Group Work: Eliminating Dictators & Freeloaders When Doing Cooperative Group Work

A great classmate is . . . kind, helpful, friendly, nice, and respectful.

A great classmate does . . . help others, share, works hard, tries his or her best.

A great classmate says . . . please, thank you, I’m sorry, Let me help you, asks how are you.

A great classmate is not . . . rude, mean, impatient, a bully, a gossip, a tattletale.

The Declaration of Independence was a collaboration. Music and dance is collaboration. Google was created because two men collaborated on an idea. Wikipedia is all about collaboration.  Many great ideas and inventions happen because people got together to create and share. We need to make sure that our classrooms allow students to work independently, with partners, in small groups, and as a large group.

Collaboration plays a big part in school, sports, and at work.  Getting people to work together does not come naturally and as teachers we need to foster positive collaboration and group work in our classroom. Collaboration is part of building a community of learners. Here are some benefits to collaborating and working in small groups as identified by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (2009):

  • Collaboration generates energy for challenging work.
  • In small groups we are smarter.
  • In small groups diversity is an asset.
  • Collaboration makes for engaged, interactive learning possible.
  • Collaboration allows teachers to differentiate instruction.
  • Well-structured group work enhances student achievement.

The important thing to note is that effective groups are made, not born. Collaboration doesn’t always work and as teachers, we need to help facilitate good group work so that it can be successful in all the ways described above. Collaborative skills need to be modeled and taught. Often times assigning group roles within a small group can hold students accountable but the challenge for teachers is always how to make sure that every contributes without one person feeling left out or another person taking total control.

Here are two collaborative group activities I utilize in my classroom to promote community and collaboration.

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. has examples of different ways to jigsaw an activity across content areas and grade levels. 

Numbered Heads – Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. 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.

What are you ideas and trustworthy strategies for effective group work?


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One thought on “Group Work: Eliminating Dictators & Freeloaders When Doing Cooperative Group Work

  1. bjneary says:

    Love this post, cooperation is so important and I am glad you employ the many strategies to make it successful for your students!

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