A debut book offers activities that promote student collaboration.
Group work can be a way to get students to take a more active role in their own educations, but how do you teach them to successfully act as a team? With this book, Palmer aims to provide strategies that foster cooperation among students: “It is designed for teachers in any subject area who want to use group projects in their classroom and want to prepare their students to work effectively in teams.” Palmer recommends educators try one or all of these 13 activities before assigning pupils a group project. The exercises cover fundamentals like how students can get to know one another, assign roles, resolve conflicts, and build consensus. They also involve less obvious tactics, like journal writing as a means of evaluating the group’s progress and “tower building” to encourage pupils to rely on one another. Each activity is formatted like a recipe, listing the time it will take, the materials involved, and the team-building skill it will attempt to teach. For example, the skill for the activity “Word Lists” is “plan, design, or carry out a project or task from start to finish.” In “Word Lists,” each student is asked to memorize as many words on a list as possible, repeating those that they can remember. Then the students are put into teams to complete the same task, with planning time beforehand to strategize how best to memorize the words as a group. Ideally, the teams of students should be able to collectively memorize a greater number of the words than they could as individuals. Each activity concludes with useful “Debriefing Questions” that ask the pupils to think back on the exercise and share their opinions of it: “What were the advantages and disadvantages of working on your own and as part of a team?”
Palmer’s background is in teaching ESL/EFL and TESL, and she bases these activities on teamwork skills identified by the Conference Board of Canada. She writes in a simple, directional prose that keeps her instructions concise and unadorned. Each step of the way, she explains the reasoning behind the activity and how it relates to the process of team-building. She generally offers examples or templates for all of her recommendations, from journal-writing prompts to self-evaluation sheets. The book itself is slim—more manual than pedagogical treatise—fitting all 13 of the exercises into 62 pages. If it feels like a crash course, that’s by design: these team skills are meant to be taught as a precursor to group work, so it makes sense to try to get them out of the way within a day or two. The guide makes it simple to read, prepare for, and enact such exercises quickly and easily. Palmer recommends a regimen of all 13—each is designed around a separate skill, after all—but walking through even one of them with students will surely create a more fertile environment for subsequent group work.
An efficient guide to teaching teamwork skills to pupils.