Setting the Stage for Collaboration

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SWBAT engage effectively in discussion by creating a set of classroom norms.

Big Idea

Tribes: so much more than a group.


10 minutes

In this lesson, students are going to create a set of classroom norms that everyone can agree to.  In my classroom, I call these "expectations" because that is what our school has put forth.  I have seen the terms norms, expectations, rules (though I shy away from using this one), and agreements.  Choose a title that suits you and your building.

I begin this lesson by having students to two quick writes.  Creating a handout of these prompts is unnecessary, unless you have truly unlimited access to paper and copies (and if you do, consider yourself the luckiest educator on the planet!).  I like to display the prompts using a projector or an overhead.  When they are displayed, students can refer back to them as they are writing.  I do make sure to read them aloud, though, just so everyone starts the activity with the same understanding of the prompts.

I want students to think about positive classroom environments and negative classroom environments.  What's really interesting about this activity is that you will see all different learning styles emerge from their writing. You will find that some students like a lot of working noise, while others prefer a quiet, teacher-led class.  Give them at least 5-8 minutes to complete this activity.  Students in middle school never seem to tire of writing about themselves!

Once they are done with their quick writes, I have them take turns reading their positive experiences to their elbow partner.  I don't have them share their negative classroom experiences, though.  The goal of the second quick write was to allow them the time to acknowledge that not all classrooms suit them as a learner, but I don't want them dwelling on the negative today.

Once everyone has shared with the person sitting next to them, it's time to start creating those norms!

Getting Down to Business

20 minutes

In the starter, students collaborated with the person sitting directly next to them.  In this step of the lesson, students are going to work as a group.  I use groups of four, but three to five students per group will work as well.  In my experience, if there are more than five students in a group, the group will fracture into pairs or triads; they will not function as one cohesive group.

Before we begin our group discussion, I assign a role to each of the group members.  By giving each group member a responsibility, the work is shared equally and students tend to stay engaged in their discussion.  The main roles are:

  • Recorder: Writes for the group, either producing a final product or taking notes on a discussion.  The recorder also reports out to the class.
  • Time Keeper: Watches the clock and reminds the group to stay on task.
  • Facilitator: Makes sure that everyone's ideas are heard. 
  • Task Master: Gets any supplies needed to complete the assignment.


If you're working with a group of 3, the Time Keeper and Task Master can be the same person. 

If you have groups of 5, you can add the job of Reporter  The Reporter presents the group's work to the class instead of the Recorder.

Take a look at the video for this section for suggestions on how to assign roles.

Once everyone has and understands their roles, I pass out the "What Does it Look and Sound Like?" sheet.  On this sheet, students will create a class environment that allows everyone to learn in a positive atmosphere. 

I tell the students I want them to think about this classroom and then write statements on the T-chart that describe what this class looks like and sounds like.  I then help them through an example.  I will say, "How should students behave when someone is speaking?" I will usually get a response of, "You should listen to who's talking."  Taking that, I prompt the students with, "What do people look like when they're listening?"  I will hear things like, "They are looking at who's talking."  I then direct the students to write, "Looking at who's talking" under the "Looks Like" section of the T-chart.  Then I follow up with, "What does a class sound like when one person is speaking?"  Hopefully, I will hear something along the lines of, "There is only one voice" or "Everyone else is quiet."  Again, I prompt them to make a note of this on the "Sounds Like" side of the T-chart. 

I ask for questions, then set the students free to work in their groups.

I set a timer for 10 minutes for the groups to create their T-charts.  Circulating around the room, I am able to see how groups are working together.  I encourage them to work together.  I remind them of their roles.  I ask questions about the notes they're writing.

When the timer goes off, it's time to come together as a class.



Putting It All Together

20 minutes

In our school, we have created a set of expectations for students to follow in every classroom.  We even have a nifty acronym (who doesn't love a good acronym?).  At my school, we tell the kids they are here to "L.E.A.R.N."

Listen attentively and be on task.

Earn respect by using appropriate words and actions.

Always come to class prepared.

Remain in assigned area.

Need to keep hands and feet to self.

Unfortunately, in a lot of places, those school-wide expectations fall to the wayside. 

To conclude this activity, I show the students how the classroom environment they decided was the best for everyone actually follows these guidelines. 

Using the entire length of my whiteboard, I write the school-wide expectations at the top.  I then call on the reporter of one of the groups.  I ask them to read one of their "Looks Like" or "Sounds Like" notes.  I then ask someone in the group to tell me which expectation their note exemplifies.  Sometimes, it will be more than one, and that's absolutely okay! I invite that person up to the white board to write their note under one or more of the school expectations.  As that person is writing the notes on the board, I ask the other groups to raise their hand if they had something very similar on their T-chart.  Most will raise their hands.  I ask those recorders to cross off anything that is very similar, so that we don't duplicate our reporting. 

I repeat this process, allowing every group to share out.

Once we are done, we have quite a display of notes under the school-wide expectations.

I conclude the lesson by inviting everyone to take a moment and see how their own ideas of what a class should look like and sounds like fall right in line with our school's expectations.  This visual gives them a sense of ownership in the expectations and the feeling that these are not arbitrary statements, but simply the makings of a classroom environment wherein everyone can feel successful.

This type of respect for the classroom environment is imperative as we move forward this year.  There will be many times in class that we will be having small-group and whole-class discussions.  These will only be successful if everyone has agreed to our shared expectations.