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January 23, 2012 Building the Classroom Team By Brent Vasicek
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 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!


    2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek’s


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