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Developing Effective Classroom Groups Shared by Valerie Shaw

By Gene Stanford


Stage 1: Orientation

Learning names:

• Nametags or Nameplates— Have students wear nametags or have nameplates on their desk to help learn names. Name plate is ½ sheet of cardstock folded into a V.

Nameplates work well for randomly assigning groups in later activities.

• Self-Introductions—Have students introduce themselves while class members write down their names and one thing they learned about them.

• Name Chain—Sit or stand in a circle. Each person says their own name and then repeats the names already introduced.

• Who are your neighbors? Students sit in a circle. Person in the middle walks up to one person and asks, “Who are your neighbors?” If the student can’t answer correctly then that person is it. If the player answers correctly, then the person in the middle asks, “Do you want new neighbors?” If the answer is no, the player must name two people who have to change places while the person in the middle tries to steal one of their seats. If the answer is yes, then all of the players must change seats. The last person up is now it.

Get-acquainted activities:

Students can share with one student, small groups, or the whole class. *Note: begin with less threatening activities until students are more comfortable sharing personal information about themselves.

• Celebrity Interviews— The class interviews each student and teacher one at a time find out what kind of person they are. The person can say “no comment” if they wish. I used this activity as a starter each day. It would also work with dating to reinforce getting to know someone before asking them out.

• Round Robin—Have each member of the class (including the teacher) answer one or more questions about themselves. You can do all of the questions at once, or space them out over several days. I used this activity with the friendship unit, but it would work with any topic. See handout for sample questions.

• Double Circles—Divide the class in half. Make equal circles with each person in the inside circle facing one person in the outside circle. Join the circle if there is an odd number of students. Have students meet their partner and answer a question. Then rotate the outside circle one person, introduce, and ask another question. Students may pass if they don’t want to answer the question. I used this activity with the 8 developmental tasks. See handout of assignments.

• Art Projects— Have students make a collage, trademark, or coat of arms about themselves and then share with one person, small groups, or the whole group. I had students make a values collage and then have other students sign their initials next to pictures that they valued also.


• I am . . . list. Students list 10 things that they are and share one or more with the class. I used this activity when we talked about seniors to compare similarities and differences.

• Voting Questions—Have the class sit in a circle. Ask “How many of you . . .?” Then have students raise hands or put thumbs up/down to vote. I used this activity with family trends to see how students felt on different issues. See handout.

• Forced Choice—Students answer a question by moving to a different part of the room. I used this activity when I talked about birth order. Oldest, middle, and youngest went to different parts of the room and discussed the pros and cons of their birth order.

• Secondhand Description—Have students work with a partner and describe themselves as they think another person would describe them. For example, How would your parents describe you? It would also work from the point of view of friend,

brother/sister, grandparent, date, etc.

Trust building activities:

* Note: be sure students are well acquainted before doing these activities.

• Seeking allies—Have students name another member of the group that they think they are most similar to. Students may or may not explain how they are the same. I used this activity with friendship.

• Imagining reactions—Have the group sit in a circle. Have each person think of a secret that they have. (The secret won’t be shared.) Have students imagine what the reaction of the group would be if they had just told their secret. Have willing students discuss how they think the class would respond. Talk about building trust and respect for each other.

• Ideal Reactions—Have class sit in a circle. Have each student answer this question: “What could the people in the group do to make you feel more comfortable to talk in front of them about things that are important to you?” Encourage specific answers.

• Performance—Give students a list of embarrassing activities and have them rate them in the order that they are most willing to do them. Discuss student’s choices and why they chose them. See handout.

Stage 2: Establishing Norms

Norm #1: Group responsibility:

Help students learn how to be responsible to their group by grading a task as a group. The teacher chooses the group size, randomly assigns members, and has them sit in a circle. The teacher observes, helps when asked, and discusses what happened afterwards. Can be used with communication.

• Forced contribution—each person is required to make 1 or 2 comments about a specific topic within 10-15 minutes. Afterwards discuss how to encourage quieter members to speak. • Drawing out a speaker—List ways to encourage others to talk. Divide class into pairs. One

person is the Speaker, the other is the Encourager. The Encourager tries to get the Speaker to talk about a topic for 5 minutes. Discuss afterwards and rotate. See handout


• Drawing out in group discussion—divide class into two or more smaller groups. Groups of 4-5 work well. Review ways to encourage group members to talk. Assign a topic and practice. See handout.

Norm #2: Responding to others

Help students interact with each other and not the teacher. Arrange seats in a circle. Redirect questions instead of answering them yourself so students listen to each other. Model how you want students to do this such as looking at the speaker, nodding, asking questions, etc. Can be used with communication.

