Deepening Comprehension with 10 Collaborative Activities

Collaboration plays a key role in elevating reading comprehension. Conversing with others helps readers to establish a connections and enables readers to generate new insight in their reading. My English classroom is all about group work. I am not a lecturer. My students work collaboratively daily. I believe that we learn from others and effective collaboration is talked about, practiced, and highlighted in my classroom through a variety of small group activities.

Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’s book Comprehension and Collaboration (2009) offer six ingredients to group development: (1) Articulate Expectations; (2) Discuss and Decide Norms or Written and Unwritten Rules of the small group; (3) Friendship; (4) Leadership — the most effective groups are leaderless; (5) Open Communication; and (6) Address Conflict and Disagree Agreeably. Throughout the school year students are practicing and developing ways to work and communicate with others.

Here are ten different small group activities that I use in classroom:

1. THINK DOTS or ROLL THE DICE– The teacher creates a numbered list of questions or tasks (6 for 1 die and 12 for 2 dice). In small groups, students take turns rolling the dice and complete the task.

2. JIGSAW – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members

3. WRITE AROUND – A trustworthy Harvey Daniels activity that allows students to collaborate on paper and in conversation about a specific topic or subject. Here are clear directions for the write around.

4. LEARNING STATIONS – Also called “Learning Centers,” are situations around the classroom that a teacher sets up for students to work in small groups. Each of these centers has supplies and materials that work well together and give students the tools to complete activities and mini-projects. Teachers can tap into the multiple intelligences to create the center or tasks. 

5. NUMBERED HEADS – Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.

6. MYSTERY ENVELOPES – A mysterious envelope is delivered to the classroom at the start of class and handed to specific students. Students open the envelope and must complete the tasks collaboratively to solve a mystery or answer questions.

7. GROUP TESTS – These are not really tests but I allow students to collaborate on quiz or test like questions. I offer two rounds: the QUICK FIRE round is a challenging task that students have 5 minutes to complete of one complex question and the first students to answer these right I might give them “Smarties” (the candy) or give them a pass on a certain amount of questions on the group test in the second round, the CHALLENGE. Students work collaboratively to complete a 50 or more questions. These can be multiple choice questions or basic comprehension questions. I have also put all the questions on a bingo board and required students to complete the entire bingo board.

8. AMAZING RACE – I did this in my To Kill a Mockingbird Unit, students were organized in teams and had to complete six different tasks I scattered around the school. Students were given clues to lead them to the different tasks. Students worked together to solve the clues and complete the different tasks. I describe the activity more in depth in another blog post that you can link to here.

9. THE FISH BOWL – I do fishbowls often, but I found these clear and simple directions from the blog Got To Teach.  Divide the class in half.  One half will form the center circle, facing inward. The other half of the class will form the outer circle, facing inward as well. The students in the inner circle will discuss a predetermined topic.The outside circle will be listening to the discussion,  making note of interesting, new, or contradictory information.  They are not allowed to say a word at this point. The inner and outer circles can then switch positions and repeat the steps above.

10. FOUR CORNERS – Again, another great collaborative activity from the blog Got To Teach. (I will be using Monday with my students to discuss the central idea of a text.) Choose four aspects of a topic that your class is currently focusing on.  Assign each of these aspects to a corner (or an area) of your room. Present the topic and the four related aspects to the whole group and give the students some “think time.” Students can then choose a corner to discuss the topic. Have specific guiding questions available in the specific areas to help support and guide student discussions. Representatives from each corner can share what their respective groups discussed.

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