Business says that the most important skills students need are communication and to be able to work in groups. It is important to Focus on Teamwork!GroupFramed.png


Most of the activities work best when students work together to solve the problems. Communicating mathematically will be enhanced through good group work. Teams that have active group members will be more successful than teams that are not invested in the activity.

Putting students in teams or partners and setting them off to do a problem just isn’t effective. Getting students to the point of being effective in groups takes a commitment on the part of the teacher and will not happen after one lesson. Here are some ideas to help your students to work cooperatively to solve problems

1. Arrange your room so that teams are able to face each other and so that you can move from one team to another easily.

2. Carefully choose the activities that capitalize on contributions of all group members and encourage mathematical discourse.

3. Each of the activities has recommended team sizes. In each team, try and vary them by ability levels, ethnicity, and gender if at all possible.

4. Prepare your students for working in groups. Do NOT assume that they know how to effectively work in teams.

  1. Students should know the objectives for the lesson.
  2. Procedures for working together should be clear.
  3. All team members need to focus on a common goal and realize that the success or failure of the team will be shared by the team members.
  4. Each team member has an important role to play if the team is going to be successful.
  5. Students should only ask for the teacher’s help after the team has worked through the problem as a team.
Expected outcomes should be clearly communicated and understood by each team member.

Your role as the teacher must encourage team work

  1. Monitor student behavior, providing assistance only after teams have worked together. (You could start by posting the answers to homework, having students work through the problems in their teams and decide on which one(s) they are unable to complete without further help. This will help to minimize problems that need to be gone over in class.)
  2. Ask questions instead of providing hints. Write down some critical questions that you’d like students to be able to answer while preparing for the activity.
  3. Remind students of their roles and hold students individually accountable for them.

Student roles

Students will need practice with their roles. If possible, keep teams together for more than one activity and keeping the roles the same as students learn how to do them well.

1. Recorder – This person records all of the team answers and the supporting work for the problem. This person could also act as the spokesperson for the team when presenting to the class.

2. Manager – This person is in charge of making sure that each team member has input and a voice in the process. This person is to make sure that no one person dominates the discussion or does all of the work for the team.

3. Cheerleader – This person makes sure that the contributions of the team members are appreciated by complimenting good contributions during the activity.

4. Umpire – This person guides the discussion, watches the time, and helps to keep the team focused on the activity.

As students are learning their roles, it may be helpful for half the teams watch another team while they are working and provide feedback to the teams about the process as well as the mathematics – like a fishbowl. Then, the next time reverse the roles. This works best at the beginning of the year when your class is beginning to work in teams. It also legitimizes the process and clarifies the expectations of the students and their roles.

Other Ideas & Resources

  1. Here's a great video to watch (above) and listen to a teacher who wants quality work from his students when they work in groups.
    How to teach Math as a Social Activity: Remember, clear directions and expectations have to be given before breaking up into groups. This is key to productive group work. Learning to work in groups is not something that can be done in one lesson, but you can take ideas from the video and put them into many lessons.
  2. A presentation of a problem on the computer or poster board by a group can help keep them on task... but again, a time limit and format for them to fill in is a necessity. About time limits... start with at short problem with a short time, and slowly add more to the problem and more time.
  3. Try the jigsaw: the number of people in a group is the number of problems that are being worked on. Jigsaw means that each group becomes an expert on a problem and then the groups are broken up to have one member from each group form asecond group. (An organizational method would be to give everyone a letter or colored tile as they walk into a room to assign them into their first group. Then in the groups, have them nubmer off to assign them their second groups.) By then end of class, everyone needs to successfully "teach" their problems and everyone needs to hand in a copy of a solution to each problem for the day.
  4. (JM) When implementing group work today in my lesson, some things could have gone better. Here's advice from my experience: Whenever I left a group to work on their own, they got off track. In order to avoid this, plan to have stopping points so groups stay on track. Make sure you do not let the students have more than 5 minutes of "group work time" at a time. This was the first time group work was used in the classroom. A few students wanted me to walk them through the problem step-by-step because they're used to class lectures. Give them hints, but don't be afraid to walk away so you make sure you visit every group. Implementing group work takes a lot of planning and learning from mistakes. You will learn from the mistakes though so don't disregard group work if it doesn't go smoothly the first time. The people skills students will learn through group work are essential. (JM)
  5. (JM)Try to think of a creative way to break the class up into groups instead of just having them pre-sorted. I played a domino game, so I handed out blank domino pieces and domino pieces with dots on them. The people with dots had to find a partner with a blank piece. Try to make it pertain somewhat to the lesson so you can easily transition into the activity for the day.