One of the tricky things about distance learning and online learning is having students work in groups. In the traditional classroom, so many teachers facilitate group activities, allowing students to engage with each other: talking with their neighbor, getting a quick answer to a question, collaborating on an activity or an assignment, and discussing their thinking.
Many classrooms even have desks and seating arrangements set up specifically for group collaboration and activities. There are lessons and activities that just don’t work unless students can interact with each other.
So how does group collaboration work online? We must admit it can be challenging, and it takes a bit of creativity as you are learning new technology and teaching new procedures. But it can be done!
One type of tool that makes group collaboration possible is through online group messaging/meeting tools such as Chat Pods or Zoom Groups or other messaging tools. If you have access to these types of tools, you can set up lessons and activities online, so your students can collaborate with their classmates, even while distance learning.
Here are a few tips on how to use online groups like zoom rooms or even just chat pods to engage students and set them up for success when working in groups:
1.Small Group Assignments
Break out your students into small groups using a group video room or a text-based share pod. Have them choose roles or assignments for group activities (e.g., Time Keeper, Note Taker, Facilitator, Recorder). If you have a class theme, you can have fun by naming roles according to your theme. For example, if your theme for the year involves travel, you could have a Pilot, a Co-Pilot, an Air Traffic Controller and a Steward or Stewardess in each group.
When students are working in these groups, encourage the leader or facilitator to keep the discussion on track. As the teacher, you can pop in and out of these groups to help make sure they are on task and aren’t getting stuck anywhere.
When you are ready, have them all come back to the larger group and have a few of the students share what their group came up with.
We all love a good graffiti walk in the classroom to help our kids brainstorm and share what they already know about a topic or subject. To simulate that online, again break the students out into smaller groups and have them brainstorm around a specific topic and have one person in the group write down everything they come up with. Then come back together and have one person from each group share with the larger classroom. Then go back into the groups for the second topic.
As an example, if you are doing a new unit on animals, the first task might be to have the small groups name as many mammals as they can. The second might be reptiles and so on. Just like you would in the classroom with your four walls, use the small groups to have your students brainstorm together.
It may feel difficult the first time you try it, but you can use these video groups or even chat pods to simulate participants working in different stations to discuss a problem, debate an issue, or share examples.
3.Collaborate and Debate
For older students, a debate can be simulated using breakout groups. Define an activity with two opposing views or ideas and break the students up into teams to develop their “arguments” around that idea. You can have more than one small group working on each side of the debate. Have one person in each group who is responsible for writing down what is shared, and then another person who is willing to share the group’s collaboration with the larger group.
Again, as a teacher you can “drop in” to any one of the groups to offer help and make sure they are on track and working well together.
Using breakout groups in combination with eBooks can allow you to create partners or small groups to read aloud to one another. Mimicking small reading groups may be a helpful strategy to keep students engaged with the text they are reading and give them continued practice reading aloud.
Create small groups for those students who need to have specific skills reinforced. This allows time with students who need targeted attention and feedback.
Extra Tip: Remember, when using new online tools or introducing a new procedure, make a lesson out of it. Give students clear instructions and establish procedures, then give them time to practice the new tool with something fun, without the pressure of learning new content. This will allow you, as the teacher, to check that everyone can participate, and it gives students the chance to practice the tool. This will allow you all to feel comfortable and have confidence before jumping into curriculum content.
At EdTech Solutions it is our hope that these tips continue to give you ideas and offer you hope for how to move forward as you teach online. We work with teachers and administrators every day to ensure that our products both support and enhance teaching. Let us know if we can help you in any way!
For more on our series, Tips to Engage Students Online, see our additional blogs:
For more tips for engaging students online, check out this PDF from Pearson with 45 ideas.