Building the Classroom Team

By Brent Vasicek on January 23, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

It’s the middle of winter in North America. School has become routine. The second semester has begun for those students in middle and high school. For the second half of the year, try something new. Something spicy. Try intentionally building a team. A team that appeals to even the most introverted students. It starts with the proper seating arrangement and ends with intentionally building rapport among the team and the class.

To start the process, I like to break the class into teams of four.  A couple teams of three or five are OK, but four is the magic number for easy partnering.

 

Building the Team

Consider the following observations and tips when assembling your teams and planning team-building activities for them:

  1. To create my teams, I rank the students based on overall ability. Reading ability is probably the most important factor, but if you are in a middle-school math class, then use a math assessment to rank the students.  
  2.  I choose one high ability, one low ability, and two medium ability students for each team. This past summer I attended the Kagan Institute in Orlando. There I learned to further refine the team by always having the high and low reader sit diagonal to each other as this will reduce frustration in group activities.
  3. Once I have figured out the seating chart based on ability level, I take into account the leadership qualities, gender ratio, and personalities in the classroom. I try to have at least one strong leader at each table. I place two boys and two girls at each table. When an odd number arises in terms of gender, I try to make a table of all one gender. I also take into account friendships that foster learning and those that distract from learning.
  4. Now that the teams are formed, it is time to do activities that will help the teams coalesce. According to Spencer Kagan, doing this a minimum of twice a week is required. He has published many books with team-building activities, but any creative, fun activity that allows the students to interact in a low risk environment works as a team builder. As the weeks go on, the risk level of the activities can gradually increase as the team members feel more comfortable with each other. Examples of quick team-building activities include:
    •  Share the story behind their favorite scar 
    •  Design a team flag or come up with a team cheer / handshake
    •  Build a structure out of marshmallows and toothpicks or newspaper and masking tape

See an earlier Scholastic blog post, "Building Trust in a Classroom," for more activities to help your teams gel.

Building the Class

In addition to team building, Kagan suggests that teachers do class building at least once a week. Class building should always be a fun activity in which the individuals on each team interact with other members of the class. The easy-to-read book Silly Sports and Goofy Games is full of fun games like Amoeba Tag and Triangle Tag. These games require few props, and the directions for the games are simple. Presented in the right way, yes, this even works for teenagers. The well-organized site Group-Games.com also has ideas to get you started. It is categorized by age, from elementary student to college student.

After the game, it's great to review the rules of being a quality teammate. I use the Scholastic poster below to provide a nice visual reminder.

Is It Worth It?

Absolutely! The time spent allowing the students to connect and become accountable for one another will pay off. The students will be happier and more supportive of each other with any cooperative learning activities that you create. The class will be more efficient and willing to learn.

Go team!

Brent

2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek’s classwww.mrvasicek.com

Comments

Very interesting that you group them in this manner. Up until the end of this past school year, I grouped my students the exact same way. However, in one of my recent classes, it was suggested to group by ability. I am a high school math teacher and grouping the way you talked about just didn't work. The students with high ability levels always ended up getting bored and/or frustrated with their group. The students with low ability levels never really caught on. So the members of the group who gained the most from these groups were the students in the middle (average ability level). When I decided to change up my groups and group by ability, I quickly noticed a change. The students with high abilities LOVED this new arrangement because they were able to work at their own pace and if they got stuck, they simply asked another member of their group. In the old groups, there wasn't anyone who could help them most of the time. Also, in these new groups, I was able to sit down and spend much more time with the groups who needed me most. I would have more challenging worksheets available for the high ability group(s) and I would focus on making sure everyone learned at least the basic concept.

I also like your class building idea. I recently came across some articles and was involved in a discussion regarding team building with colleagues in my building, and I suppose it could continue spreading to within the walls of each class. I could see this being extremely beneficial. Too often high schoolers build attitudes towards each other. I am a coach and am oppose to these attitudes; especially when they are directed at kids with lower ability levels. I think class building would be a great way to start the year! I could combine it with an icebreaker activity, give my diagnostic assessment, form my groups, and be off on the right foot from the very beginning of the year. Thank you for your thoughts!

Really helpful I am quite new to teaching profession wanted to do something more than normal teaching. Above article was really helpful.

A small query, I had arranged my students based on studying ability but some kids are not able to perform the same way when they are in team how to work on these kids. Please suggest

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