Gimme Five: Grouping Strategies

Thursday, April 10, 2014
giving you a hand, Suzanne

We all know that students should spend time in groups.  Students typically report liking time spent with a team.  But what should they be doing with this time?  Ah, that's where things get hairy.

It's no secret that my students typically sit in data-based, teacher-formed groups, but my true love is informal grouping.  These are groups that you don't assign.  Now don't get me wrong- I never ever let students form their own groups all willy nilly.  If I do, send me to the nurse because I must be running a fever.  I let these groups be the luck of the draw.  And because these groups only last for a short time, I can typically survive any dynamic duos that have formed.  

During my Halloween and Christmas posts, I showed how you can use stickers or trinkets to sort students into informal groups.  They love this part too and are typically pretty unsuspecting.  They care more about getting "their color" than coordinating with all their friends.  

Back to the issue at hand- 
Students are in groups.  Now what are they supposed to do?!  Might I present my five favorite grouping strategies.  All of these routines are from Acts of Teaching by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson and allow students to share their writing.

1.  Pointing
This is an excellent place to start (especially early in the year).  It establishes a safe group climate by having students point out the positive in each other's writing.  

Here's how it works:
-Divide students into groups
-Writers read the whole piece, then read it again.  (You'll get some push back on this.  Ha!  You might be thinking this is a goofy direction yourself.  But reading the piece through twice allows listeners to notice details and clarify meaning they might have missed the first time.)
-Listeners...well...listen.  During the second reading, they jot down words, phrases, or images that stick with them.
-After the reading, listeners point out what they liked about the writing.  

**Nothing negative is allowed- on the part of the writer or the listener.  We only point out what's positive.

2.  Showing
Showing encourages participation because there is no wrong answer.  Students create a metaphor based on their reaction to the writing.  I wouldn't tell them about the metaphor until they've done it.  This will make a great, "Whoa!  You just made an awesome metaphor!!" moment.

-In groups, writers read. Pause. Read again.
-Listeners write or doodle an object that the writing reminds them of.
     It reminds me of lightning because it is brief yet powerful.
     It reminds me of apple pie because it is warm and classic.
-After the reading, listeners share their metaphors and drawing and discuss their reaction to the writing.

3.  Highlighting
This strategy provides moral boosting verbal and visual feedback.  This might come as a shock, but students will need a highlighter for this activity.

-Writers read, pause, and then read again to their group.
-The second time through, listeners jot images they like.
-After reading listeners share these images, and the writer highlights these images in their paper.  

Students are left with a glowing review that warms their writing heart.

4.  Say Back
This is one of the most constructive strategies because writers are given both praise and suggestions.  It works best midway through the writing process.  Reinforce they the writer has ultimate say in which suggestions they choose to take and changes they make to the writing.

-Writers read.  Pause. Read again to their group.
-Upon the second reading, listeners jot down:
   -what they liked
   -what they want to know more about
-Listeners say these back to the writer.

5.  Analytic Talk
Have you ever had a student raise their hand and ask, "Is this a good thesis?" "Does my example make sense?" "Where could I add a transition?"  Yeah, me neither.  This strategy is for that kid.  

-Before meeting with their group, writers should up with one or two questions they would like listeners to consider.  
-The writer poses their question(s) to the group, reads, pauses, and reads again.
-The second time through, listeners jot their thoughtful responses to the question(s).  
-Listeners share their take on things with the writer and might pose suggestions.

There is novelty in the student groups.  They have been given specific, non-threatening instructions and a defined period of time in which to get them accomplished.  Students will like working with these groups AND you'll have the peace of mind that the time is meaningful.  That is high five worthy!

TEASER ALERT!: Be looking for a BIG announcement tomorrow!

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