To the Teacher:
is an effective technique for achieving certain kinds of intellectual
and social learning goals. It is a superior technique for conceptual
learning, for creative problem solving, and for increasing oral
language proficiency. Socially, it will improve intergroup relations
by increasing trust and friendliness. It will teach students
skills for working in groups that can be transferred to many
student and adult work situations. Groupwork is also a strategy
for solving two common classroom problems: keeping students
involved with their work, and managing students with a wide
range of academic skills."
C. Cohen, Designing Groupwork, Teachers College Press, Teachers
College, Columbia University, 1986. Chapters
offer specific discussions on such matters as the values and
problems of groupwork, helping students learn how to work together
effectively, the teacher's role, groupwork in bilingual and
multi-ability classrooms, and evaluating and improving groupwork.
is a method to encourage student self-examination about their
behavior in groups. For a detailed description, see Teaching
Social Responsibility in the high school section of TeachableMoment.Org.
activity involves the entire class and calls for problem-solving,
group cooperation, and post-activity assessment of behavior. This
exercise is useful at any time, but might be especially useful
early in the school year before students have begun any groupwork.
It is a type of activity that the class might refer back to throughout
is a good way to involve everyone in brief discussion at the same
time. Pair shares allow students to brainstorm and begin to discuss
an issue. They also enable the teacher to assess what students
pair facing each other. The teacher defines an issue, question,
or problem and invites each student, in turn, to speak in response
for one or two minutes. As a listener, the student is to focus
complete attention on the partner and what he/she is saying. After
the pair-share, the teacher asks each student to paraphrase the
partner's views before expressing their reactions in a short general
circles allow for students to have brief conversations with several
students into two groups of equal size. Ask one group to form
a circle and face outward, the other group to form an outer circle
by pairing with a partner from the inside circle. Pairs should
face each other, standing a few feet apart. The teacher presents
an issue, question, or problem and invites the pairs to give each
other their response. Each student in the pair has one or two
minutes to speak. Then the teacher asks the outside partner to
move one, two or three places to the right. Each student will
now have a new partner with whom to share ideas on the same issue,
question or problem or, perhaps, a somewhat different one.
process can multiply student conversations and promote participation.
students into groups of four to six or seven sitting in a circle,
perhaps to discuss the same issue, perhaps one of several questions
under class consideration. One student begins the go-around without
being interrupted, followed by each of the other students who
wish to speak in turn. The go-around then is repeated with another
question or problem.
is a structured small group approach to an issue, question, or
problem. This involves only speaking and listening-it is not a
time for discussion or dialogue.
groups of three or four students in small circles. Within each
circle, each student has a minute to speak. Designate a volunteer
in each group to speak first. Announce when time is up.
poll is a way to activate students, to gain insight into the possibility
that people can disagree without arguing or fighting, that they
can listen respectfully to views different from their own, perhaps
even change their minds.
two large signs on opposite sides of the room: "Strongly
Agree" and "Strongly Disagree." Tell students they
are to participate in a moving opinion poll. Each time students
hear a statement they are to move to the place along the imaginary
line that most closely reflects their opinion. For strong disagreement,
move all the way to one side of the room. For strong agreement,
move to the opposite side. Or move to anywhere in between.
with non-controversial opinions as an introduction-e.g.: The best
band in history was The Beatles. The best dessert is apple pie.
Then introduce statements on the issue, question, or problem to
be explored. After each statement, invite a few students to explain
briefly why they are standing where they are. This is not a time
for conversation or debate. Rather, it is a way to find out what
people are thinking and how differently they may view a matter.
