Friday, April 10, 2015

#1 Group-Learning Structure: Numbered Heads Together

This is a classic teaching strategy from one of the gurus of cooperative learning, Spencer Kagan. (Here is a list of some of his free articles.)  This is my favorite group-learning strategy because it allows students to self-assess on their progress towards learning goals, it meets the learning styles of a variety of learners, it is student centered, the structure of the game encourages students to help each other and thus improves class culture, and - IT'S FUN!

Here is a description of the game and the steps of the game:

1.  Create a formative assessment for students.  The questions can be multiple choice, short answer, opinion questions, etc.  Here is a template for a formative assessment to use with this game.

2.  Students first complete the formative assessment individually.  This usually takes about ten minutes. For this activity, students would typically take the quiz as if it were a real quiz, without using books or notes.

3.  Distribute white boards/markers.  Each student should get one of each.

4.  Choose numbers.  Students can be in groups of four or six (although four is better) and should choose a number from either 1-4 or 1-6, depending on the size of the group.

5.  Play game.  I was lucky to have a SmartBoard and so I created a Smart Notebook template that I used for the game.

This template has the questions, the answers (I would cover them over), a timer, and a die to determine whose turn it is. I would sometimes use numbers instead of colors. (I would also occasionally print out this Notebook file to use as the formative assessment, printing six slides per page.)

A.  Teacher reads the question.  Students then compare their answers and choose the same answer to write on the whiteboards.  There is much learning in these small-group discussions.  They write this answer on the "group consensus" column of their quiz sheet.

B.  When the time is up, teacher calls on ONE NUMBER.  This student must share his/her answer. The benefit of using a white board is that it is fast to check the answers.  The best way to tally points is to have the points add towards a class reward.  I would sometimes offer extra credit to the winners, but not always.

C.  Review the answer.  The teacher reviews the answer, and the students fill in the last column of their quiz template, "Learning."

D.  Repeat the cycle.  Complete this cycle until all questions are answered.

6.  Self-reflection.  At the end of the game, ask students to reflect on their skills and to make a plan to fill in their gaps.

7.  Collect?  This formative assessment may be useful to collect for planning purposes.

The first time this game is played, it takes some explanation, but after that, students remember the process and it goes much faster.  Interested in this group-learning structure?   Here is more information. I can't stress enough how much I loved using this activity with students.  I would sometimes use it at the beginning of a unit (to re-activate prior knowledge or to find out what students know), during the middle of a unit, or as a review before the summative assessment.

This is how I played the game in class, but it can be simplified.  A SmartBoard is not necessary, nor are the whiteboards.

I would love to hear about how you have used this structure in your own classroom!

One more thing for world language teachers:  This entire activity can be done in the target language if the appropriate routines are in place and if students are given the vocabulary they need to have the discussions in the target language.

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