Working with Pairs and Small Groups

Working collaboratively allows students to tackle more complicated and more conceptually difficult Problems. Carefully managed, collaborative learning can be a powerful tool for teachers to use during classroom instruction. CMP suggests two types of collaborative-learning groupings: partner work and small-group work.

Many of the Problems in CMP are mathematically demanding, requiring students to gather data, consider ideas, look for patterns, make conjectures, and use problem-solving strategies to reach a solution. For this reason, the teacher support often suggests that students work on a Problem collaboratively. Group work supports the generation of a variety of ideas and strategies to be discussed and considered, and it enhances the perseverance of students in tackling more complicated multistep and multipart Problems.

It is appropriate to ask students to think about a Problem individually before moving them into groups, allowing them to formulate their own ideas and questions to bring to the group. These multiple perspectives often lead to interesting and diverse strategies for solving a Problem.

Group work is also suggested for some of the Unit Projects. These projects tend to be large, complicated tasks. Working in a group allows students to consider a variety of ideas and helps them complete the task in a reasonable amount of time. You will want to determine group configurations in an efficient manner so class time is not wasted.

You may find it easiest to decide before class how students will be grouped. There are various methods you can use to establish groups, such as assigning students to a group for a whole Unit or randomly drawing for group assignments on a more frequent basis. You may also want to arrange the seating in the room to minimize movement during the transitions from individual to group to whole-class settings.

Guidelines for Working in Pairs and Small Groups

It is important that you clearly communicate your expectations about group work to your students and then hold them to those expectations. You may want to hand out or post a set of guidelines so students understand their responsibilities.

Student guidelines for group work

  • Move into your groups quickly and get right to work.
  • Read the instructions aloud or repeat what the teacher has challenged you to find out. Be sure every group member knows what the challenge is.
  • Part of group work is learning to listen to each other. Don’t interrupt your classmates. Make sure each person’s ideas are heard and that the group answers each person’s questions.
  • If you are confused, ask your group to explain. If no one in the group can answer the question, and it is an important question, raise your hand for the teacher.
  • If someone in your group uses a word or an idea you do not understand, ask for an explanation. You are responsible for learning all you can from your group. You are also responsible for contributing to the work of your group. Your explanations for others will help you to understand better.
  • Give everyone in the group a chance to talk about his or her ideas. Talking out loud about your thinking will help you learn to express your arguments and clarify your ideas.
  • If your group gets stuck, go over what the Problem is asking and what you know so far. If this does not give you a new idea, raise your hand for the teacher.
  • Be prepared to share your group’s ideas, solutions, and strategies and to explain why you think you are correct. Make sure you look back at the original Problem and check that your solutions make sense.
  • You are responsible for recording your group’s ideas and solutions in your notes.