Tool ID-4: Students working collaboratively

For this tool you will need the following resources:

  • ID-4 PowerPoint
  • Handout 1: Questions to tackle in a group
  • Handout 2: Students working collaboratively
  • Handout 3: Students working collaboratively – further reading
  • Video: How many school teachers?

The aim of this tool is to explore the benefits and challenges when students work collaboratively. download_powerpointA discussion about constructive classroom talk between students is followed by an overview of the teacher’s role in the classroom when the students are working in small groups. The group then watches and analyses a video of a classroom lesson.

classIntroduce the topic briefly to the teachers, emphasising that collaborative work is common in the world of work. Ask them to share with the group some of their experiences of what happens in their classrooms when students work collaboratively in small groups. They may bring up a range of issues, both positive and negative. We have found that teachers talk about:

  • Benefits of students discussing with one another (e.g. learning from each other, positive effect on self-esteem);
  • Obstacles to classroom discussion (e.g. lack of time, feeling that they are out of control);
  • The need for ground rules (e.g. allowing everyone a chance to speak, building on what others say);
  • Students need to share goals and understand individual responsibilities;
  • The role of the teacher (e.g. listening before intervening, making the students do the thinking).


Now ask the teachers to work in small groups on one of the tasks on Handout 1: Questions to tackle in a group. There is plenty to do in this tool so we suggest you give them no more than about 10 minutes; the important thing is that they get started. Suggest that they choose together which task to work on and then spend a few minutes thinking about it on their own. They should then compare ideas and together try to refine their answers.

classBring the group together and ask them to reflect on the experience they have just had. They will probably have much to say, but if not, you get get them started with questions such as these:

  • Did you find it helpful to have a chance to think about the question yourself before it was discussed in your group?
  • How far did you really think together, or did you tend to follow independent lines of thought?
  • Did someone ‘take over’? Was someone a ‘passenger’?
  • Did you listen to, share ideas with and consider the alternative views of everyone in the group?
  • Did you build on each others’ ideas to construct chains of coherent reasoning?
  • Did you feel able to share your ideas without fear of embarrassment of being wrong? Did anyone feel uncomfortable or threatened? If so, why?
  • Did your discussion stay ‘on task’ or were you ‘wandering’?
  • What are the implications of this activity for your classroom?

download_handoutProvide the group with copies of Handout 2: Students working collaboratively, which has three sections:

  1. Characteristics of helpful and unhelpful talk (a summary taken from research)
  2. The teacher’s role during small group discussion (a summary taken from research)
  3. Observing and analysing a discussion lesson (questions for pair work).

Ask them to quickly read through Sections 1 and 2, as they will want to draw on these in the observations and analysis of  the lesson (Section 3). Tell them that you are going to show them a video, and ask them also to prepare by reading through Section 3.

Show the video and ask the teachers to work in pairs to fill in the questions on the handout.

Finish off by asking the teachers to plan a lesson in which the students work collaboratively, teach it and reflect on the outcomes. Ask the group to discuss and agree on a specific question that they want to exploredownload_handout  about student collaborative work and be ready to share their reflections with the group at the next meeting. They can find out more about research on Handout 3: Students working collaboratively – further reading.