Problem: You want give your high school (or middle school) Spanish students a group work activity, but….. it’s not as collaborative as you had hoped.
Solution: By the end of this blog post, you will have several ideas to try out with your students!
Working in groups is important for many reasons! In the language classroom, one of our major objectives is communication! We also know that working with a peer leads to better understanding for many of our students.
And did you know? Cooperative behaviors (like working together and discussing) are hallmarks of many cultures base values, including Asian, African and Latin American cultures!
Idea #1 for Group Work
This is the big winner! Give students a REASON that they care about to work together! For as many students who love to work with others, there are just as many who prefer to work alone, do all the work by themselves, or retreat entirely.
Consider using a prize system!
I created a “Prize Box” in my classroom years ago, and it’s very popular! In the box, I have things like:
-free samples of products (shampoo, body lotion, snacks, erasers, etc.)
-re-gifted items that we don’t need in my home (please don’t tell anyone I know!)
-drink boxes (one of THE MOST POPULAR prizes!)
-free homework pass
-choose your seat for the day pass
-candy/food (a lot of districts are no longer allowed to give out any kind of food due to allergies. Be sure you know if this is allowed!) Granola bars are very popular too for some reason!
So, the idea is, the winning group gets to pick a prize!
Another way to establish motivation is by assigning a grade to their work. These days, we have a variety of grading methods from Mastery Based Learning to Traditional Grading and everything in between.
Decide how this group work can fit into your gradebook. Even when the grade is not significant, it can really motivate students to try hard!
When I assign group work, everyone in the group gets the same grade, unless there is a student who has not participated at all. They know this up front, and it usually helps everyone in the group be invested in doing good work.
Give students a task that is easier to do when they work together! One of my favorites is my Group Writing Challenge.
I notice that many students struggle with things like adding detail, using transition words, and using language creatively. When students work together, the end
First, set up a reason to write based on the vocabulary and grammar that we’re studying. Try setting up some parameters that might seem overwhelming for students working on their own. (For example, they must use at least 15 vocab words from their list and they must have at least 3 transition words, etc.) And then I let them brainstorm and write together!
In the end, everyone should have the exact same final product, and everyone should have contributed to it. Then… and this is the best part!!!!
I correct only ONE of the papers from the group! I give feedback and a grade, and now I have corrected 5 writing samples instead of 25!
If you want to use one of my writing prompts, which have the instructions, rubric, and teacher tips all ready for you, click here!
Idea #4 for Group Work
In order for groups to work effectively, they need to be taught about the expectations. They need to be monitored to be sure that the expectations are being met. Sometimes they will need redirection or private chats to get them on track.
It’s really important to have your rules clear in your mind, and to make sure you have explained your expectations to students. What may seem obvious to you may not be as natural to our students.
Some examples of things I need to explain to students are:
-why I want them to work together (what are the benefits?)
-how to create a system where everyone participates in the group work
-why it’s necessary to slow down until everyone is ready to move on
-that the whole group will be disqualified from earning a prize if they are not all working together
-that they should NOT divide and conquer tasks, but rather work collaboratively through each one
Be patient and remind students each time what the expectations are. Compliment groups that are working well! Assist groups that need a little help.
Back to the “Prize Box”! I try to use this prize box for as many reasons as I can when I see students doing the right thing. How I determine the winner varies.
In the group writing challenges I usually choose a winner based on best quality, and if there’s a tie, most efficient group. Sometimes 2 groups win! I always tell my students ahead of time what parameters I’m using to choose the winner.
But everyone loves to win something! They look forward to it! It’s uplifting! And we all need that! And it sure does create a LOT of attention for doing something right, which reinforces that behavior in the winners and in the ones watching!
Prize box items don’t need to cost a lot of money. You could even think about applying for a grant, using Donors Choose, or asking friends and relatives for their samples and re-gifts!
Try one of my writing challenges and let me know what you think!
And check out these other blog posts to help you get off to a great start in the classroom!
How To Make the Most of Your Planning Time
Get Parents Involved in Spanish Class!
How To Make Connections With Your Spanish Students at the Beginning of the Year