What is the old saying, two heads are better than one? It has been ingrained in educators for many years that group work is vital to the success of our students. The Covid-19 Pandemic and virtual learning have both created many obstacles for group work in schools. Teachers have been forced to become very creative with plans for group work throughout the past year. Just as the way education has changed so much in such a short time frame, so has group work and how we achieve collaborative learning.
What are the Benefits of Group Work?
Group work has many benefits as it gives you the ability to collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other. You can break up complex tasks, have valuable discussions in order to create more depth to understanding, and you can have friendly debates by challenging assumptions within the group. A major benefit of group work is that it helps to create stronger communication skills. With technology and text messaging/emails coupled with the Covid-19 Pandemic, there are not as many opportunities for students to communicate with each other and other adults verbally. Social opportunities need to be seized and used to help students develop better communication skills.
Group Work Ideas to Try in the Classroom
Google is a real life-saver in this new era of virtual learning and can be used for any subject in school! One great feature is that multiple people can edit the same document at the same time. When you assign a project for any subject, students can work on the project in a group without having to be in the same location. The document, slideshow, sheet, etc. can be shared among the group members and edited from anywhere and any device! Students can even peer edit projects and writing in this way by leaving comments/suggestions on the document that won’t change the content.
Another great feature for Google Documents, Slides, etc. is that the editing is automatically saved! I remember the panic that would consume my body when I would accidentally delete parts of a lengthy paper or project, or forget to save it. Hours and hours of work was gone in an instant! If something is deleted, students can restore various edited versions of the document or simply “undo” the deletion. This is because Google is a web-based alternative to Microsoft Office and everything is saved automatically.
The breakout rooms on Google Meets (and Zoom!) are an amazing feature for group work opportunities! This feature has been added during this new school year, and it allows teachers to create various small groups within a Google Meet. More improvements to this feature are on the horizon and teachers will be able to create the breakout rooms prior to the Google Meet which will be a time-saver!
A book club is a great idea for all ages, and this can be done in person or through a virtual book club. Historically, a book is read over a period of time and then discussed at the Book Club meeting. You can make this an afterschool optional meeting, or you can modify this idea and have students set up into breakout rooms to discuss chapters of a novel being read for class. The teacher can send the groups questions that will prompt valuable academic discussion. This is an easy group activity to do either in-person or virtually.
Jigsaw Method Groups
The Jigsaw Method is a great way to incorporate group work into virtual/hybrid learning as well as having students take ownership of their learning by teaching others. The breakout rooms on Google Meets is an excellent way to include this in your lesson plan. You can arrange students into breakout rooms where they will work together on an assignment where new learning takes place. For example, in Social Studies, while studying various regions of the United States, each group can research a different region of the United States. After the research is completed, you can rearrange the groups so one member of each region is in a new group and can teach the group about their new learning and their region of the US.
Choice boards are a great way to incorporate group learning and also give students a choice over the way they wish to learn! You can create the groups for breakout rooms based on the choice of the activity students wish to complete! This is a great way to peak student interest, as well as give students ownership over their learning. Students may meet new students with similar interests as them in this type of an activity. Choice boards can be used for all different subject areas, and even in social-emotional learning or character education lessons!
Morning Meeting Discussion
This could be used in any grade level setting and is a great way to incorporate social-emotional learning and character building into your days. As mentioned before, there is a lack of opportunity for social interaction, and in this way students can meet and get to know their classmates a bit better. Choose one day a week for your “Think-It-Out Thursday” (it can be any day, that is just an example), and pose a discussion question to small groups. They will discuss it amongst the group and then bring it back to the whole group. One example of a topic could be “If you were in your school principal’s shoes, how would you be feeling handling the stress of the Covid-19 Pandemic and attempting to make the school a happy place?”
Group work will always have an incredible value to not just education but to life. As students work toward their post high school endeavors, group work will be present in a variety of ways. Having students learn the value and importance of group work is one of the best tools you can set them off into the real world with. Beyond understanding these concepts, being a good teammate and group member are important skills to possess. As Henry Ford stated, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is a progress; working together is success.” Teachers need to give students the proper tools and mentality to be able to work with others and attain high levels of not just success, but happiness in the journey there.