Give it a go: Organising group work

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Sue Cowley offers practical tips on managing your class and delivering your lessons

Doing work in groups is essential for developing key skills such as speaking, listening and co-operation. But the practical aspects are often tricky to manage, so think carefully about organisation before you start.

* Start as you mean to go on: Set up your expectations of group work right from the outset. If you always ask boys and girls to work together, they won't think to complain. Similarly, make it clear that you have the final say on who works in which group, and the pupils will usually accept this.

* Set clear targets: Getting the children into groups can be disruptive and can take up valuable lesson time. Set targets to ensure that this is done quickly and efficiently - for instance, give the class 10 seconds to get into a group. Keep the pupils on task by specifying a set amount of work that must be achieved during the lesson.

* Use random groupings: If the children decide on their own groups, it can be the cue for lots of social chatter. For the teacher to decide groups requires a good knowledge of how different characters will mix. Using random groupings helps to overcome these issues. Count how many children are in your class, then divide this by the number you want in each group: for example, 30 children divided by three in each group = 10). Get the class to count up to this number around the room. All the pupils with the same number then work in the same group.

* Think about furniture: You may need to re-arrange the furniture to make group work possible. Think carefully about how this will happen before the event. Give the children very clear instructions about how and where the furniture should go. If children move desks and chairs to the sides of the classroom for practical group work, make sure you leave plenty of time at the end of the lesson to put things back to normal.

* Watch out for "group leaders": It will often be the case that some children tend to dominate group work, leaving the quieter pupils with little chance to contribute. These dominant group members can also cause tension and quarrels. Spend plenty of time talking with your pupils about the skills involved in effective group activities.

* Use a "conch": Where you have problems with children dominating group discussions, it can help to use a conch. This is a special item (a shell, a stone, a magic wand) which indicates that the person holding it must be allowed to speak without interruption.

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