Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.
When students work together on a task/project that is well-planned and carefully executed, a number of incredible things happen:
- Essential skills are reinforced, such as the ability to manage time, break complex tasks into parts and challenge assumptions [Carnegie Mellon University].
- Positive group experiences have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention and overall success [Astin, 1993; Tinto, 1998; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006].
- Group work can serve to motivate students, encourage active learning, and develop key communication, decision-making and critical thinking skills [University of Waterloo].
It is very important to stress again, however, that group tasks must be very well-planned, otherwise they can “frustrate students and instructors and feel like a waste of time” [University of Waterloo].
So, the next question has to be ‘What types of group activities are most effective, and, ideally, won’t cost me too much planning time as a teacher?’. Well, I’ve got some good news for you – I’m going to pretty much answer that question in today’s blog post. As a high school Chemistry teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to try and test a large number of group-based activities over the past 16 years. What I present here will be my distillation of the top ten that work the best.
Podcasts are all the rage at the moment, and have been for some time. In addition, forecasts by eMarketer, Grand View Research, and many others predict huge growth in this sphere for at least the next several years, and probably much longer.
In other words, the industry is literally booming, and getting our students involved in podcasting provides not only a creative output for their research projects, but also equips them with valuable key skills.
As a podcaster myself, I’m delighted to bring some excellent news to teachers and schools everywhere (garnered from lots of personal experience): podcasting is very easy, and virtually free to do.
Here are the steps that I personally suggest students should follow:
Step 1: Record the audio on any device available – a mobile phone, laptop computer, tablet, etc.
Step 2: Save the file somewhere. A .wav or .mp3 is perfect
Step 4: Import and manipulate the sound file in Audacity (Hint: For podcasts, set Loudness Normalization to -18.0 LUFS, as this will make the voices of the students nice and clear – to do that, just select the audio, then go to Effect > Loudness Normalization, and keep the check mark the box that says ‘Treat mono as dual mono’).
Step 5: Export and save the file. I suggest exporting as an mp3, rather than a .wav, in order to compress the size of the file dramatically. Sound quality is not affected by this.
Once the sound file has been exported and saved locally, the students can then send that to the teacher in any way that seems appropriate – via e-mail, Google Classroom, uploading to YouTube (which requires another process that the students will have to learn), etc.
#2: Create a short lesson that contains some kind of practical element
Ironically, research shows that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach the topic that you have to learn. So, quite simply, ask your groups of students to prepare a lesson which they must teach to the whole class. To spice things up, the students could build a model, demonstrate an experiment, pass objects around the class or do anything that stimulates touch, smell, and, maybe, taste.
Allowing students to have some creative freedom over how they deliver the lesson should lead to some very interesting and entertaining moments.
#3: Cloud Computing
This is one area of education where Google really has the monopoly – and understandably so in my opinion. Their tools for students are second-to-none. Book the schools ICT lab, iPads/laptops or allow students to use their own devices in the following ways:
- Google Slides: Imagine you’re in a group of 5 people, each working on the same slide presentation simultaneously on 5 different computers. You’re all editing the presentation in real time – that’s what Google Slides is, basically. It’s really powerful, and I’ve found that students never grow tired of working in groups to create beautiful presentations. Get your students to present the slides to the class when the project is done and you’ve ticked so many boxes – collaboration, using ICT to enhance learning, leadership skills, courage, and on and on we could go. Just make sure you’re walking around the classroom to check on the students as they are doing the work, and ask the group leader to ‘share’ the work with you (this involves clicking a button, and selecting the teacher’s school Gmail address to share it to).
- Google Docs: This is similar to Google Slides, albeit with a slight difference: the students collaborate on a word-processed document in real time, rather than a slides presentation. It’s great for producing leaflets, infographics, reports, booklets, summaries and traditional ‘assignments’.
- Google Sheets: As the name suggests, this is a spreadsheet application that the students can collaborate on in real-time, in groups. As a science teacher I find that this is perfect for data collection and processing as it can be used to generate graphs and charts. It’s also good for keeping lists (e.g. lists of revision websites).
- Google Forms: Great for surveys and peer-assessment tasks. Students can create forms for other students to fill in, share these forms with their peers, receive responses and the software will even generate pie charts of the responses for quick analysis. It’s a fun way to use ICT to enhance learning, and a quick way to gather interesting data.
- New Google Sites: This is Google’s amazing website creation software. In a matter of a few clicks, students can create their own websites that are securely linked to the school’s G Suite server. I’ve just recently used Google Sites with my Year 7 students to create ePortfolios. These ePortfolios act as online records/journals where the students can record their reflections on their work, school achievements, extra-curricular activities and photographs of schoolwork they are really proud of. At many schools, these ePortfolios act as an ‘entire’ record, with students adding work to them throughout their time at school. It’s something meaningful that the students can take pride in, and spend significant time developing.
I’ve written a separate blog post about using Google Apps in teaching which you can find here.