• Demo active listening—Get a volunteer to be the speaker while you demonstrate active

listening. Have the speaker discuss a personal issue like grades. Then discuss effective listening techniques.

• Active listening to one other person—divide class into groups of 3. One person is Speaker, another Listener, and last is Watchdog. Speaker shares thoughts and feelings about a topic while Listeners use active listening skills. Watchdogs point out when a Listener is not following the rules. Handout

• Responding to a previous speaker—Have the class sit in a circle. Give students a topic to discuss with the rule that each person who speaks must respond in some way to what the previous speaker said. The teacher can ask one person to speak, and then ask for volunteers to respond.

Norm #3: Cooperation

Plan activities where students have to work together to finish an assignment. Reward cooperative rather

than competitive behavior.

• Puzzle: cut out large piece of paper and divide into puzzle shapes, one for each member of the class. Have students decorate their piece and work together to put the puzzle together.

• Write on: Students write a script and film or role-play it in 30-60 seconds. Share with the class. This works well with peer pressure and the 5 steps of refusal. See handout.

• Cosmic Motions: Communication Games: This game works best with a class size of 30 or less.

Norm #4: Decision Making through Consensus

Have students work in groups to come to an agreement on a decision. Do not force it. The point is to practice compromising, not to make students frustrated or give up. Discuss how groups came up with

different ways to come to consensus. Suggest how each group member can help the group better. You

can model this with class problems. Can be used with communication, decisions, marriage, etc. • Up, Up and Away- I-D-73 OR Lifeboat I-D-68 from the Teen Living Resource Guide- Critical


• Dating Code—After students write their personal dating code, I have them partner up to discuss their rules and to come to consensus, similar to how parents would need to agree on the same rules for their kids.


Norm #5: Confronting Problems

Give the class a questionnaire about class problems. Help students understand the difference between descriptive feedback and brutal honesty, between confronting problems and tattling. Describe problem behaviors observed and have a discussion how to resolve them. Respect your own limits. The class may or may not be ready to deal with some problems as a group. Works well with problem solving. See handout.

• Brainstorm ideas and share with the class. Discuss if these help or hurt. See the next topic for ways to teach conflict resolution. See handout.

Norms have been adopted when students apply it in their work and not just practice activities. Some norms need more practice than others. The important thing is to build a solid foundation of helpful behavior and attitudes in working together.

Stage 3: Coping with Conflict

Conflict can be a positive if it helps to solve problems. Provide support and reassurance for students who feel anxious about open expressions of conflict. Don’t become more authoritarian, but rather use active listening and respond to the feelings of the class. Works well with communication and problem solving. Structured approaches for dealing with conflict.

• The 4 step strategy—active listening to others, understand and accept others’ feelings, share your feelings with “I messages”, come to a win-win solution

• Third party mediation—have a person mediate, each describe the conflict, each share feelings, each share what they want to happen, each acknowledge changes they are willing to make, make a list.

• Intergroup meeting—divide class into 2 groups to discuss a topic. Then come back and share with each other. I use this activity with the dating lesson on how girls and guys drive each other crazy.

Stage 4: Productivity

Help the group to maintain the skills learned. Some reteaching and practice may be needed, especially working on relationships. These activities will go better if the other stages have progressed well.

• Short-term small group discussions • Simulations—electronic babies • Role-playing

• Small group projects—service projects, filming, etc.

Stage 5: Termination

Student behavior can become negative as the class nears the end and the students realize that their class is almost over. It helps to acknowledge that the group is ending and help students review their experiences, express their feelings and tie up any loose ends.

• Remember when—review what happened in the class. What do they remember most? What were their thoughts and feelings about the class? What did they like or not like? Answer any questions students have about what happened. See handout.


• Best thing that happened—using the Round Robin, have each student tell the class what he or she things was the best thing that happened during the year.

• Positive messages—have students write a short, positive message to each person in the class. Have them be as specific as possible, and try to mention things that happened. Students have the option whether to sign the paper or not.


Double Circles

These questions go along with Havinghurst’s 8 developmental tasks

1. Do you talk problems out with your friends or is there a lot of drama? 2. Should moms work or stay home with their kids?

3. If you could change one thing about your body, what would you change? 4. Do you make decisions based on your family, your friends, or yourself? 5. Do you want to get married and have children?

6. What career are you interested in someday? 7. What is a goal you have for your future?

8. Do you feel like you are very responsible, somewhat responsible, or not very responsible at all?

You can start out with some of these easier questions to help students feel more comfortable.

• Where were you born?

• When did you move here?

• If you could live somewhere else, where would it be?

• What is your favorite TV show?

• Who is your best friend?

