With the first day school around the corner for some of you (I don’t go back until after Labor Day), I wanted to share a neat little activity I use to get my students into groups for the first time. Like my previous post on the Marshallow Challenge, this game has several subversive layers.
It is based on an activity shared on an email list (can’t remember which) a few summers ago. In the original, each student was handed an index card with a cartoon character’s name on it. Students then got up and grouped themselves with other characters from the same movie or TV show. Cute, but too simple and obvious for high schoolers. Plus, kids could easily swap cards so they can sit with their friends.
So here’s what I did. I waited at the door and, as kids entered class, gave each one a card with a word on it. Initially, students could sit wherever they liked. On the back of the card, they had to write their name, one thing they considered themselves to be experts at, and one thing they still struggle with. (This prevented card swapping when it was time to organize into groups. Plus I get some tidbits about my students.)
I ditched the cartoon character theme and made the groupings trickier. I didn’t give them the group themes, but simply told them that they were to find 3 other similar people. In the end, there would be 6 groups of 4. They also had to introduce themselves as they looked at each other’s cards.
Here are the groupings:
- PLUTO, MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY (Disney characters)
- VENUS, MARS, SATURN, EARTH (planets)
- FORD, HONDA, DODGE, CHEVY (cars)
- LINCOLN, WASHINGTON, JEFFERSON, ADAMS (presidents)
- FLORIDA, CALIFORNIA, INDIANA, IOWA (states)
- MERCURY, IRON, NEON, COBALT (elements)
FirstDayLabGroups Word document, ready for printing and cutting.
When it was time for students to find their groups, the room started buzzing as they compared cards:
- “Do you mean President Ford or Ford cars?”
- “Is Mercury a planet, a car, or an element?”
- Early groupings based on looking at a few cards typically changed as more groups started falling in place. For example, if Pluto and Mercury initially sat with the other planets, they soon realized they needed to regroup
- Sometimes when the class got stuck, one or two students emerged to take leadership roles and started writing groupings on the board, or laying out the cards on the floor so everyone could see all the cards. (It’s good for the teacher to quickly see who these students are.)
The Post-Game Analysis
Subversive elements I wanted kids to experience (which we discuss after):
- There’s more than one “right” answer; several groupings were possible (e.g., Lincoln and Ford could be swapped).
- One or two data points does not a pattern make.
- Data from EVERYONE is needed to see the big picture. (We do labs where every group does something different, then we regroup as a class and report out.)
- Models evolve overtime as more data is added.
- Communication and sharing is vital.
What are your student grouping strategies?