#4: Create a Quiz
Quizzes can be a really fun way to test student knowledge, and when done via a group-creation project they can be much less stressful for students than traditional testing. Furthermore, there are a number of great, free multiple choice and graphic quiz creation tools available on the web:
- Kahoot!: Students can create an account (Attention: Make sure the students use their school e-mail address for safety) and then create a great multiple choice quiz. Always specify the number of questions you’d like the students to create. When ready, the group can present the Kahoot! to the class, and the students watching/playing will use their mobile devices as multiple choice ‘clickers’. The software comes with music (so use your classroom sound system, if you have one) and shows a running student ranking after each question. It’s great fun, and I’ve never known a student to dislike using Kahoot!.
- Quizlet: This comes in the form of virtual flashcards that the students create (e.g. key word on one side, definition on the other), but the fun starts with Quizlet Live. Basically, when the group has finished making their Quizlet, they activate Quizlet Live which automatically puts all the students into new groups to compete with each other. Again, music and a main screen showing the real-time progress of each team make for a very lively, active classroom experience.
- Wordwall: This app allows students to be more spatial in their quiz creations – offering word-matching, category brainstorms, rank orders and many more activities. You can read more about the wide-range of tasks that students can create with Wordwall here.
Can you think of any others? Please do feel free to comment in the comment box below this blog post.
#5: Marketplace activity
In a marketplace activity, the following steps are followed:
- Step 1: Students are placed into small groups and given material to learn. They could spend perhaps ten minutes learning about one aspect of the topic you’re teaching (each group can learn a different aspect/sub-topic, or each group can learn the same sub-topic).
- Step 2: One person from each group goes to another group to teach them what they have learned.
- Step 3: This ‘designated teacher’ also gets taught by the group.
- Step 4: The assigned person goes back to their original group and teaches them what they have learned
I have drawn a diagram of the process below (if my handwriting is too small to see on your screen, then please feel free to download the image and zoom in):
You can read more about marketplace activities here.
#6: Model building
Get your students to build things. Materials like plastic bottles, bottlecaps, cardboard, coloured paper, plasticine/modelling clay, straws, shoeboxes and old rope can all be used creatively by students to make models of the concepts they are studying. I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models to makeshift ‘eco gardens’. Here’s a model atom that one of my IGCSE Chemistry students made out of rudimentary materials a few years ago:
#7: Making videos and stop motion animations
Movies and stop-motion animations are fun projects which can really encourage students to approach a problem from creative perspective. The result? – Memory of the concept is greatly enhanced when compared with traditional teaching methods.
Stop-motion animations do take a long time, and are more suited to processes and systems (e.g. DNA replication, corrie formation, steps in differential calculus, etc.), whereas movies have a wider-range of applications.
You can find out more about how to make a stop-motion animation at this great ACMI webpage here. The students will need everyday objects and inexpensive materials (e.g. modeling clay, coloured paper, straws, etc.) and someone in the group will need to ‘film’ the project. Due to the high-amount of thought and planning involved, stop-motion animations are best suited to complex topics, as the level of thought and immersion needed by the group will lead to useful long-term memory of the concepts.
#8: Create a news report
A suitable example might be a group of three students being assigned the task of creating a news report about a chemical explosion. One student might be the best at art, and could be assigned to produce the graphics. One student might be great at verbal communication in front of an audience, and could be the ‘news anchor’. One student might understand chemical calculations really well, and could provide the script for the news anchor for that particular part of the task.
Students can get really creative with news reports, as nowadays there are so many ways in which they are done:
- Webpages (e.g. created using New Google Sites)
- Audio reports (e.g. for podcasting or internet radio)
- Video reports (e.g. for standard terrestrial TV, internet TV or a Vlog)
- Social media posts (If you go for this, then ask the students to compile an array of posts – one for IG, one for Facebook, one for Twitter, etc. – and make sure they link to a webpage the students have created)
- Print media (e.g. a newspaper, magazine article, newsletter, etc.)
This works great when you can provide the groups with a menu, like the one above, from which they can choose what to create.
#9: Create a puzzle booklet
The beauty of this task is that it is both fun and lends itself really well to delegation – one person can create a crossword, one person a word search, one person a fill-in-the-blanks, etc.
Another great thing about puzzle-building is that there are literally tons of free, puzzle building websites out there. Check these out:
- The Teacher’s Corner Crossword Maker
- The Wordsearch (word search maker)
- Alachua County Library District logic puzzle guide
- Sight Words Snakes and Ladders Board Creator
#10: Create a classroom display
A warm, inviting classroom that’s colorful, fresh and light can really benefit your students. In fact, expansive research published by the University of Salford shown that well-designed classrooms can improve learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16%.
This was the first time that clear evidence of the effect of the physical classroom environment on learning was established.
Oftentimes, teachers are stuck with the classrooms they are given. If your furniture is old, natural light is bad or the air-conditioning isn’t perfect, then it’s tough luck. One thing we can change, however, is the quality of our displays. Other aspects of the classroom environment can also be adjusted alongside this (See my article about this here: The Starbucks Protocol), so don’t neglect that side of the equation either.
So what are the best ways that we can create beautiful classroom displays? Good news – I’ve written a whole, separate blog post this very topic (with examples and instructions) here.