• What would you buy if you had $50 to spend?

• If you could change your name, what would it be?

• What is one thing that makes you happy?

Round Robin—Ideas for questions

• What is one thing that other people like about you?

• How are you different from most people your age?

• What do you value the most?

• What will you be like ten years from now?

• How have you changed most since last year?

• What was a time when you were happy? angry? hurt?, etc.

• Who in this group are you most similar to?

• Who in this group can influence you most?

• What’s one thing it takes courage for you to do?


Voting questions

Students answer with the following:

Yes, very much—raise hands and wave them around Yes, moderately—raise hands

Undecided OR don’t want to say—sit with arms folded No, moderately—thumbs down

No, very much—thumbs down, moving hands back and forth rapidly. Ideas for questions for family trends:

• How many of you want to get married?

• How many of you think it is okay to live together before you get married? Not okay?

• How many of you want to get married when you are 18? early twenties? late twenties? later? Never?

• How many of you want kids? More than 2 kids? More than 4 kids?

• How many of you live with a single parent?

• How many of you think that single parents can do it all by themselves?

• How many of you have divorced parents?

• How many of you think that when parents divorce it is the kids’ fault? The parent’s fault?

• How many of you think it is important have a good father in your life?

• How many of you think that a step-father or other males can fill the role of a father?

• How many of you think that blended families are just as strong as traditional families?

• How many of you think that you have a responsibility to yourself and your future children for the choices you make now?


Instructions: Number the activities on this list from 1-7 in the order that you would most prefer doing in front of the group. 1= most preferred 7=least preferred

_____Imitate the crowing of a rooster.

_____Give a 2-minute talk about your best qualities.

_____Do a silent pantomime of a very sleepy person washing their face in the morning. _____Give a 2-minute talk on what you like most about your classmates.

_____Share a nursery rhyme, song, or poem you remember from your childhood. _____Balance a book on your head and walk across the room.


Drawing out a speaker

 Choose roles: speaker or encourager.

 Challenge: Encourage your partner (speaker) to talk for 5 minutes about:

 Choose a question depending on what your class would feel comfortable talking about: Describe an important event that has happened in your life and why it is important to you. OR What is your favorite type of music and why? OR If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why? OR If you could meet anyone famous, who would it be and why?

 Ways to help someone talk: look at the speaker, nod your head to show that you are listening, wait during a pause instead of responding, ask questions to get more details, others?

 Have partners answer questions below:

Encouraging others to speak



Did the speaker stay on topic?

Did you feel that the Encourager was genuinely interested in hearing what

you had to say?

What did the Encourager do that made you want to continue talking?

What did the Encourager do that discouraged you from talking more?

Did the Encourager argue or disagree?

Did the Encourager ever start talking about him or herself?

How many minutes did you get the Speaker to talk?

What problems did you have in keeping the Speaker talking?

Was there a point where you wanted to “take over” the conversation,

focusing on yourself rather than on the Speaker?

What techniques seemed to be useful in encouraging the Speaker to keep



Drawing out in group discussion

 1 Speaker, 3-4 encouragers

 Challenge: Encourage everybody in your group to speak about the following question until they have said what they want to say. Time will be 15 minutes.

 Each group will decide on what question or questions they want to talk about. What is the most important thing for someone to learn at school? What career are you interested in someday and why?

What interesting thing happened over the weekend?  Answer the following questions as a group:

Did everyone speak and have a chance to share their thoughts about the topic? Why is it hard to play the Encourager role in a group discussion?

What’s the advantage of helping people speak in a group discussion rather than arguing or interrupting with your own ideas?

What techniques are useful in encouraging everyone to contribute ideas in a group discussion?

Demo active listening

—discuss techniques, then list as a class:

Maintain eye contact with the speaker.

Signal you are listening: Say “uh-huh”, nod your head, and don’t talk about yourself. Don’t agree or disagree. Say, “What you are saying is . . .”

Use open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to continue talking or elaborate. Summarize or restate what the speaker said from time to time.

Respond to and show understanding for the feelings that may be behind the speaker’s words. “You seem to be upset. Would it be better to talk later?”

Active Listening Assignment

: Rotate 3 times.

Speaker- share their thoughts, feelings and opinions about the topic. Listener- listens to the speaker

Watchdog- make sure that the Listener is not breaking the techniques of active listening. – Watchdogs do not talk, but remind the Listener to follow the rules.

Choose 1 topic to share:

A favorite memory such as going to a concert and why it was so memorable. An embarrassing experience you had and how it made you feel.

Something you feel strongly or passionate about. How did it become your passion? A time when you got in trouble and what you learned from it.

