Effective Use of Groups in the Classroom

Using groups to help engage and involve students in their learning has become common place in today’s classrooms.  Unfortunately, it also presents many opportunities for students to be off task and to waste time chatting.  Another danger of group work is that one or two people actually do the work and the others are there in body only, allowing the ‘keeners’ to get the task done.

A few basic strategies can help to eliminate some of the potential problems that arise, or at least smooth out some of the complications of group work and get everyone participating.

1.  Forming the Groups

The first thing to consider when setting up the groups is whether the outcome of the activity is best accomplished with students of similar abilities working together or groups of varying interests and abilities.  If  random groups of students with different levels of ability are desired, simply numbering students works well.  For example, if you have 28 students in the class, number students from 1 – 7.   This will give you 7 groups of four.

Tip: Have the students actually say their number or they will not recall what number they are and may even decide to work the system and ‘pick the number’  of the group they want to be in.

If groups of students with similar abilities are preferred, it is best to plan the groups yourself before the class starts.        

Another Tip:    After the students have been allowed to from their group, insist that each group looks like a group with all desks facing each other, forming a good conversational circle.  No one should appear left out or separated in any way from other group members.     

2. Instructions

You will save yourself many frustrations by explaining the entire activity very clearly before anyone moves an inch!  Describe the purpose, the desired outcome and the details of how the outcome will be achieved before you even form the groups.  It seems that as soon as some students know where they are going and who they are going to be teamed up with, they quit listening and lose site of the purpose of the group activity.  Use phrases like this:                                                                                                                                                             – The goal of our class time today is . . .                                                                                               –  The reason we are going to do this activity in groups, rather than on our own is . . .             –  Before your group starts the activity, make sure that you have . . .                                            –   After 10 to 15 minutes of working together as a group, you should have accomplished.                                                                                                                                                   –  By the end of today’s class, we will all have . . .      

3.  Define Roles within the Group

Not every group activity allows for this, but whenever possible it is extremely helpful to select a role for each person in the group.  Start by assigning each person a letter.  For example, if you have groups of 4,  one person will be “A”, one “B”, “C” and “D”.  Person “A”might be the recorder and write down the notes for the group.  Person “B” might be organizer who has to get the materials and set everything up, person “C” could be the take down person who has to return everything to it’s place, and person “D” might be the presenter who is in charge of reporting back to the class.

The nature of the activity will determine the roles, but if each person is responsible for something, they will engage more and might get more out of the activity.  Knowing that their role is crucial to the function of the group in general also helps them to feel valued and an integral part of the class that day.

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Reflecting on Your Teaching Practice

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The time is approaching for my student teachers to be evaluated.  They will be asked to complete a self- evaluation using the same criteria that will be used for their midterm reports.    Deciding how they rate themselves in each of … Continue reading

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Reflecting on a STAR

Writing a reflection can be a daunting task.  Where do you begin?  What should you write about?  What is the purpose of it anyway?

In my work with pre-service teachers, I have realized that the students are required to write a reflection for every week of their practicums, which will require at least 12 reflective writings.  In order to maximize this writing effort, I thought it would be a bonus if these reflections could serve a dual purpose.  It occurred to me that maybe these reflections could provide concrete examples for the students’ future job interviews.

The most popular type of questions used in teacher job interviews today are the behavioral style of interview questions. This demands the interviewee to recount a personal story or incident about a topic in question.

Here are a few examples of behavioral type questions:

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation.   What coping skills did you use?  Were those skills effective?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem. What did you do? What was your thought process? What was the outcome? What do you wish you had done differently?
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.

A format  used  to tackle these tough questions is known as the STAR technique:

Situation or Task 

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Action you        took Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did — not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might do, tell what you did.
Results you achieved What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

This same format can be use to tackle the request of writing a reflection.  Students can use the STAR format to frame their reflection:

Situation:  Describe a situation that went well or that didn’t go well in your                       class this week.

Task: Include an account of the task that your students had been requested                    to do at this time.

Action: Describe the action that you took regarding this situation.  ie.  Did you go ahead with the task as planned?  Did you stop and make changes to the task?

Result: Describe the result of your actions.  Did the students respond well?                      Why or why not?

Obviously students will choose reflections with a positive outcome for their interview answers, however, it is the situations with not-s0-positive outcomes that have the greatest learning potential.    Hopefully these reflections will not be ‘lost’ and the learning from the mistakes that has been recorded can be referred to in the future for continued growth.

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16 Outcomes of Reflection

What is actually accomplished by reflecting on a document or artifact in a


The conclusions below are based on  actual experiences that came from  12 reflective writings using the four dimensions of reflection. 

Thinking back to an experience may lead to the following upgrades in learning:

  • The learning is clarified.
  • Memories turn into specific outcomes of learning. 
  • Past learning becomes meaningful to present circumstances.

