teaching community banner

5 Collaborative Class Routines

By Jessica Aggrey

Day 1: Porterville Acceleration Training

This week, I’m attending a four-day training lead by Melissa Long for implementing accelerated pedagogy in the classroom. (If you’re curious what I mean about acceleration, check out this page here.) I had a great first day learning about engaging classroom activities and discussing ideas with other teachers. Let me share a few of the highlights from yesterday. I tried to post last night but was too tired to proofread effectively. 


1) Discussion Questions on Index Cards

As the move to integrate reading and writing strengthens, we’ll be spending more of our time doing intentional post-reading activities to help our students process the things they read. Coming up with discussion questions to engage students with a particular reading will certainly be one part of this process. Melissa presented a great activity today that gets students to create their own discussion questions. Why not have them do that some of the time? Here’s one way you could do it.

First, go over some guidelines about what makes a good discussion question. It shouldn’t be a yes/no question. Instead, it should be open-ended. It should be something interesting that people will want to talk about. Melissa recommended doing this together as a whole class the first few times before having them work on it on their own.

Once you’re ready to have them do it on their own, give each student an index card and ask that student to write a discussion question about the reading on one side. To add an element of community building, ask the class to also write a getting to know you question on the other side of the index card. Now, each student in the classroom has a unique discussion question to bring to the table. I’m sure you can come up with a number of fun ways you could have students use these cards to engage in a conversation. Below is one way that Melissa uses them in her class.


2) Admirals and Pirates (Speed Dating Variation)

This is a fun way to have students rotate to various partners during a discussion. To determine who in the class is an admiral and who is a pirate, ask the students to stand up and find someone in the class for a partner. Next, ask them some question such as:

    1. Who got up earlier? (Melissa’s Example)


    1. Whose birthday is later in the year?


    1. Who ate the healthiest breakfast?


  1. Who has the longest hair?

So, let’s say that you chose the question “Whose birthday is later in the year?” Ask the students with the later birthdays to raise their hands. Next, tell them that they are the admirals and direct them to write down their role onto their index cards that were explained in the last section of this article. Next, ask the other students to raise their hands. Tell them that they are the pirates, and ask them to write down their role as well. Having them write down their roles will help prevent them from forgetting during the rest of the activity.

Next, ask the pirates to raise their hands. Then, direct the admirals to get up and sail around the room to find a pirate partner. During this whole activity, Melissa had slides to help direct the logistics. The slide for this part, for example, included a picture of a large historic sailing vessel to help connect the analogy of getting up and sailing around.

Once everyone has connected with a partner, direct the pirates to ask their getting to know you questions to the admirals. Give them a minute or two to talk and then ask the admirals to ask their discussion questions of the pirates.

Next, ask the admirals to raise their hands and the pirates to sail around the room and find a new partner. Now, have the admirals ask their getting to know you questions and then the pirates to ask their discussion questions. Keep rotating back and forth for a given period of time or until everyone has had the opportunity to work with all of the other students of the opposite role.

After we as conference participants had done this activity, the question was raised whether or not it might be considered as too high school for a college class. Someone in the audience had been dinged during a ten-year review for doing a similar activity. Melissa said her students seem to really enjoy it and prefer it to a traditional discussion line speed dating activity. Personally, as a post-college professional, I still really enjoyed the activity. I feel that sometimes in a discussion line, it’s too easy to look down the line and anticipate moving forward, especially when the conversation dies down. With this activity, you stop in a chair and give your partner your full attention until it’s time for the other person to move on. I also enjoyed the roles. It was fun and creative. Who says learning has to be serious and boring? 

ESL Adaptations:

Yesterday evening, my colleague and I were discussing how this activity might be adapted for various language topics and tasks in an ESL classroom specifically. We chatted for a bit about what to do with errors in the questions students write. My colleague, Annie, made the argument that if fluency and community building is the point of focus, then you shouldn’t worry about any errors at first since it might make students less likely to actively participate because they will be worried about perfection. She suggested to let them write their questions and participate in the activity. Then, as a followup, you could collect the cards, type the questions up anonymously, and use that in the next class period as an error correction activity where students work in groups to find and fix any mistakes they see.

If you do want to correct any errors first, I think you could have students write their questions and then turn them in as a homework assignment. You could provide feedback for students and then have them revise their cards before participating in the discussion activity.


3) Expert Group and Home Group Jigsaw

This is another great activity that I’ve heard about at a number of places before, and it’s certainly worth mentioning here. It’s a great way to encourage participation from all students because each person is responsible for explaining a part of the reading. To set up this activity do the following:

    1. Divide the class into groups equivalent in size to the number of sections or readings you have. Each person in the home group will be responsible for one section or reading. Have students get into their groups. Tell them that this is their home group and they should look at their partners and tell them that they won’t let them down.


    1. Next, have students move into their expert groups. There will be one person per home group that joins an expert group. To facilitate a smooth transition without confusion, I’d use some sort of visual cue. For example, Melissa used playing cards that she passed out to everyone. She first asked us to join by suite for our home groups. Then for expert groups, she had us join by number. The number ended up being the section number we were assigned to review. If your class size is large enough to need more than four home groups, you could use paper squares with numbers and colored dots or numbers and shapes, etc.


    1. Students will work together to read and discuss their section while they’re in the expert group. Each person will be responsible to take that information back to the home group to share out, so it’s important that each student pays attention and takes notes.


  1. After a set amount of time, have the students return to their home groups and share out what they learned from their section.

This activity is great for ESL because students practice a lot of different skills. They’re listening while following directions; they’re reading, annotating, taking notes, and discussing in their expert groups, and they’re presenting information to their classmates in the home group. They also build knowledge while in the expert group, causing their final presentation to be richer than if they had worked on it alone.


4) Group Definition Exchange

This is a great activity to take note of if you teach a theme-based course or use theme-based units in your class. It’s still a great activity even if you don’t. To introduce students to the theme of your course or to discuss an important idea or term from a unit, put students into groups of four to five. Give them the term and then ask them to work together to create and write down a definition on an index card. Give them a certain length of time. After that, exchange the cards between groups and have each group discuss the other group’s definition. What do they think of it? Do they agree or disagree? What would they change? You could give them sticky notes and ask them to write a question, idea, or comment to the other group. This activity works best for terms that don’t have an easy or clear-cut definition. For example, for the idea of happiness. 

Finally, give the groups back their original definitions. Ask them to reflect. Are there any groups that would like to revise their original definition after seeing another group’s?

5) Group Response Exchange

This last idea came out of a discussion with another participant during an activity and was shared by Amble Hollenhorst. It’s similar to the “Group Definition Exchange” activity, except instead of writing a definition, students are working together to write a response to a prompt. Put students into groups. Give them a prompt, and have them work together to write a response. Pass that response to another group. Have them read it together and discuss the ideas. Have the second group then write a response to the original group’s response. You can pass this on again for another group to join the conversation or return it to the original group to write another reply.

I’m getting so many ideas for my classes this fall; I’m not sure where to start. However, it’s much better to have more ideas to draw from than fewer ones. I have three more days of training, so stay tuned for more takeaways.  I’ll also be at another conference next weekend.

Say Thanks. Get Jessica a cup of coffee.


1 responses on "5 Collaborative Class Routines"

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Connect with Us

Who’s Online

There are no users currently online
TESOLPlanner Copyright 2018 Jessica Aggrey
%d bloggers like this: