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Make Collaborative Working… Work!

Over the last couple of years, I have worked a great deal on considering how students might make the most of their group work situations. Much of this consideration centered around engaging those who are forever content to sit back and let others work.

Equally, it was to deal with those learners who always want to take control of the whole situation; alienating everyone else present (I can see a lot of myself in them).

These are some of the steps that have been taken:

Early on in the year, students need to identify the features of effective collaborative learning. They can do this by determining what I would be hoping to hear and see with effective group work. They should also identify how it might feel to be in a collaborative learning situation. Queue a list similar to this:

IMGP2244 IMGP2245 IMGP2246

This list should be displayed in your classroom throughout the year so that every time students work collaboratively, they know their success criteria. Ever since I completed TEEP training a couple of years ago, I have really valued the fact that students should be aware of the learning process as well as any content produced as a result of an activity. As a result of this holistic approach, as part of any plenary during a collaborative working lesson, time should be paid to reviewing the success criteria as well as content. You should state observations made- about behaviour and try to note down quotes of things they’ve said. This can work for all learners: those working well and those who need to work more effectively in such situations. All comments you make should be anonymous but students will recognise many of the things you come out with and will be motivated by them. They also see how much importance you’re placing on them getting it right. Do this frequently early on and they’ll soon be in the right habits. I haven’t done it with a couple of groups this year and I can really tell the difference!

I have been using party hats in classes for a good while and these are some of the ways they help group work and discussions:


During analysis lessons they have been used so that each student has a role:

Purple are looking at themes

Silver are looking at language

Blue are looking at characters and so on…

After a time, students can swap hats and examine something new. Setting the roles can form a large part of the ‘stretch & challenge’ part of the lesson as you can decide what part of their learning students need to develop the most. This is clearly taken from De Bono’s hats and they can obviously work too! I just love to adapt things so that they make sense for me and my learners. Wearing hats provides a fun element, which I always aim for in any of my lessons.

I’ve used them as part of a seminar too.

The red ones give the significant quotes they’ve selected.

The yellow ones apply terminology to these quotes. 

The green ones advance the analysis and further the discussions.

Again, students swap over so they get to have a new role throughout the lesson.

I plan to use them in the future for pair work- to identify the pilot; who must steer their passengers through a revision activity. Peer teaching but with a stronger sense of responsibility- because they’re wearing a hat!

This week, I chose to do an Easter egg treasure hunt with plastic eggs bought from my new favourite resources shop: Poundland. I hid them around the room and students had until the end of the Mission Impossible soundtrack to find and egg and therefore their role for the session.

Folded up inside each of the eggs were group roles adapted dramatically from ideas generated by a Teaching Shakespeare textbook.


The roles are:


Luminary– they highlight key pieces of dialogue/ or speech and identify why they might be selected for the exam.


Prophet– they form connections between what’s happening in the scene and other key events before/ after.


Summariser– they summarise the main events and changes and developments of themes.


Character captain– they analyse the development and interactions between characters throughout a scene.


Wordsmith– they focus on features of language and apply lots of terminology.

These are for English classes but I’m sure could be adapted for many other subjects. I plan to add other roles in the future…

The pictures on the cards were drawn by my own fair hand on my new iPad. As I think you’ll agree, they’re works of art. No doubt my students will appreciate the amateur element that seems to have extended from my video-making to my drawing!

We were reviewing the scenes of the play so far so I wanted students to cover a lot of material in a short space of time. Therefore, roles would change quickly and time limits were given in order to motivate. To swap roles, I chose various theme tunes and students had to guess them. Once guessed, roles were swapped and the activity began again, with students looking at the scene in their newly allocated way. Here is a selection of the themes used:

Ghostbusters      The A Team    The Raccoons      Star Wars     James Bond    Harry Potter

Another aspect of TEEP is that learning experiences are more effective if they’re multi-sensory. I still struggle to include smell so any suggestions are welcome but I do always try to have as many of the other elements in every lesson as I can- it makes the lessons much more entertaining and memorable, which is even more important at this exams and revision time of year (hence the theme tunes, eggs, pictures and coloured A5 sheets for notes).

Here is the word document of the roles so that you can use/ adapt the cards and roles yourselves:

Group roles

So, when it comes to groups- add some hats, cards and theme tunes and you’ll have cracked the egg of effective collaborative working!

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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