By Ralitsa TodorovaI had the pleasure (and quite frankly, luck) of teaching a small course last semester with 18 lovely students. I taught Experimental Psychology at Hunter which met for 3 hours, twice a week, so I had to find a number of ways to break up our sessions and keep time moving. One of the techniques I used most was dividing the students into groups and having them work on various activities together. The assignments you give will vary based on your course, but what I want to talk about here is the actual use of groups and ways of breaking students up in to them.
For starters, I began the semester with a number of ice breakers so that we all got to know each other and our names. This is obviously much easier to do with a class of 20 or so, but can be accomplished with bigger classes as well. Starting the semester off in this way makes students more comfortable and open to various group activities later on, as they are already used to the fact that they will be working with virtually everyone in the class. It also encourages participation from the start, as it gets everyone talking.What you’ll find pretty quickly (and all of you know already) is that people tend to sit in one seat on the first day of class and then hold on to that seat dearly for the rest of the semester. So the old count-off-by-4’s trick means that you will end up with the same students in the same groups each time. This is where I encourage you to vary the way you break up your groups. Some suggestions:
- Have students line up in order of their birthdays – and for a challenge, have them do this without speaking. They can use their fingers or any other gesture, but they should get to down to the month and date! Then, you can have them count off from there, which means they will end up in a different group than usual.
- Have students line up alphabetically by first name or last name, also without talking. First names will be easy for them if you’ve done ice breakers, but this can be fun even with a group of 40 or so!
- Have students break out into groups based on their favorite season – spring, summer, winter, and fall can each work together. In my class last semester, 9 of my students chose fall so we had to break up that group into two. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but you can easily adjust and adapt and changing things up makes for a more interesting class session.
- Be creative! Especially if you have a longer class time, having students move around breaks up these longer sessions.
The main point here is that varying the groups that students work in means that they will get exposed to different perspectives, ideas, and group dynamics every time they meet. This also fosters a positive classroom environment as a whole, as the group feels closer to one another the more they get to know each other. This will also make students feel more comfortable in participating and asking questions. I’m telling you – this works! My class was at 7 in the morning and 15 out of 18 of my students participated many times per class session. And at the end of the semester, many of them thanked me for creating a classroom environment where they felt comfortable with one another and able to get to know each other.So – break students up into diverse groups and let them learn from each other!