Using Roles in Collaborative Learning

teen groupWhen students are placed in collaborative groups, whether it be for a lab activity, literature circle, or other activity, it is very easy for them to become complacent and to let some (or one) member of the group carry the load.  While some of this may be intentional, I think that in some cases this is not completely intentional but due to the fact that stronger students may jump in, and weaker students may not know how, or be as quick to contribute.

Whatever the reason, one way to combat this is through the use of roles in the group.  I have found that for group roles to be successful, a few things must be in place:

  • The roles are legitimate, not created (there really are enough different group functions that need each other).
  • Students are held to their roles
  • Students are trained in their roles

This means that some time must be spent in class teaching the job ‘expectations’ and perhaps practicing.   Maybe roles are assigned the first time, and students can choose another time.  I have also found that it helps to have some sentence starters and clear examples for students of what their role looks or sounds like, and how they should/could interact.

There are many free versions online, but here are a few that I particularly like:

Role Cards from Read, Write, Think

POGIL Role Cards

Cooperative Learning Placards

These can even be laminated and attached to the table, or handed out repeatedly as students learn their roles.

Currently, especially with increasing technology use, many students truly don’t have good cooperative learning skills and are not good and the type of group interactions we would like to see.  As teachers, this becomes something we need to teach!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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