Describe the nicest thing that someone has done for you. Answer the following questions as a group:

Did the Speaker really try to explore their ideas and feelings about the topic?

Did the Listener help the Speaker, or did they interrupt, disagree, or discourage the Speaker? How could the Listener do better?


Write On—

Write and film a video about someone resisting peer pressure (30 sec.-1 min. )

 Choose a topic – each topic can only be used once.

 Use the 5 steps of refusal in your skit.

 4 roles: Group Leader– keep group on task and focused. Turn in script at end of class. Director– final say on the script, choose props

Writer– write down the script on paper. 10 or more sentences

Reader– Read each refusal step and check it off to make sure it is put in the script. Extra Job:

Everybody– Brainstorm ideas and lines to say.

 Approve script with teacher and practice your lines.

 Filming Roles Jobs:

 1 person films

 1 person pressuring their friend

 1 person being pressured

 1 or more people- supporting one side or the other. Rules:

 Cameras– red button to record and stop

 Try to get it in one shot– at least 30 seconds.

 Film in a place away from classes– by the doors is a good idea.

 Ask for permission if someone uses that space– for example: library, cafeteria

 If a teacher/adult gets upset: apologize and come back.

 You have 30 minutes. Return when you are done. Good luck!

Refusal Techniques





Ask questions. Name the trouble.

Identify the consequences. Suggest an alternative activity. Move it. (Get out of there fast.)

Sell it. (Get friends to do something else.) Keep the door open. (Keep your friends.) Other techniques?

How effective was the refusal from 1-5? (1- lowest, 5-highest)


Class Survey and Questionnaire to help identify and resolve problems:

Class Survey Name______________________________

Personal Goals

What do you want/need from the teacher?

What do you want/need from other students in the class?

What information or topics are you interested in learning more about?

What skills are important to you and that you want to develop?

What grade would you like to get in this class?

Class goals

Does something usually “bug” you during class activities? If so, what?

During group activities, do you usually have a chance to talk as much as you would like?

What could the group do to make you more comfortable during class activities?

Should our class keep working in groups to practice positive group skills and behavior?

What size of groups should our class work in? (Circle one or more.)

None 2-3 5 10 15 everybody other?________ Do you want to choose your own groups or do you like having the teacher choose them randomly?



Instructions: Answer each of the following statements from 1-5:

1= rarely (0-15%) 2= sometimes (16-35%) 3= frequently (36-65%) 4= most of the time (66-85%) 5=almost always (86-100%)

There are no right or wrong answers, just mark your immediate reaction and feelings.


1. can express warm feelings 1 2 3 4 5

2. express feelings of anger 1 2 3 4 5

3. shut out ideas different than mine 1 2 3 4 5

4. enjoy letting others know me 1 2 3 4 5

5. worry about my mess-ups 1 2 3 4 5

6. feel comfortable 1 2 3 4 5

7. recognize and can let others know my feelings 1 2 3 4 5

8. only try to relate to a few members of the class 1 2 3 4 5

9. don’t show my real self 1 2 3 4 5

10. am unsure of myself 1 2 3 4 5

11. am aware of others’ feelings about themselves 1 2 3 4 5

12. am unaware of how others see me 1 2 3 4 5

13. feel that others ignore me 1 2 3 4 5

14. feel that others care about me 1 2 3 4 5

15. feel that others do not listen to me 1 2 3 4 5

16. feel nervous 1 2 3 4 5

17. feel that others tear me down 1 2 3 4 5

18. feel that others make fun of me when I make mistakes 1 2 3 4 5

19. feel that others like me 1 2 3 4 5

20. feel that others do not see me as I am 1 2 3 4 5

21. feel that others are cold 1 2 3 4 5

22. feel that others are insincere 1 2 3 4 5

23. feel that others are trustworthy 1 2 3 4 5


Confronting Problems: Choose roles for small group discussion

Organizer: start discussion, suggest a plan, keep the group on topic, remind of goal, call for a vote. Contributor: talk, share information and ideas

Encourager: actively listen, encourage others to share their ideas.

Summarizer: link ideas together, point out relationships between ideas, summarize what has been said Observer: watch and mark paper, don’t get involved in the discussion.

Discuss for 10-15 minutes: What are the three best things and three worst things that have taken place in class this year? Place your answers below:

Observer’s Form


Name of group member Organizing discussions Contributing Ideas Encouraging Others Making Connections

Who helped to organize? Who contributed?

Who actively listened? Who made connections?


Remember When . . . (end of the year activity)

• What events or things do you remember most about this class? • What important things did you learn in this class?

• What was the best thing that happened in this class? • Are there anything you wish to share with the class?

• Do you have any questions for the teacher about what happened in class?