Sunday Panel: Study Tips for Students

Sunday Panel StickyWhat study tips do you give your students?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:Many of my students, I believe, don’t really know how to study. I try to use some of the review time in class to introduce and practice study skills. These include websites with practice questions, use of quizlet, creation of a study guide. I also have put a big emphasis on close reading and annotating of test questions, and have given bonus points to students who annotated on their test.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: To trust themselves.  My students consistently demonstrate they know more than their test scores reflect.  During review games, I praise how much they know, to try to build up their self-confidence– they DO know this.  In my classroom, I also have the luxury to keep testing low-stakes.  It’s unfortunate the so much of teaching is turning into testing– after school, there are no test sin life.  No one-off chances to prove what you know.  Jobs rely on hard work, application, and frequently include the opportunity to try again (with little or no penalty.)  So, I also try to remind my students of that– life is not about taking tests, but about demonstrating what they can do with the information.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:Students need to study every night (or almost every night) – not cram before the test. They don’t like to hear that, but it is true.

I try to help them model it. I ask them to take out their notes, maybe with five minutes left of class. I ask them to read over the notes, and suggest that they do that every day. Once they are familiar with the material, they can focus on individual points before the test.

Consider Your Review Strategy

There are a lot of factors to consider when planning a review, including whether a game would be useful or not.

  • Game, activities, or questions: It seems the most common choices are to do some sort of review game, to do some review activity that tries to both reinforce and apply, or to complete a set of review questions, like a list of terms or types or problems that may appear on the test.  The benefits of games and well-designed activities is that they can engage the student, reinforcing learning rather than just reviewing for the sake of going over it one more time.
  • Solo, small group, whole class: Which is going to have the biggest benefit to individual students?  Especially those that need the review most.  I was subjected to a great many review games that pitted the whole class against each other, with the fastest thinking (the one who raised their hand first, as determined by the teacher).  I’m not the fastest thinker, especially when faced with first processing an oral question (probably my weakest modality).  So, my role in those reviews, like many of my classmates, became, at best passive.  At worst, well, I could hide the GameBoy under my desk and play Tetris until the bell rang.
    • I advocate for smaller grouping that reduce or eliminate anyone just being a passive participant.  Something should keep them paying attention and engaged.  Just listening to my classmate(s) give answers was not effective or engaging.
    • Another factor is how to measure engagement.  Some students are content to let group mates do the work (i.e. do the review) while some students really get into the chance to work together and discuss (great for those interpersonal intelligence students).  Do you give everyone a job, like recording answers or monitor informally or let them make their choices?
  • Cooperative or competitive: this may actually change with your class make up.  I’ve had some classes where several highly competitive students were willing to learn ANYTHING for our bi-weekly review games, just to win.  I’ve had other classes that just didn’t like competing and either wanted to help each other or gave up because they didn’t like the “pressure.”  (And this is without pressure of fastest being first.)
  • Modalities/ Intelligences: Are you being fair to students who learn or process differently?  As noted above, I was subjected to a lot of speed-based review games that relied on the teacher reading a question outloud.  Can you display the questions so visual learners have a better chance?  Work in groups for interpersonal intelligences?  Remove ‘speed’ for those that can get the right answer, but more slowly?

A good review, that fits with the classroom and covers the concepts effectively and engagingly can be a great help to students.  What’s your favorite and least favorite ways or games for review? 


CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
Full Bio

Low Tech, High Engagement Review

Students often enjoy reviewing games.  With cell phones, SmartBoards and clickers, there are a lot of new ways to add instantly visible reveiew results.  But not all classrooms have these luxuries– it’s a luxury in my room to have chalk for the chalk board.  Luckily, there are still some low-tech options available to keep engagement high during review.

WhiteboardsOne of the best investments I made for my classroom is a set of 8×10 white boards.  I purchased mine from a local Michigan company because The Markerboard People specialized in student boards (And I like to support local, small companies.)  They also have math, music, and specialized boards along with the plain classroom boards.  You can also turn any laminated paper or page protector into a dry erase surface– knowing my students, I opted for these purchased boards.  They’re one piece– nothing to pick at and nothing to break off if dropped.  (I did still put my name on the backs… and a few students were tempted by the opportunity to alter the surname Dickson, as only high school students will.)  Plus, I loved the little durable felt erasers.  To stretch my budget just a bit more, I bought so-called “Scratch and dents” which had no flaws I could detect.

Student answers

Showing their answers (using my first set of cheap, clearance boards from the store. Those boards fell apart in a few weeks, but my good boards are on 8+ years!)

So, marker boards in hand, I set out to create a review game.  Since the whiteboards are blank, I could conceivably have any type of answer written on the board.  Short answer, order of events (such as history), conclusions, or even grammar review.  Students could write however little or much was needed.  These could be used in class discussions to engage students uncomfortable with speaking before the class or practice work that doesn’t need to be submitted.  Lots of options for dry erase in the classroom, not limited to review games.

