One of the main differences between middle school teachers and elementary school teachers is their mindset around forming groups. Groups are essential when it comes to our students learning how to collaborate with others. As the teacher, it is our job to teach them how to do this in a healthy way. Therefore, we need to create opportunities that will allow our students to actively discuss, justify and debate.
Group activity in the classroom does not have to be an elementary thing, but rather a teaching thing. Groups must be used in all grade levels across all content areas. Teachers typically shy away from groups for various reasons; the most common being behavior and structure. Activities that involve movement, talking and possible off task behaviors can be intimidating, especially for a new teacher. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be and the more you do it, not only will your students get better at it, so will you.
Make it work
Group activities, centers or discussion can be effective in any classroom setting. The teacher has to make it work for their classroom, so finding what works best for your class and classroom might take some trial and error. The first thing you need to get past is your mindset around forming groups and running groups in your classroom. When I started teaching middle school I heard several teachers complain that groups don’t work at that level because there is not enough time. I think that is an excuse and students shouldn’t suffer because of our lack of effort to make something work. Groups can work in any setting, in any time frame and content area. We have to make it work for us and our students. Which means we must put in some time to make it happen.
One way to assign groups in the classroom is to look at the data, which I talked about extensively in a previous post. Another way to form groups is based on ability. You might create a group based on skills that students need to work on or groups based on multi-level ability. This means the group is made up of students at all learning levels. Or you can do random groups by having students choose popsicle sticks when they come into the room or colorful bracelets. Whatever method you choose to do, it is a good idea to keep it simple and ever-changing. You don’t want students to get complacent in working with one particular group all year. You want to give them the opportunity to expand and move into different groups throughout the year.
Once students have been assigned their groups it is imperative that they understand the expectations. Have a system in place that will reinforce the responsibilities they have when working with their peers. I like to use a group poster in my classroom that breaks down the expectations. Repeating these rules and expectations consistently will remind students while they are working. Although it may become redundant, it will cut down on behavior issues and off task behavior.
Use a timer to keep students on track during group activities. Middle school students will be able to keep track of their own time while working. Assigning a specific time keeper to each group will be beneficial and engaging.
One of the main complaints I hear at the middle school level is the amount of time students spend in the classroom. Teachers believe there isn’t any time to do rotations/centers in their classrooms. This is false. Rotations/centers can look different in every classroom because there are several ways to incorporate them. One way to run your rotations would be to have one rotation assigned to each group a day. For 15-20 minutes students will work in their groups and complete the activity for the day. This will give the teacher time to prepare students for rotations and reinforce the expectations before they begin. Another strategy could be to have students switch centers and they will have a specific amount of time to work at each station. This strategy will force students to stay focused as they complete their task in a shorter amount of time.
You may find that some of these tips work for your classroom ans some may not. Either way, group work/activities are possible in the middle school classroom. It will get your students moving and enhance their engagement in the classroom.
Do you have your middle school students work in centers? What has worked in your classroom? Share your ideas below. We could love to hear from you!