Small Group Management Ideas for Elementary Teachers

Managing small group activities increases student engagement and the success of lessons.
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Project-based assignments often create noisy classrooms filled with young people who are moving freely through a room to engage with each other or find supplies. Managing students in small groups can be difficult for even experienced teachers, but management strategies can ease potential stress and create valuable learning experiences for both student and teacher.

1 Planning for Group Instruction

Managing learning groups begins prior to students entering the classroom. Desks and materials should be arranged to facilitate student work and to create pathways for the teacher to move through the classroom easily. The teacher's access to each group increases the ability to monitor student behavior. Preparation of materials prior to class ensures the activity is appropriately engaging, and setup of materials in the classroom dissuades students from wasting time when starting a new activity. Materials used often in group work can be organized in drawers or cubbies from which students can retrieve items as needed.

2 Creating Roles for Students

Creating roles for each member of a cooperative learning group develops group cohesion and eliminates boredom in students. The teacher assigns roles to students prior to beginning the activity and to ensure that students take on varying responsibilities in different group configurations. For example, in a science classroom one student records information and any discussion of the group; another student gathers and organizes materials; and one other student performs the experiment. During a reading activity, one student may record discussion, one may track vocabulary, one may keep notes on characters and one may present information to the rest of the class.

3 Actively Monitoring Student Behavior during Group Work

Actively roaming the classroom allows the teacher to monitor behavior and attentiveness of all students. Teacher observations focus on positive behaviors and reinforcing appropriate and desired student work and interactions. On the other hand, calm redirection of misbehavior in one-on-one communication with students refocuses student attention. Approaching students quietly places focus on encouraging positive change rather than drawing attention to problem behaviors. Additionally, transitions between activities run smoothly when students receive clear instructions for movement between group assignments.

4 Giving Awards and Grades

Awards for quiet transitions between activities, completion of assignments and accuracy of group work motivate students to participate in their cooperative groups and encourage good behavior in their peers. Criteria for distributing awards can depend on either individual group success or achievements of the entire class. Additionally, grading student participation individually and the group work as a whole encourages both student behavior and participation in the activity.

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.