On this page you will find material to help design strategies for classroom discussion, revision workshops and editing workshops.

Working in small groups is a helpful classroom strategy for interactive learning and can be used for class discussions, revising drafts, and editing final projects. However, without clear directions and specified timelines, collaborative work can be disastrous. A small group can stay together for an entire semester and thus build trust; however, if a group isn?t working well, then this means students are stuck with each other. Faculty need to consider the make-up of a particular class and decide whether to use permanent groups or alternate memberships.

Clear instructions for peer groups are essential. Without a specific task and some guidance about how to participate, groups can float into everyday chat.

It is usually more effective to explain a specific task, designate the kind of response being looked for, and limit the group time. Helpful instructions for peer response groups might include:

  • before handing out copies of a draft, students can indicate in writing at the top of the first page the primary concern she or he has at this stage in the process.
  • students can take turns reading their papers aloud.
  • a few minutes of silence after each reading will allow students to process the material and then respond to the writing.
  • students can write and then voice their reactions.

Slackers can represent a major difficulty to effective group work. One way to counter this reality is to ask to see written peer responses and to create a credit system for completed responses. Those providing detailed, helpful responses will then have a way to be rewarded for their hard work and involvement.

These suggestions may facilitate different uses of collaborative work:

  • For classroom discussion
    1. In order to explore the meaning of a reading assignment, ask students to collaborate in small groups of three or four. Within a designated amount of time (15 or 20 minutes), students will need to search for the writer's main idea and gather support from the text to justify their conclusions. Arrive as closely as possible to a consensus. Then open the conversation to the whole class, with each group reporting their findings first and then discussing the similarities and differences together.
    2. Students can be asked to study a homework assignment in a small group and then present their summaries and reactions to the assignment in a collaboratively-written group journal entry.
    3. For classroom discussion, a talking circle can be attempted and is one way to give students who normally do not participate a chance to talk. Gather the class into a circle and ask for a volunteer to begin. For this activity, the teacher takes notes but does not participate orally until the end. Beginning with the reading or topic under discussion, everyone in the circle gets a chance to speak about issues/questions/concerns related to the topic. Students do not need to follow exactly what was said previously, and no one is allowed to interrupt. When everyone has had a chance to talk, the teacher reviews her/his notes and provides a summary of the major points covered. Open discussion can then follow.
    4. Another effective classroom strategy that encourages interactive learning is reciprocal teaching, whereby students work in groups in order to teach the class something about an assignment.
      Sample handout explaining reciprocal teaching (PDF)
    5. Fishbowls: A student-led discussion/presentation.

      In groups of 5-6, students spend 20 minutes arranged in a small circle, discussing the day's assigned authors/works while the rest of the class sits around them to listen and to take careful notes, especially noting "gaps" in the discussion or places where they'd like to hear further discussion or raise questions. Then that fishbowl group becomes a "panel" that sits in front of the class, distributes a one-page handout with relevant background/contextual information, and provides 5 interesting discussion questions for the class. This "panel" then leads the whole class in a discussion, with 10 minutes left for the teacher to wrap up at the end.

      Fishbowl groups require several meetings outside of class, background work on the material in question, and preparation of a handout. The group receives one grade based on effort, preparation, and equality of participation. Students can sign up for fishbowl groups early in the semester and then gear their planning as a group toward their designated fishbowl date. (Thanks to Professor Anna Creadick for this helpful suggestion.)

  • For revision of writing assignments
    On the day a discovery draft or rough draft is due, ask students to bring two or three extra copies to share in a small group. Students can then exchange copies of their drafts and quietly read each one, making notes in the margins as necessary. Using a peer response form, students can identify strengths and weaknesses in their classmates? drafts in writing. These responses can then be discussed in the small group as well as distributed to peers for further study at home when the draft is being revised.

  • For editing of writing assignments
    Once students have worked on their rough drafts in terms of developing ideas fully and coherently, they can turn to the final stage of editing and polishing their writing. Again, small groups can be useful for this task.
    1. If a teacher has read the first round of drafts and has determined a pattern of several grammar errors, a handout can be distributed using examples for each type of error from the actual student drafts and corrected versions of the errors. This can be reviewed with the whole class. Then divide the students into their small groups and ask them to study each other's drafts to find and correct the errors represented in the handout.
    2. If there is a common handbook for the course, ask students to prepare a short "craft talk." For this task, students will have copies of their group members' drafts and will be assigned one particular grammar or style issue (for example, run-on sentences or agreement errors) that is discussed with examples in the common handbook. In small groups, students will discuss the assigned grammar or style issue and come up with examples from the drafts in their small group. Later in the class or in the next class period, small groups will report to the whole class about their findings, using examples from the drafts in their small groups. They can be required to explain these examples using a handout for the whole class or the blackboard/overhead.

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