

Keyboard Shortcut Tips – Teach your students the magic of Command/Control Z. The first time they start to panic because they have deleted a page in the slideshow or a long passage, that they just spent 20 minutes typing and you mysteriously hit the “undo” button, they will be amazed. After that, you can teach them how to do the same keyboard shortcut to undo their mistake before they panic, and they will be forever grateful. While you are at it, teach them to copy and paste as well. They will need those skills as they progress through their digital careers and the sooner they learn them, the more efficient they will be.

Teach yourself the magic of keyboard shortcuts as well. Keystrokes are more efficient than moving your hand back to a mouse and then having to relocate your cursor onto the next box. For example, while you are entering grades for assignments, you can use the down key to move the cursor down to the next student.

Becoming Proficient with Google Classroom (and a Freebie!)

The program is most effective when you assign digital work and activities in Google Classroom a few times a week. If you want your students to be proficient at using technology, they need to use it on a regular basis. You need to be using it yourself and interacting with it as well if you hope to become proficient with it.

You can start with free resources like my Google Slides Math Task Cards Review. This set of slides can be used for whole group review, small group discussion and practice, or individual assignments. If you assign the set to all students in your class, they will need to mark “done” when finished. You will be able to see at a glance who has turned in their assignment and who still needs to. To grade their slides, open their submitted presentation and view their answers. The easiest way to mark them is to turn an incorrect answer red (or the color of your choice).

Use this freebie or other resources to practice assigning and implementing different assignments through Google Classroom. The more you use Google Classroom, the more you’ll discover about what you can accomplish with this amazing program.

Rhoda Toynbee is a classroom teacher who creates educational resources. She blogs about teacher life and shares tips for teacherpreneurs at Rhoda Design Studio. Finding a balance between school, raising two children, and being creative is important to her. Part of that balance is found while “being techie” on her laptop and learning new things. Living in rural Montana provides ample opportunity for learning time and play time. Rhoda enjoys riding dirt bikes in the summer and finds it to be a great way to gear up for the next school year. 

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