Groups work best, of course, with intentional work! And they work best if students are clear on the expectations. Knowing the expected learning outcomes helps students to focus on the details of the task they are completing.
Defining the structure of the task may be the key in the success of groups (other than classroom environment as a whole). Below are some structures for group work with sample activities ...
Reciprocal TeachingReciprocal Teaching is a partner activity. One partner is the coach, the other is the problem solver. The coach watches the work of his partner and asks questions to clarify and guide him. I chose to list possible questions for the coach on this Domain/Range task. Notice the coach can see the suggested questions and the answers to his partner's work.
Row GamesRow Games are partner activities. Each partner has their own work to do. The key to the activity is that the solutions to the work in each row matches - making the activity self-checking. You can find many "row games" here!
Multiple Methods, Comparison
For solving systems of equations and for solving quadratics we teach multiple methods of solving. Some methods work better for some problems and asking students to determine which method is better makes for a good group discussion. Here is a sample activity using solving quadratics.
Round Robin (a Kagan Structure)
Round Robin works for any multi-step type of problem. Students work in groups of 3, 4, 5, or 6. Sometimes, we use this in rows - passing the paper back for each step. Students in a group have different colored pens/pencils. Each student in the group works just one step of a problem; the next student is responsible for checking that step and adding the next one. The last student in the group is responsible for checking the solution to be sure it works. Solving log equations, for example, works well.
Numbered Heads (a Kagan Structure)
Numbered Heads works well for almost any guided practice - especially problem solving. I used this in conjunction with hole punches (stamps, stickers). Students worked on problem solving in a group. When the group finished one problem (or a section of problems) the whole group checked in with me. I asked one person in the group to explain the work. Each visit I varied who I asked.
Jigsaw works well for the larger problem solving. Group students - number them. All of the "ones" work together, the "twos" and so on. After those "expert" groups complete their work, they return to their "home" groups ... to teach one another the key aspects of their problem solving.
By the way, have any of you used the Algebra 2 with Space Science Applications for problem solving? I think some of those problems would make good investigations ... and using the Jigsaw structure might be helpful!
What group structures have worked well in your classes? Share in the comments??