As in most Physical Education Programs, it has been a tradition for my team and me to kick off the school year with two weeks of team building and cooperative activities. Not only is it the perfect way to get to know students, but it also encourages them to communicate (talk to each other – a dying art!) and problem solve in small, medium, and large sized groups. Through these cooperative activities, we are able to determine which students work well in group settings, and those who may have difficulties within this dynamic.
This is one of the first questions we ask our students before we delve into the heart of the unit. No matter what the age or grade level, students need to be reminded of common expectations when working in a group. This helps define the goal of team building and expectations. During a recent brainstorming session on effective group member characteristics, our third grade students devised the following list:
Listen to your teammates
Takes turns speaking
Stay on task
Don’t give up – if a plan doesn’t work, try another
Be nice to each other
Be willing to work with anyone
Similar lists will crop up across grade levels. In fact, verbalizing expected etiquette while working in a group comes easily to the students, however, when presented with a group task, our shared ideas are frequently forgotten by a many, validating the need to DEFINE and REMIND.
When teaching team building, initially form groups of 2-3 students. Beginning with small teams will increase students’ comfort level, and empower them to freely bounce ideas back and forth.
Think about your next staff meeting. Would you be more likely to share your ideas or answer questions in a small or large group? As adults and children, we fear the prospect of “being wrong” in front of the WHOLE group, causing us to remain quiet.
Breaking into small groups allows all members to have a voice, and may increase the quantity and quality of ideas shared.
As the unit progresses we will gradually introduce more complex activities with larger groups.
I’ve been guilty of this on many occasions. Too often, we forget our students are extremely creative, and can discover multiple solutions to a task or complex team building activity. Therefore, when presenting a challenge, don’t give away any possible solutions in your explanation. Be careful not to OVER DEMONSTRATE!
Below is a perfect example of a time when I gave too much information in the written description of an activity and over demonstrated while presenting the task. Notice how each group in the video is completing the task identically, just as I demonstrated it. Also notice the differences in the slide I presented to each class.
The result: limited solutions and stifled student creativity.
In this second video, I was less specific with the description. There was also no demonstration prior to the challenge. Notice the variety of solutions each group was able to present.
Once the groups are formed and the task is presented, it is time for planning and implementation. It is imperative that the teacher is present and observing each group’s interactions throughout the process.
This processing or debriefing step is where communication, group dynamics, leadership, problem solving strategies, perseverance and other skills can be observed and discussed following the activity.
Unfortunately, too often, this necessary step is rushed or completely neglected during and after a cooperative activity.
Processing as a group allows students to share strategies and offer useful insight to groups who may have struggled. Here are a few of the many question a teacher can ask during this step:
On some occasions, you may also need to do “checkpoint” processing. Checkpoint processing occurs midway through an activity. There are times when a large percentage of students may be experiencing difficulty with the presented task. Or maybe you notice there are several groups having a tough time communicating and sharing responsibility and ideas. If this occurs, briefly stop the task and gather the students for a group discussion. During this time the instructor can steer the discussion toward the sticky points witnessed.
Whether it’s building a hula hut in P.E., passing a ball on a field, or completing a team project in class, team building skills are indispensable tools for children to possess. Like any lesson, we can teach our students the benefits of sharing ideas, communicating thoughts, and working as a group, but ultimately it is the children that will connect and use those skills in the real world.
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