Numbered Heads Together

Some people have been dropping hints lately that I should share a few more of my favourite co-operative learning strategies.

OK, OK I can take a hint!

Here’s one called Numbered Heads Together.  To get the most out of it, you need to seat pupils in groups of 4 and of mixed ability.  Each pupil will need a mini-whiteboard, and a pen that works 😉

  • Pupils numbers themselves 1-4 round their table, then teacher asks the question.
  • Using mini-whiteboards, pupils work individually at first to write down their best response.
  • When ready, each pupil gives a thumbs up, then all stand up.  They huddle together, discuss and decide upon the group’s best answer, then sit down.
  • Teacher rolls a die, and which ever number it lands on (1-4), that person from each group must share their answer with the class.
  • Teacher can see errors, ask pupils to explain how they reached their conclusion, ask pupils to explain errors to other groups.

Some examples of how I use this activity:

  • Give the infinitive of an unknown regular verb and ask pupils to give a particular conjugation (ie getting them to apply the rule)
  • Give a sentence in the present tense and ask pupils to put it into the past/future tense
  • Give pupils all the words required to make a sentence, and ask them to unjumble it (very good for practising correct word order in German)
  • Give four or five words or phrases, ask which is the odd one out and why (could be gender, irregular verbs, phrases in different tenses)
  • Give four or five words in the target language (the dafter the better!) and ask pupils to create a grammatically correct sentence using all of the words (they can add other words, but must still use the words you supply) eg Jupiter, hatstand, monkey, George Bush.
  • Ask pupils to write rules for a particular grammar point they have learned (good for starter or plenary).
To help me with classroom organisation, I will often prepare the questions on PowerPoint first, but it’s not necessary to do this everytime.

Co-operative Learning

Last Saturday (24th September) I took part in the MFLSAT event held at Cramlington Learning Village, where my contribution was to share some thoughts on co-operative learning structures at my ‘genius bar’ (my host’s description, not mine!).   Watch out for a longer post soon about other speakers’ contributions.

I have talked about collaborative learning structures before (here and here), but I make no apologies because these techniques were the thing that turned my teaching around and gave me the confidence to hand the learning over to the pupils.

So here are the few slides I prepared as an overview, and below is the handout explaining some of the activities in a little more detail.  Please help yourself!


Cooperative Learning Structures – handout

… Stop Press … Samantha Lunn is also working with these structures now, so you may want to wander over to her blog to see what she’s up to – she’s just blogged this, for example …

Kobayashi Maru revisited

So 10 lessons down the line, and it’s time to evaluate the attempt to engage Year 9 in their own learning.  If you missed the introductory ramble, you’ll find it here.

I’m really pleased with some aspects of the work.   For example, having the pupils work in peer-designated groups has highlighted which pupils are the ones actually causing the noise.  It just seemed like it was all of them until recently!

I also like the progress that some of the quieter or demotivated ones have made by being in a group with an enthusiastic leader, who went out of her way to include everyone.

I’m not so pleased with the fact that actually getting the pupils to listen at any point, either to each other or to me, is still extremely difficult.  Even though they are fed up with the noise themselves, they haven’t figured out the cause and effect thing yet.

Anyway, here are their comments on the half-term, which I received in response to a questionnaire (I was experimenting with Spicynodes!):

Whatever happens, I will still be meeting the same group of pupils last lesson on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until the end of the year, so I need to keep trying to get through to them.  Guess what I’ll be doing at half-term …

Kobayashi Maru

Individually, my Year 9 German group (set 2 of 2) are nice pupils, some funny, some a bit odd, but by and large OK.  Put them together, however, last lesson on Tuesday and Wednesday, and they become a different life form.  I have lost track of the number of times I have been unable to actually start the lesson because they come in to the room talking and just don’t shut up.

I’ve tried being calm and quiet, loud and shouty, mixing the groups, working individually – the only thing they seem to engage with is Linguascope.  Great for learning 12 items of vocabulary, but after that …?  Then they complain at me because they didn’t get level 5 on their last assessment.

Those of you who are Star Trek aficionados may recognise Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario – and most of the time this is what I feel like with this group.  However, if you do know about the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, you may also recall that James Tiberius Kirk actually beat the Kobayashi Maru – he won the no-win scenario.

So this is my 5 week mission to …  OK, I’ll stop the Star Trek references, but I have devised a plan to see if there is any way I can engage this group more successfully.

I have asked the group to tell me how they want to learn for the next half term.  I have given them the non-negotiable facts (which topics and grammar they need to learn, what level they are expected to be working at, and the fact that there will be assessments at the end).

The rest is up to them.  They have been compiling a list of activities they want to do to show off their learning (role play/drama, board games, posters), and have split the work between groups so that they will each be responsible for teaching the class a different aspect of the unit.  They have also made a list of what they need me to do (eg explain about separable verbs, coach on pronunciation).

Over the holidays, my job is to put it all together, and I’ll be handing it over to them in January.

It could work, it could be a disaster.  But at least I’m trying.  I’ll post updates here as we go along.