Fixing Education: Classroom Management–Part 2

Today I stumbled across an education management technique from Teaching Tolerance.  I had a different topic for classroom management in mind, but I decided to run with this one instead.  I believe the technique was borrowed from classroom ice-breaker/management techniques that have appeared in textbooks for years, but it is a great way of getting students to know each other better, whether the method is used for school-wide functions or classroom discussion groups.  In this article, the purpose is to break individuals out of their usual group of friends and get them talking to and learning about other people.  But there are other learning benefits as well.

Here’s the link: .

This technique has been successful in k-12 classes, with post-secondary students, in adults in continuing education or training sessions, and probably in lots of settings I can’t think of.  It “sorts” people into semi-random groups and often takes them out of the group they “hang” with.

The article above states the “how-to” better than any way I can write it.  But if you don’t want to jump over into the link before continuing, here’s a summary of the technique.  As students come in, hand them something–a colored paper strip, a card from a playing deck, and slip of paper with a number, or anything else than can be used as a token for later grouping.  Classrooms with tables work more easily for this activity, but desks and movable chairs work just as well (it’s harder to do in an area with auditorium-like seating that is bolted down, unless the groups are allowed to find their own discussion areas).   You may want to do a presentation on the topic to be discussed first, then ask students to break up into groups according to the token they received.  Or you may want to “sort” the students into their groups first and begin then present your material.  Either way works.  [I prefer the latter because it is easier to have the room set up before students come in, marked with the color or number or whatever.  There is always a little bit of chaos when students enter a class–regardless of age–so the additional minute or two it might take for students to match their token to their area is out of the way before my explanation of the activity begins.] Then let the discussion/activity begin.  As long as the students have an outcome to work toward–a group discussion report, a chart indicating hobbies or favorite out-of-school interests/activities, a list of main ideas from the previous night’s homework reading, a consensus of pros and cons on a particular issue or topic, what can be learned from watching a particular sit-com on TV, favorite comic characters (the list is endless depending on your purpose)–communication results, with an added bonus of students who normally would not “hang together” learning the other students are not so bad after all.

The teacher’s job in this type of activity is to circulate among the groups to answer questions, to be supportive, to make sure that students who are already friends are actively participating in the activity and not discussing something off-topic, to check on understanding, etc.  [This is also a great way to quickly discover how well the assignment has been explained, too!  It can also help one learn which students have difficulty working together, or which students need help with group participation skills.]   Make certain to tell the students how long the group activity is to last, and give them a warning when they are down to the final minutes to give them an opportunity to clean up their presentation or report and choose the person who will present the group’s work.

So what does this have to do with classroom management?  Think about it.  If the activity has been well planned, there should be several groups of students scattered around the classroom who are actively learning from each other and sharing ideas and view points.  When students are actively engaged in learning, they are less likely to display undesired behavior.  By circulating through the learning environment, the teacher can help ensure the engagement of even the most reluctant participant, perhaps by asking a reluctant participant how his/her viewpoint compares to that of the rest of the group.  The teacher can also ask that the views or ideas of opposing members be presented in the report or presentation, and what the merits of the opposing views are in relation to the majority views.  The idea is to get students to understand that dissenters have a place in society in general and in the current activity in particular, and that dissenting views cannot be automatically ignored or avoided.

From a learning perspective, this method allows groups of students who may not know each other well to communicate and exchange ideas and perspectives, some of which may be new to some students.  It allows for more able students to become involved in a learning session with less able students.  Students who are afraid to participate in a whole-class discussion or activity may find they can share ideas more freely in a smaller group.

Most of all, the students begin to understand that everyone has something worth considering–academically and socially.  This one little bit of understanding can help students take ownership of the classroom in positive ways.  It is one of the best techniques I’ve seen and used to get students to accept responsibility and ownership over their learning.  And it is a great way to get students who don’t know each other well to establish rapport.

When students can feel that their “different” ideas have value, their class behaviors improve.  When students learn that even opposing views have merit, they learn tolerance of others.  This type of grouping for discussion and project production contributes more to individual academic self-esteem than most other methods.  It is also one of the best methods to teaching tolerance indirectly that I have come across.  Once self-esteem and tolerance are elevated, teaching and learning can progress much faster and with less disruptive behaviors or incidents in a given class or learning session.

If you have tried this technique, what were the observable results in your class?  If you haven’t used it, what do you believe might be the outcomes in your class, both good and bad?  If you are a pre-service teacher, how do you foresee the benefits (or drawbacks) of using this method?

Please post your comments!

More on classroom management tomorrow!


About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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6 Responses to Fixing Education: Classroom Management–Part 2

  1. Betsy Weigle says:

    I have not used this technique, but I’m going to investigate it with my 4th graders. I have found that celebrating cultural differences during weekly class meetings and during holidays promotes tolerance, but this specific activity could really jump start it.

    It is a year-long process. Unfortunately, there are often counteracting influences at home that must be overcome.


  2. Millie says:

    I agree with this teaching technique wholeheartedly. As an educator, it is crucial to get students out of their “comfort zone” of familiar friends. Encouraging communication is important to help students learn, grown and develop skills to get along with all types of people. In the work world, they will not be able to deal solely with friends. This type of preparation is key to teaching students how to reach out and learn from people through open communication. Staying in select groups narrows their perspective and they miss opportunities to think more creatively.

  3. Alexis says:

    This is a great technique – one I have used with 7th, 8th graders and adults. The best teaching tool is creating the “AHA” moment in the classroom – and this does just that. The trick is: Define the discussion parameters as loosely as possible (i.e. What makes a great movie (what is the individual’s definition of “great” — or a discussion of “what it takes to be a winning football team” – do you mean “soccer” or “football”). Each member of the group will make their comments depending upon their point of view. Everyone will be exposed to different ways of formulating opinions, observations, and ways of thinking. All will begin to look at topics from outside their own frame of reference. The facilitator’s role during discussions would be to go from group to group and comment — “Interesting Shelly, Johnny what do you think about what Shelly said?” Johnny now has to think about Shelly’s opinions, compare them to his own, and is in essence appreciating the differences. This helps everyone appreciate the ethnic, cultural, economic, physical, behavioral differences – and underscores how these differences form the way we make decisions and see the world. Teach tolerance through the AHA…

  4. Sandy P says:

    I think the ideas mentioned are very valuable. The pluses include getting students to hear from others not in his/her circle of friends which can be eye-opening and getting students more comfortable with others who are different from them. I believe these exercises culd be very helpful in teaching the value of diversity. Have there been any studies showing that the “teaching tolerance” technique is effective in the long run?

    • DrEMiller says:

      Thanks, Sandy. You’ve raised a valid point. I haven’t been keeping up with studies using action research methods, which I think would probably be the best way of looking at the results. Most of what I have seen is practical references, without any actual research behind them. I’ll have to check into whether there have been more studies recently. From practical experience, I can tell you that this works–even with behaviorally challenged kids. It’s worked for me with post-secondary students as well. I’ll check the literature, though, to see what newer research is out there. Thanks for pointing that out!

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