Kick off the new school year with meaningful lessons for every grade.
Standards Met: Various content standards; McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 3 (Works well with diverse individuals and in diverse situations)
What You Need: Items to make matching sets, such as pairs of Popsicle sticks or photocopied images cut into pieces
What to Do: “It’s so beneficial for kids to learn to work together that sometimes I feel the ‘working together’ part is almost as important as the [topic],” says Jenn Larson, a teacher at Jackson Elementary in El Dorado Hills, California.
After explaining the activity, such as studying ocean life, Larson passes out items to create random groups. They might be picture puzzle pieces or rhyming-word cards. The picture-puzzle match is one of Larson’s favorites: “Find pictures that match whatever theme you’re working on, like ocean life or types of animals. Make a photocopy and cut it into the number of kids you want per group.” Students find their partners, then bring the items back and receive their materials for the activity.
Standard Met: McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 1 (Contributes to the effort of a group)
What You Need: Class copies of a “newspaper”
What to Do: A novel way to get students thinking about cooperating rather than competing is to read headlines that could be torn from the pages of a newspaper. This activity was designed by the Mendez Foundation, which develops interactive prevention-education curricula to promote character and cooperative learning.
Pass out your “newspaper” and explain to students that this is the television schedule in a daily paper. Listings will include items on sports, trials, and more. (For example, the Day in Court item reads: Judge Walker hears the case of Sharon Gray vs. Jay Turner. A young inventor goes to court against a man she claims used her idea for a new video game.) Have students take turns reading the items aloud and ask what they have in common (the word against). Draw a T-chart on the board and write competition on one side and cooperation on the other. Ask students to brainstorm activities in which people compete. Then, prompt them to explain what cooperate means. Have them offer cooperative activities and write those on the board. Remind students that it’s important to be able to tell the difference between competing and cooperating, and to remember there are some situations in which competing is not the best choice.
Colorful Role Bands
Standard Met: McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 1
What You Need: Colored paper or card stock, stapler, paper clips
What to Do: Charity Preston, a former gifted-intervention specialist in Sandusky, Ohio, who blogs at Organized Classroom, came up with the inspired idea of “role bands” to organize group work. Each band includes a description of the role so the student can check it with a glance.
For a social studies or science project, two roles might be Reality Checker and Turn Tracker. For Reality Checker, the band would read “I need to think about whether the group decisions for the project are realistic…” and would include prompts the Reality Checker could say to team members.
Numbered Heads Together
Standards Met: Various math standards; McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 1
What You Need: Dry-erase boards, markers
What to Do: Alyssa Roetheli, who teaches at Tobias Elementary in Kyle, Texas, often turns to Kagan Structures, strategies that focus on collaboration. Roetheli, who blogs at Teaching in the Fast Lane, uses the strategy especially for multistep subjects, such as math.
Pass out dry-erase boards and markers. Display the problem, give students some “think time,” then have them write their answers, keeping them hidden. When group members finish, they compare answers. If they all have the same answer, they erase to show they agree and are ready. If they don’t have the same answer, they work out the problem until they agree. The teacher calls on a student for the answer. “This structure is a great way to get students talking about math by justifying their answers and the steps they took to get there,” says Roetheli.
Standards Met: Various NGSS standards; McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 4 (Displays effective interpersonal communication skills)
What You Need: Colored index cards
What to Do: Science topics come to life in Melissa Tallman’s fourth-grade classroom at Woodbury Elementary in Irvine, California, with her Q&A Match-Up strategy. Create a set of questions and answers based on a topic you’re reviewing, such as cell structures. All questions can go on one color card (e.g., green), all answers on another (e.g., pink). For example, the student with the pink card reading “nucleus” finds a classmate holding a green card that asks “Which structure controls all cellular activity?” They can check matches by reading their question and answer to the whole group—if the group feels the match is incorrect, students can do a little reshuffling. “I love this strategy for the built-in review factor and because kids love mystery and games,” says Tallman, who blogs at Got to Teach!.
Photo: Adam Chinitz
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