The next problem I had to tackle was the issue of speed.  Not all students think fast under pressure or in competition.  I wanted to give all students who would get the correct answers a chance to think and to get credit/ points for their efforts.  In my whiteboard review games students (or, more frequently, small groups) were not racing to get the answer first, but working to get the right answer.  When all answers were ready, students held their boards up for review and scoring.  There was still some competition to drive students to get the right answer, even if it took longer– hearing groups debate their readings and studies was always great, from a teacher-point of view.

Scoring the groups

They wanted to take a picture of me, since I had taken pictures of them. Only fair, I suppose.

At the end, the winning group or groups could choose between candy or extra credit points.  But most importantly, they could use that review on their short quizzes.  Students who paid attention to the review game, including when I reviewed answers, could score very well on their quizzes– along with greater retention overall.

Engagement doesn’t need to be digital or high-tech.  It just needs to have students actively participating.  And that is worth the investment.

CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
Full Bio

My Favorite Cooperative Learning Structures

There are so many different cooperative learning structures that you can use in your classroom. It’s all about what you want to get from your students and how you want them to interact.

Here are some of my favorites:
Brosseau - Kagan Book
Why it’s great: It is a very quick way to make partners, and then groups of four, and it allows students to move.
How to do it: All students stand up, put their hands up and mix around the room to find a partner where they pair up. Use a fist bump or high-five to indicate that they are partners. Hands go down when the student has a partner so that the partner-less students are easily identifiable.

Why it’s great: Students can use this to review, but I love it for practicing presentations.
How to do it: Form two circles with an equal number of students – use StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to form partners and have one be on the inside and the other on the outside of the circle. Students share their presentation (or answer to a question) then have the non-presenting student give feedback. Switch presenters and then rotate the inside circle (by one student or multiple students if you really want to mix things up)!

Why it’s great: 100% engagement all the time!
How to do it: Have the students create review questions on index cards, include the answer too. Start with StandUp-HandUp-PairUp and have the students quiz each other, explaining the answer if they student got it incorrect. Swap cards and it’s back to StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to find new partners. If you have an odd number of students, you can join in the fun too!

One Stray
Why it’s great: Students become confident in an idea or opinion, then one gets to shine as they travel to another group to share those ideas and opinions. It is also much more organized than having a bunch of different group members meet up.
How to do it: In your groups of four, pose a question, have the students number off and discuss the topic. Be sure to let the students know that they will need a good understanding. Pick a number and have that number become a “travelling star” – other groups will have to entice the stars to come sit with them. There, they share the ideas from their groups and can bring new information back to their home group.

I love Kagan structures! Dr. Spencer Kagan was the one to introduce me to these cooperative learning structures at GLACIE in Toronto. Dr. Vern Minor solidified my love for them at the same conference the following year. I don’t get paid to say that (I wish!), but if you are looking for one conference, or one resource to get you’ve got to check out

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Full Bio

Getting Started with Structures

The backbone of cooperative learning is the structure that is in place. Just saying, “discuss with your group…” doesn’t work effectively until those structures are in place. But first, it is important to look at the physical space and the initiation of the structure.

Brosseau - Seating Ticket
I like to group my students in fours. 4 people is nice because you can have a range of skills, a difference in abilities, strengths, weaknesses, genders, heights, etc. I choose heterogeneous groups. And yes, I choose them. I certainly take into account some personal preference and offer the students a little form to fill out. I wouldn’t want exes sitting together with the high school drama that goes on. I meet my needs first for heterogeneous groups before I consider their preferences. Once the semester is well established I use a ranked class list to help the groups have a wider range of abilities.

Brosseau - Classroom1In terms of physical arrangement. I have tables and raised counters (lab bench) seating in my classroom. Most of the tables are set-up in a way that the students face each other, but the seam of the two tables is directed at the front of the room where I start the class and where the projector screen is. This works for the majority of my students.

Due to the configuration of my classroom, I have two rows at the front each with two tables. This works great for students who tend to get distracted and for students with poor eye-sight as it is at the front of the class.

The lab benches are used for seating if I have a large class or if groups need a new environment. They have stools on either side. Stools make it easier for students to move around the classroom.
Brosseau - Classroom2
Initiating Cooperative Learning
There are so many ways that you can order the students to help initiate the structure so there is no, “you go first.” “No, you go first!”
Numbering the students is easy, but you can have them number themselves. That takes only a few seconds. I always like to ask, “Where are my Ones? Where are my Twos? My Threes?” and then add “let’s start with Fours!” so they don’t think it necessarily is the order that we will go in.
Smallest to Tallest, or “closest to the ground” is a nice one because it is quick to see. However, if you want to avoid physical identifiers, how about getting the students to know one another better:
-Who has the most pets is number 1
-The youngest is number 1
-Whoever had the longest trip to school this morning is number 1
Those are just a few ideas, but if you can spare a minute or two you can build some relationships in those moments that students get to share a little bit about themselves.

