This year I changed up my classroom and rearranged things to try and improve my teaching. I wanted to focus on cooperative learning in the easiest and most effective way.
So, I decided to put my desks into groups of three. I have always used rows of desks and paired students up in the past and last year I tried tables of four, but these are both inconvenient for a few reasons. The biggest challenge for pairs is when students are absent and didn’t have a partner and in tables of four there is always one desk facing away from the teacher. Also, groups of four usually become very talkative and harder to manage. Groups of three solves these problems and so far has proven effective in providing a good environment for cooperative learning.
Here is what my classroom looks like now…
Here are the many benefits I’ve noticed from this new desk arrangement:
- Threes are better for checking answers. Just like two heads are better than one, so are three better than two. I have heard many conversations between students where two people talking are unsure who is correct but then the third person can break the tie. If two people answered one way, then they most likely are doing it correctly. The third student is also more likely to learn from his or her mistake, feeling less threatened by two people.
- Students feel less pressure and are more likely to engage in conversation. In pairs, students can shirk their duties and ignore their partner, but in groups of three they usually have one ally or at least feel obligated to participate because one of the students will take charge.
- Pair activities done in groups of three offer more chance to practice. Instead of doing it once, everyone has to do something three times. Students can talk around the table or in a triangle, which means they get to repeat something with another partner.
- Some activities work better in groups of three. Students can play dice games, memory, pictionary, quiz each other, and play in review competitions as a team or against each other. Competing one-on-one can be lop-sided but in groups of three the skill is more evenly distributed and therefore makes the challenge more fun.
- It takes pressure off the teacher to re-teach or facilitate all the time. When students are absent, there is still a pair that can work together. Students also have more resources for catching up when they return to school or for working in class.
- It helps students get to know more people in the classroom. I use simple strategies such as “Person who has the next birthday goes first” when sharing their answers. It’s an easy icebreaker to get students talking but also builds their trust and team bond. Students will work with more people in the class throughout the year and it makes learning more fun.
- It’s so fast to circulate the classroom and catch up with every table quickly. This is something teachers rarely think about, but the efficiency of movement in the classroom is critical. When students are working, I can check in with every group quickly and not waste time moving around the room.
Classroom arrangement is something that teachers don’t talk a lot about, but I think it’s a critical component of a teacher’s effectiveness. It’s important to experiment with new arrangements, make observations, and improve the learning environment. I am happy to report this year’s trial run has been a huge success!