Multi-Step Group Activities in the Secondary Classroom:Implementation Tips
Multi-step group activities are beneficial for students in all content areas and grade levels. Secondary teachers may feel that they take too much time to plan but the following tips will hopefully help you take the plunge and plan more student-centered activities in your classroom.
I decided to do a social studies skill builder map activity today with my 8th Grade US History students. It went well first hour but didn't run as smoothly as I would've liked. I reflected between my first and second class and made adjustments, with great success.
Today's activity meets the first criteria of any good classroom activity--it has purpose and meaning. My historians were analyzing historic sources and determining how pioneers overcame geographic hardships and challenges on the Oregon Trail. They will also process their thinking on Monday, after reviewing the work they completed today.
My classroom is set up in 5 tables of 6 students but I needed 8 groups today (there were 8 placards for students to analyze, discuss, and write answers about). I used an iPad app called PikMe to randomly form my 8 groups (the app is fantastic but does take advanced prep--you must enter in all of your students' names beforehand). PikMe makes random student selections a breeze.
I created table numbers during the summer using dollar store frames (see picture below). I already had numbers 1-6 and hastily made a 7 and an 8 table tent out of paper. (Note to self: go to dollar store and pick up a few more frames this weekend!) These numbers have served many uses throughout the school year and were worth the time and effort to make.
I dropped one placard off at each station while students were clearing their books from the desks and finding their new seats. They began photo analysis while I handed out group maps. The maps needed assembly--I went back to each group while students were working to explain assembly. (Yes, I was repeating myself over and over but the class as a whole was much more productive than if I were to explain to everyone at once how to do it.)
Another key change I made this time around was to have the students move to the new placard, not have the placards move. A small change? Maybe, but with a huge positive payoff. Did it take a few extra minutes for students to keep settling themselves at a new station? Yes, but I felt it was necessary. This activity was done on a Friday, in the early spring, during a Pi Day Math class extravaganza at school complete with circular treats! My students needed to be up and moving more than they typically do in order to burn off their excess energy (and increased sugar intake)! I set my iPad timer (and let various students start and stop the timer) to keep all students productive and on-task. Groups moved to the next area when time was up.
To close, multi-step group activities are meaningful opportunities for students at all grade levels to be productive and practice discussion skills with peers.