Keep a timer in your room to keep track of how long interaction is going on. You want to offer each student a fair amount of time and not have anyone feel as if you cut them off too soon. Use the clock, or an online timer like this one:

Stay tuned to Cross Curricular Corner for some Cooperative Learning structures you can use in your next class!

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Full Bio

Sunday Panel: Assessments for Group Work

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I tend not to count group projects for a large grade, but for smaller classwork grades. On a small project I will grade the final product. In other cases, I will put three grades together (1) a participation/effort grade based on my observations during their work (2) a grade on the final product, (3) a teamwork grade or peer grade that their group completes. I may use something like this, or change it to fit the particular project.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I include both true group parts (like assembling a group poster board) and individual parts to a collaborative project.  The weight of the individual parts is greater than the group portion, so the assessment is largely based on their individual work– but they can still collaborate in the process and help each other with the individual parts. I’ve used group assessments, where students rate their own contributions, with limited success– my students are so keen on covering for each other (or at least not “narcing” each other out) that they’ll insist that a student contributed, even if said student slept, was absent, or clearly did nothing.  Including my own assessment with theirs helps a bit with this, as they do their work in class, allowing me to see who is working and who is not, generally.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I structure group assignments in a way that everyone must do an individual aspect and then they must work together to assemble a larger piece. This keeps everyone accountable for their own work. I also have students self asses and peer asses themselves throughout the project. I can compare what a student feels he/she did to contribute with what his/her peers think he/she did to contribute and assign participation points that way.


Sunday Panel: The Logistics of Cooperative Learning

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you handle the major logistics of using cooperative learning (i.e. absences, noise, grouping students, etc.)

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I often have attendance issues in my class, so, although I use cooperative learning frequently, I rarely do activities that span more than one day. I have a much more successful time keeping students engaged if the groups are constant and made up of the students who are present on that day, and they can start and finish the activity with that group. I use a variety of groupings, depending upon the activity. Sometimes I let students choose their own groups, other times I group randomly (often using Popsicle sticks or a deck of cards, and other times I create groups based on certain characteristics of students that I want. I think because students know they will get to choose at least a good amount of the time, they are more willing to go along with my groupings on the other occasions.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:When students are absent for group work, it can be a real challenge. For instance, when my students are doing literature circles, each group member has a job. If one of them isn’t at the ‘meeting,’ the other students in the group have to do the work of the absent student. Since this frustrates the other group members, I’ve encouraged the students to do their work ahead of time if they know they will be absent, especially athletes who know they have games. Now, with a little positive peer pressure from the group, these students will often complete their work ahead of time to help out their classmates!


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:While a huge fan of cooperative learning, I abhor chaos and firmly believe productivity and learning levels drop in its midst. Over-the-top cooperative noise, the main chaos-creating weed, sometimes stems from innocent roots.

Root 1:Students are working with people they love.

Weed-spray: Remove the novelty. Students sit in groups in my class, everyday. No need for long-lost reunions when they’re always together.

Root 2: Students cannot hear themselves over everyone else talking in the room, so they become louder just to communicate.

Weed-spray: Play background music at moderate volume. Seemingly counter intuitive, adding noise to reduce noise, the music acts as a volume plumb line. “If you (or I) can’t hear my music, you are too loud. Bring it down a notch.” Moreover, the music smooths over appropriate communication and settles my nerves.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: Flexibility is required to deal with the logistitics of cooperative learning.  Projects generally include both group effort and individual efforts.  I often include a group grading sheet– though my students are often reluctant to “narc” out a non-contributing group mate.  Since my students do projects in class, I can also keep an eye on who’s working on the project and who is not– and I’ll go up and ask the little dears, “What are you working on?”  I tend to let students pick their group mates, and remind them of this if they get “stuck” with a non-contributing member– and I’ve allowed regroupings, such as leaving a non-productive group to work alone or dropping a constantly absent group member.  Ultimately, I’m not a fan of group work– I’m not convinced that the slackers get much out of it, even under penalty of failing if caught (hard as that is to prove, too) and I’m not convinced that those who carry the group are learning anything other than negative lessons about collaboration– at least not outside the ideal classroom where students are generally all there to learn and succeed.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:Absences, that are not excused negatively impact students’ grades for the assignment. I actually choose to assign groups and do so by putting the most dedicated students together and the least dedicated together. This doesn’t take ability level into account, but does account for work ethic. The four students who rarely come to class can work together. I try very hard to keep groups from having one or two people bring them down.

With regards to noise I recognize it’s unavoidable. If it gets too loud I will stop everyone- refocus their attention, and let them start working together again. A group or two being allowed to work in the hallway is also helpful.