By Adam Pritchard
Collaborative learning activities are a great way to get students cooperating and thinking with help from each other. Activities such as these make use of each individual member’s skills and knowledge and apply them in a setting where they can be used by the group as a whole. This makes them particularly fun for students, as well as a great way to get them more engaged in the class.
The most effective game largely depends on the makeup of the classroom, and these activities can also be combined and adjusted to meet each teacher’s needs.
A very popular problem solving activity, Desert Island works very well in getting students to think critically and creatively in small groups of three or four. The students are told that they are stranded on a desert island and may choose three objects to take with them in order to help them survive. They are given a set time to discuss what to take, at the end of which all the members of the group must be in agreement as to the three objects to be chosen. They then have to give reasons to the class in order to justify their selection, and students from other groups can be encouraged to give their own opinions to provide peer feedback.
An optional stage which can be included before the situation is outlined is for the teacher to draw the island on a whiteboard. Teachers can explain what it is and then encourage suggestions from the group as to what they could find on the island if they were there, such as fruit like bananas and coconuts. This not only helps to set the context, but gets students thinking about the situation. It also helps students to be imaginative, as they can connect their objects with what is available on the island. For example, “There are dangerous animals on the island, so we should take a weapon.”
The NASA Game
Another survival themed game, the NASA game is similar to Desert Island in some aspects, but much more expansive. The aim is simple: the students have crashed on the moon and must choose objects which they think are most essential in order to survive. However, unlike in Desert Island, they are given a list of fifteen objects that they have in their possession. They must then rank these objects from most to least important. The team whose rankings correspond closest to NASA’s own are the winners. The full list of fifteen objects can be found here, as can the rankings according to NASA and a score chart. As with any collaborative group game, this activity promotes team work whilst practicing the justification of ideas and the persuasion of others.
This is a great game for classes with a competitive streak and an inquisitive nature. Alibis requires the class to be divided into pairs who need to be able to work closely together. Students are informed that a murder has taken place (another teacher usually makes a good victim). Not much is known except the rough time of when the murder was committed — for example, between 2pm and 5pm yesterday afternoon — as well as the fact that the murderer was a member of the class.
In pairs, students then have a few minutes to agree on a story: what they were doing, where, when, etc. Each pair in turn is then interviewed. One person sits at the front of the class whilst the other goes out of the room. When the time is up they swap places. The other students have two minutes to ask each of the students as many questions as they can in relation to the timeframe of the murder. The pair whose story is the closest match is declared the winner.
Before starting with the interrogations, it may be a good idea to brainstorm possible questions to help prompt the students. Also, encouraging the students to keep a note of what each person in the pair said helps to focus, and also ask relevant questions while connecting the actions of the two people.
A very fast and fun activity that is suitable for younger learners, this activity is especially useful for classes who have short attention spans and like to move around a lot. The students are divided into two teams (or more depending on size of the class). For each round, students are given a word. The first team to spell out the word with their bodies is the winner.
Note that they have to spell each letter out one at a time, with all the members of the group together forming one letter. They can only proceed to the next letter after a letter is approved. This adds to the challenge because everyone must be in place, and they have to organise themselves accurately and quickly.
The Superlative Olympics is another great activity for younger students and is especially useful for those learning a language. The class is divided into small teams with three or four students in each who must compete in a number of challenges. Challenges can range from simple, like “Who is the tallest?” to more imaginative, such as “Who can eat the most jelly babies using chopsticks in one minute?” One point is awarded to the winner of each round, with the team with the highest total being the winner at the end. The game is useful for encouraging recognition of different skills and providing a competitive element in a less pressured atmosphere.
This activity is a relatively simple way to introduce debates into a class. The students are divided into two teams, and each are given a person, place, object, etc. Teachers can either let the students choose, or decide themselves as to what they get. The teams then have a few minutes to decide why their thing is better than that belonging to the other team. For example, why is a car better than a swimming pool? Why is a monkey better than a UFO?
Once they are ready, then the debate begins. The game will need to be a moderator, or a teacher could give a student that role. Having a captain for each team also helps to provide some structure and prevents a free for all. After an allotted time, a winner is declared chosen by an impartial judge. The activity encourages creative thinking, and the most effective teams are usually the ones that listen to each other in the preparation stage.
Dragons Den Invention
This activity allows imaginative students to showcase their creative skills. In small groups, students have a set time to invent a product, which they then have to pitch to the class. After all the products have been shown, students vote for which one was their favourite, with the team with the most votes being the winner.
In order to give the students some structure, it may be a good idea to set out a few parameters. Asking students to provide a name, role and price for their product sets a basic outline. Adding extra information, such as how it is made, which materials are used and what are its strengths and weaknesses, is also useful. Brainstorming ideas before starting is a good way to prompt students.
In terms of presenting, any technology in the classroom can be a great asset, and particularly inventive students may wish to make PowerPoints or use musical jingles. Alternatively, teachers may wish to make it more simple with the use of posters. However, be careful that the focus of the lesson doesn’t just become about the creation of visuals; it is the speaking presentation component that is the most important.
For more information, tips and examples of activities, take a look at the links below: