I believe students should engage in individual, paired, and group work for a balanced educational experience. In order to carry out group work in an efficient and effective manner, group formation is essential. Most of the time, I select groups, but there are times when a creative division of groups adds a bit of excitement to the class routine. Avoid the dreaded “I don’t want to work with so and so” attitude by keeping things exciting and new*! Here are a few of my favorites:
Continent Buddies: At the beginning of the year, I have students fill out a world map, exchanging names with another student and labeling each continent on their map with that student’s name. For example, my friend Adrienne and I would write each other’s name on the Australia slot. Anytime the teacher says, “pair up with your Australia buddy”, I simply look at my map, find Australia, see that Adrienne is my “Australia buddy”, and pair up. This is a good review of content and can be adapted to any model that correlates with the curriculum. The students keep this sheet of paper in the front of their interactive notebook and reference it throughout the year.
Flag Hunt: I have adapted this from an activity at my camp called Flag Hunt. There really isn’t any flag to be hunted. Instead, I select content-related words with the number of letters that I want each group to consist of. Example: I want seven, four-person groups. I would select seven thematic words that are all four letters long. I write each letter in the middle of the index card. Then, in the bottom left corner I write the number placement of the word. For example, King. If the card was K, the number 1 would be written in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right, I write the group number. So all cards forming the word KING, would have #1 in the bottom right corner. The person with card “I” would have #2 written in the bottom left, and #1 in the bottom right. This means, letter #2 in group #1’s word. The first group to form their word and shout it out, is the winner. This is one of those games that entices students to get to class on time because they never know when I will pull out these cards and hand them to students upon walking into the classroom.
Clothespins: This can be done as a review after a topic has been taught. Select a broad topic and write it on a paper plate. Each table group will have a paper plate on the table when students arrive. As students walk through the door, they are handed a clothespin with a word, phrase, picture, name, date, etc pertaining to one of the topics. The students need to find their main topic and clip their clothespin to the edge of the paper plate. Once a group has completed their topic, the teacher can verify the accuracy. Example: Civil War Events. Each paper plate would bear the name of an event. Each students clothespin would have the name of an important general, the date of the event, a recognizable picture from the event, a fact about the event, etc. The students will walk around the room until they find their event and clip their clothespin (with the subtopic, date, picture, name, etc) to the plate. This is a great warm-up activity to get students reviewing material at the end of a big unit or topic with a lot of information attached to it.
Puzzles: Select and print several important pictures from history (or another content related idea) that your students need to know. Cut up the pictures into pieces, basing the number of pieces on the number of people you want in the group. Laminate the pieces. Hand out puzzle pieces and have students form their groups. I usually write the name of the event or person featured on the back of the picture (before cutting), so that students can check to make sure they have properly identified their event or person. This can also be done with maps. Cut up the states, regions, colonies, etc and have students create their map.
Paint Chips: If you told the paint mixers at Home Depot that I’m an interior designer for people who own 20-room mansions, he/she would probably believe it. Why? Because I hoard paint chips. I use them to split students into groups. Give each student a paint chip, have them find their color match, shade match, whatever you want to do. This is a fun, non-content related activity I use when I’m forming new groups or at the beginning of a unit when I need students to quickly come in and form groups (without much thought or activity).
*Aside from implementing these activities, it’s important to teach group work procedures and demonstrate appropriate behavior for group work, including working with all students. I have encountered very few situations when students have outwardly expressed their disappointment in group selection because students are equipped with the tools to appropriately react to new group formations.