Tips for Collaborative Learning

Sarah LynnSarah Lynn

Tips for Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is a great way for students to strengthen their communication skills and build community in the classroom, but it isn’t always easy. Here are a few tips I have for managing collaborative learning in the classroom.

1. Explain the value

Group work is new to some students. Make sure you explain the value in working together. …
Better yet, ask students to explain the value of group work. My students most frequent responses are:

  • “I can learn from my classmates.”
  • “It’s fun to teach someone.”
  • “We get more practice speaking and listening.”

2. Solve logistics
Students won’t move unless they have a free space to move into. Tell students to clear their desks of papers and hang their jackets on hooks rather than on the back of their chair. If possible, make sure there are a few empty chairs in the room to facilitate movement.

3. Vary the grouping
Everyone wants to stick to the comfort zone and work with the people they know best, but to build community and strengthen classroom culture, give students opportunities to work with everyone else in the classroom.
Also, remember to vary group size. Each size group has a different social dynamic. Large groups require more communication and more negotiation than small groups. Pair work is the simplest model but it’s not as challenging or enriching.

4. Establish roles

Give each student a role in the group. Roles will vary according to the task, but here are some standard student roles:

  • Leader: makes sure everyone participates.
  • Note-taker: takes notes during the discussion.
  • Copier: copies student notes on the board.
  • Time-keeper: watches the clock.
  • Reporter: reports back to the class.

5. Provide language support
Group work requires all sorts of language that might not be in the book. This is the language of turn-taking, clarifying, and making suggestions. Explicitly teach these gambits before students get into groups, so everyone is equipped with the language skills to work together. For example:

How about you? (Turn taking)

Excuse me. What did you say? (Clarifying)

Let’s try . . . (Suggesting)

I have a different answer (Disagreeing)

For a complete list of group-work gambits, visit my blog

6. Establish an outcome
Make sure the group work results in a product. This could be:

  • answers written on the board;
  • an informational poster or booklet;
  • a class presentation;
  • a simple debriefing of the group discussion;
  • a test administered by the teacher which grades the group by its members’ average.