The precious moments of team spirit

Earlier today I experienced a lesson which left me with a feeling of deep professional satisfaction. Let me share some of the moments here on my blog.

I singularly taught a double lesson (90 minutes altogether), which meant plenty of time to do stuff I don't normally do. Plus I decided to set up group work which was not part of my original plan. Not that group work is something extraordinary or unusual in my teaching, but for the sake of effectiveness, when grouping my students, I usually ask one pair to quickly join another pair (quite obviously the nearest one). This only requires little movement and almost no changes to the seating arrangement. This technique has proved quite effective over time, particularly with larger classes. However, today, with all the extra time on my hands, I approached group work a bit differently. 

There were 21 students present - 2 were missing. I quickly estimated that I needed to make 5 groups: 4 groups of 4 and one group of 5. I chose five kids who I knew are really motivated language learners, as well as good writers. Then I asked the appointed 'leaders' to choose kids they'd like to work with. This is not always feasible but I felt I could afford to give the kids some freedom (the time factor again). There is a little psychological drawback to this approach though; the last kids that remain to be chosen may feel sad. However, if a grouping technique like this is done sporadically, it doesn't do any harm to the overall atmosphere. To the contrary, it reveals a lot about the class dynamics, which can be quite useful for the teacher in the long term perspective. I should point to the fact that I'm the homeroom teacher of this particular class and this type of information is very important for me. Next time I'll be able to work with the data I collected in today's lesson; for example, I may appoint the former 'outsiders' as the leaders and see how it works. 

As I said, the leaders I chose today are quite responsible language learners, and I noticed that they tried to select the team players very carefully; apparently they tended to avoid some of the notorious spoilsports. This part of group making went really well and nobody made any obstructions, which, inevitably, sometimes happens in a class of 14-year-olds. When the kids finally settled down, I set up a writing activity where the strongest student was in charge of recording the story, while the other members had to help and participate actively in the writing process. 

I was surprised how well they all worked during this stage. I walked around the class monitoring, making sure that even the weakest students were contributing in some way. I noticed that the writers sometimes changed the wording of a sentence other members of the group had come up with, which was beneficial because it helped the weaker students learn some new words and structures, and it made them become aware of some of the mistakes which were made along the way. In addition, the strongest students were motivated since they had the right to change things if they felt it was to the good. 

Again, while monitoring, I didn't catch anybody arguing or mocking others, and it seemed nobody felt offended or even bored. Later on, during the presentation stage, everybody seemed involved too. I had asked the team to choose one member (it could be anybody but the writer) to present the story to the class. The rest of the team had an important job to do during the presentation; they made background sounds such as barking, knocking, shouting, blowing, coughing, etc. (note: the story had originally been presented as a story in sounds, and after the listening stage and subsequent language work, the students’ task was to reconstruct the story into the said verbal version). At this point I concentrated on the weakest students to check if they knew where to make a particular sound. As there were lots of new vocabulary items, being able to make the right sound at the right time meant that the listeners understood the reader and that they had collaborated actively during the writing process. 

As you can see, I didn't do anything special in today's lesson, and I'm sure that you teachers have done something similar many times in your life. So have I after all. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it was a complete mess. But today it just worked the way it should. Overall, it was a quick and effective activity, and I believe everybody took away something new.