Group work and student collaboration projects have long been successful strategies in our classroom management practices. By assigning group projects to our classes, we encourage collaborative attitudes, and we prepare our students for team work in the workplace. In these projects each student has a task, which usually focuses on something they are good at, and they also learn from each other in the group. As we have learnt from psychologist Lev Vygotsky, learning is not only a cognitive process, but students also learn from their social environment, and social interaction plays a very important role in this process.
Group work and collaboration are not new teaching ideas, but we might find it challenging to motivate our students just to sit around a table and work on a project without using digital tools. These tools become essential when we expect our students to collaborate over the holidays or outside the classroom, for example in a book club. Collaboration will also make our students learn about the importance of responsibility, setting up group rules, communication, expressing themselves and negotiation.
A sense of belonging
Besides using the benefits of a social environment, group work and collaboration will also give our students a sense of belonging. This idea is essential for successful learning outcomes, especially when you are trying to set up not strictly classroom projects like extensive reading programmes, book clubs and holiday projects.
"You as a teacher can do a great deal in order to facilitate social acceptance. To achieve this, you can explore ways to establish a supportive classroom atmosphere - a place which students are happy to belong to. You could do this, for example, by showing your own positive attitude towards the group, by encouraging peer approval and support among students, and by letting every student know they have a place in the group. It is also very useful to provide opportunities for the group to share moments both of significant effort and of achievement and to work on projects which are of service to others." (p. 75, Seeds of Confidence by V. de Andrés and J. Arnold)
Resource tip: Chapter 3 is dedicated to belonging in the resource book Seeds of Confidence by Verónica de Andrés and Jane Arnold.
Class reading projects
Reading a book in a group can be more motivating than having to write a diary or a presentation about it. When you realize that your students have different reading interests, put them in groups according to their book tastes and let them choose a title they all like. You will probably be able to create 3-4 groups in a class of 20 students. Once they have chosen their books, ask them to start a project they will then have to present to the other groups in the class. It can be a monthly project or a summer holiday reading club idea.
Here are some ideas for group research projects:
- biography of the authors,
- history of the age
- technical achievements,
- geography of the setting,
- social issues in the story.
You can use our Book Club Role Cards to help your students. The next step is to prepare a presentation and share the work with the others. Since your students might not be able to meet during the holidays, or even during the semester in the afternoons, you can turn to digital assistance.
- Create a Class Blog: it can have blog titles like: 'Class Summer Book Club' or 'Holiday Class Blog' - be creative, let your students use their imagination.
- Dedicate a lesson to setting up the Blog. If you have projector or interactive whiteboard, work on that. If not, then brainstorm ideas and plan the blog on the board. Then you can work on the blog and share it with your students. Ask some of them to help you.
- Create categories on the blog: Reading Lists, Group Projects, Fun stuff.
- Ask the groups to add their presentations or research findings to these categories.
- You can share your own reading experiences and give tips to your students. Let your students write in the comment section of posts.
- Create a holiday makeover for the blog with a new cover picture and colour scheme.
Important advice! Remember to appoint Blog Administrators, and keep rotating the students. Everyone has to feel involved and every member of the group should know and understand how the Blog works, what the deadlines and tasks are, when and where they have to send or post their work. Also, make sure you set secure privacy settings:
- members can only be added by invitation
- only accessible and visible to blog member
- review comments before they appear on the blog.
Social network community page
- Create a Community or Group with your students where you can interact with them on a weekly basis. This should be only fun or practical. You should save the big projects, reading lists and more permanent information for the Class Blog.
It is a good idea to create these groups on platforms and social networks that the students already use. However, it's a good idea to make sure that the class project will not interfere with their personal accounts and privacy settings.
Ask your students about the type of social platforms they are fine with using in the school environment. Otherwise, you can use Google Classroom, Edmodo or any other popular educational platform.
You are probably familiar with the Goodreads website. Use it with your classes and book clubs and create reading groups, discussion forums.
- Create your profile - remember that you can use your Facebook or Google accounts.
- Create Bookshelves.
- Add books - you can add already 'read', 'currently-reading' and 'to-read' books.
- Browse books.
- Rate books and write reviews.
- Join groups.
- Create a Reading Group for your Book Club or Reading Class.
- Add books to read, start discussions.
Use Helbling e-zone for Book Clubs
On Helbling e-zone, the Helbling Languages educational platform you can set up classes and manage student accounts. Create a Book Club group, add your students to it, choose books together and assign them. This way you'll have access to tests, worksheets and you'll be able to message your students.
Websites for blogging and group projects
- Google Sites: Learn about Google Docs - you can share presentations, documents, albums, and you can use the Google blog sites.
- PBWorks: Try the Education product on PBWorks, which is an online team collaboration site. You can create classroom accounts, and create and edit wiki pages.
- Wikispaces: Explore Wikispaces for Teachers and Wikispaces for Students. You can create a wiki for your classes, and they can build content and discuss ideas online.
- Wordpress Blog: Wordpress is one of the most popular blog and website building web software. You can create a blog and add contributors and administrators. You can also create photocblogs.
- Share a 'Coming Soon' book poster on the Blog or Social Media Group page to raise interest.
- Share engaging questions and 'Did you know?' -style one-sentence posts about the book your class or Book Club is reading.
- Share a scene from a film adaptation of the book you are reading - ask your students to find the relevant scene in the book.
- Share a quote from the book and ask your students to find it for the next class.
- Share fun pictures about reading and celebrities reading.
- Start writing a story or retelling a classic together on a social media site. The story should start with only one sentence, and everyone has to add a line, a passage or an image in the comment section. You can close the story after a week.