 Reflecting back may also lead to learning about one’s self such as:

  • A key element of personality that is a driving force in decision- making.
  • A recognition or affirmation of personal core beliefs and values.
  • A creation of a new learning or life goals

Thinking forward may lead to these implications of learning:

  • The learning is solidified through practice.
  • Gaps in learning are identified.
  • The learning changes previous behaviors.

Thinking inward about prior learning may open up the following new levels of learning:

  • The learning becomes more relevant and meaningful to the present.
  • The learning creates new perspectives.

Reflecting inward and connecting with emotions may lead to learning such as:

  • Recognition of life patterns, positive or negative.
  • Development of new strategies for dealing with emotional life situations.

Thinking outward may allow for these expansions of learning:

  • The learning creates a greater self – awareness.
  • The learning generates understanding of others.
  • New or different concepts can be more fully understood.
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Learning from our Emotions

The reflective narrative below has been developed using the 22 questions of the Four Dimensions of Reflection posted on the home page.  


Writing in a diary or journal had been Michelle’s hobby since she was a young girl, so when she decided to write her autobiography, she had plenty of content to choose from.

Reflecting Back

She realized, as she looked at her journal entries as a whole, that she had typically chosen to write on low days when she was feeling sad, anxious, nervous or depressed. These entries recorded the tragic events of her life: the death of loved ones, the diagnosis of disease, the loss of jobs, and the trials of a failing marriage.  On the flip side were the other entries that were written on the good days.  These entries were full of gratitude for the high points in her life: the birth of her daughter, being hired for a new job, an opportunity to travel, and the accomplishment of a personal goal. 

Reflecting Inward

As Michelle reflected more purposefully on what the statements of emotion were telling her, she noted some interesting patterns.  She recognized that she had certain ways of dealing with negative emotions; some of those ways were fairly positive, some of them were not. She noticed that as the years progressed, she was handling negative situations in a more positive way and that she had grown personally and professionally more than she had realized.  This realization was very encouraging to Michelle. There were  days when that personal growth seemed ‘lost’ as she found herself back in the same old rut of negativity.  Analyzing how she handled this in the past gave her some specific strategies for dealing with present life emotions.   This was valuable life learning that she may have missed had she not taken the time to reflect on the highs and lows of her life so far. 


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Four Ways to Reflect (via Stable Transitions)

These four ways of reflecting have been now been used by many profs, teachers and students. They seem to be very helpful in guiding what to say in a reflection and have often led learners to a discovery about themselves or their learning.

The 22 questions can be altered or changed to fit the type of learning experience that is requiring reflection.

Four Ways to Reflect Four Dimensions of Reflective Learning I.  Thinking Back  Returning to a learning experience or recapturing a learning event some time after it has taken place may allow the learner to revisit the entire experience from a fresh and different perspective.  Learners may uncover previous knowledge that had been learned but was now buried or simply forgotten.   Questions that may help uncover learning from the past are:   What was the original purpos … Read More

via Stable Transitions

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Three Reasons Why Our Graduates need an ePortfolio

Despite the challenges of time and finances needed to implement ePortfolios in schools, educational instutions are still making good progress with the effective use of ePortfolio products and processes.  This success can be credited to champion educators who are forging ahead because of the undeniable benefits to them and their students. Workplaces have a long road ahead of them to reach the same goal of adequately understanding and taking advantage of the ePortfolio benefits in their world. The future is promising, however, as education leads the way.  Our current graduates who have experienced ePortfolios will become employers, human resource specialists, trainers and employees.  They will be bringing their knowledge, expertise, and ‘ePortfolio thinking’ habits with them to their future workplaces, and hopefully addressing the challenges that currently block the road of progress. Every graduate that enters the work world with an ePortfolio has the potential to lead that workplace in the following areas:

  1. The graduate can show colleagues, supervisors and bosses their  ePortfolio ‘tool’ as an example to help others in that workplace understand the product, potentially opening the door to implementation of a career or work- based ePortfolio. 
  2. The graduate with an ePortfolio should be able to clearly articulate his or her skills and abilities and demonstrate those abilities with some type of evidence.  This could provide examples for matching evidence of skills to positions for more effective hiring or better selection of employees for promotions. 
  3. The ePortfolio graduate has developed the habit of reflecting on his or her learning.  This graduate can share thought processes with colleagues that can enrich and deepen workplace ideas and routines.  According to Dewey, a reflective person thinks about his actions attempting to understand them to make improvements in the future. In his book The Reflective Practioner, Schon describes how reflection is necessary to transfer academic knowledge to the practical use of that knowledge needed in the workplace. 

Cheers to our graduates and the positive influence they will have in their future work places!

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