The teacher might want to change statements slightly by qualifying
them or putting them in different contexts to see if opinions
is an especially good for involving the whole class in one small
group discussion when students have very different views on a
the conversation by asking five to seven students to make a circle
with their chairs in the middle of the room. Try to ensure that
the group reflects diverse points of view. Ask everyone else to
make a circle of chairs around the fish bowl to create a larger
circle around the smaller circle. Only people in the fish bowl
the fish bowl by asking a question and inviting students to speak
to it in a "go-around" with each student responding
without being interrupted. Next, designate a specific amount of
time for clarifying questions and further comments from the fish
15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger circle to participate
in the fish bowl conversation by tapping a fish bowl student on
the shoulder and moving into that student's seat. Continue with
is a conventionally structured plan for study of a controversial
issue. Emphasizes information-gathering, small group work, group
consensus, and the preparation of arguments from more than one
point of view. Developed by David an Roger Johnson. Similar in
some respects to the debate model.
preparation includes 1) choosing a controversial issue on which
at least two positions are held; 2) preparing materials that will
present facts and opinions on all sides of the issue, or will
lead students to them; 3) assigning students to groups of four
and pairs within each group to opposite positions; 4) assigning
each group the common goal of reaching a group consensus and presenting
a group report after all differences of opinion have been explored;
5) reviewing active listening skills, particularly paraphrasing
and summarizing another's position, being able to disagree with
ideas respectfully, and consensus-achieving skills, such as building
on others' ideas.
Divide students into groups of four with two pairs in each.
Each pair is to study a different aspect of a controversial issue,
gathering facts and preparing arguments.
2. Each pair presents its case while the other pair listens,
then asks any clarifying questions.
3. Each side challenges the other side's arguments and
presents the strongest case it can for the opposite side of the
4. Pairs then switch, preparing a new set of arguments
and presents the strongest case it can for the opposite side of
5. Group decides which arguments are most valid from both
sides and seeks a statement, a resolution, a consensus that incorporates
the best thinking of the group as a whole.
6. Group prepares a written or oral report for presentation
to class. If the group finds agreement impossible, it may prepare
a minority report.
Believing Game asks students to enter as fully as possible into
a point of view that may be unfamiliar or even disagreeable, to
suspend judgment and experience it, to look for virtues and strengths
that might otherwise be missed.
agrees in theory that we can't judge a new idea or point of view
unless we enter into it and try it out, but the practice itself
is rare," writes Peter Elbow, creator of the game.
the game by presenting either orally or in writing a point of
view about a controversial issue that most or even all of the
class disagrees with. Then divide the class into discussion groups
of four or five students each for about 10 minutes. In their discussions
students are to make only statements that support the viewpoint
presented. They are not role-playing, but working to find anything
with which they can genuinely agree.
students to work at this approach even if it feels artificial
to them. They need to ask themselves, "How could this argument
possibly be right?" "What's worthwhile about anything
in this point of view?" Success in the game is marked not
by believing everything but by staying in the believing mode.
The teacher's role is to move from group to group and prevent
students from slipping into negativity.
the teacher interrupts and asks that for perhaps five minutes
students work at formulating questions in the believing mode.
These should aim at clarification and invite fuller understanding
and acceptance. A student might say to other members of the group,
"Help me to understand why X makes sense or can be true."
"I've never heard before that Y happened. Can someone explain
it further?" The teacher's task is to prevent students from
asking loaded, hostile questions and to encourage affirming questions
game is difficult and only repeated experiences with it are likely
to reveal its virtues. Entering into and really experiencing points
of view different from one's own takes time and effort. But it
invites listening, instead of arguing; it fosters empathy rather
than antagonism; it encourages an understanding that there can
be competing truths, each with some value.
also "Teaching Critical Thinking"
in the high school section of www.teachablemoment.org for a critical
thinking procedure that proposes, first, the believing game, second,
the more conventional doubting game and, third, an approach to
integrating student thinking.
major goals of groupwork with students early in the year. Elizabeth
Cohen offers in the introductory quote an overview of those she
regards as especially important.
goals for discussions, brainstorm criteria for what makes a discussion
interesting and useful. Come up with questions that will help
the group assess the quality and process of small and large group
the questions that might be useful for assessments:
Did each group member have an adequate opportunity to speak?
2. Did each person feel that his or her comments were heard
and respected, even if challenged?
3. Did students hear anything that complicated their thinking?
That offered new insights or information?
4. What roles did individuals in the group play-leader,
clarifier, idea person, organizer, etc.?
5. What behaviors helped or hindered the group?
6. How useful was the discussion? If useful, why? If not,
what problems can you identify?
7. What specific ideas do you have to improve group discussions
lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside
Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome
your comments. Please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.