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Thinking Teams


Once pupils have had some experience of teacher-led dialogue, you can introduce collaborative thinking teams.  As with whole-class dialogue, the objective is to engage all pupils in the thinking process.

Pupils find it easier to express their ideas in a group than they do in whole class discussion.  They have more confidence voicing ideas and there is more opportunity for each individual to participate.

Collaborative thinking teams can be used in any context where you want pupils to engage with written material.  They can be used for tackling a page of a Maths textbook, or with materials specifically designed for group work.  They lend themselves especially well to the online investigations.

The benefits of group working are multifold:

  • There is no room for passengers.  Pupils cannot hide from each other in a group!  Everyone has to participate in the thinking.

  • No-one gets left behind.  The group has to make sure that everyone understands so everyone can keep up with the group's thinking.

  • Thinking can be recorded.  Pupils can explore ideas initially using individual whiteboards and then record their ideas more permanently in their exercise books or jotters.

As with many kinds of team working their are several different roles which are allocated at the start:

  • The team leader makes sure the group is on task and that everyone is included in the thinking. 

  • The monitor makes sure the chairperson is doing the job properly.

  • The recorder reminds the group to record their thinking or answers.

When starting out with the process, you may wish to use the 'group thinking diagram', which shows the 6 steps in the thinking process: Read, Suggest, Discuss, Agree, Record, Check.  An A3 copy goes in the middle of the group's table with a 'mascot' on it that walks around the diagram as the discussion progresses so that everyone (including the teacher) knows which step they are on.  This can be dispensed with once children are comfortable with the process.  

When introducing the diagram it can be useful to have a conversation with the class about the kind of language that might be used by the chairperson or recorder in each step, in particular, the two 'thinking questions' which the team leader can use:

  • "What do you think, N, about M's idea?" ( this ensures that everyone is listening actively to others' ideas and that the members build on each others' thinking)

  • "Why do you think that, N?" ( this forces speakers to think more deeply and to explain their thinking to others)

It is also worth discussing with the class the huge opportunity given by 'wrong answers'   It is when someone in the group has a different answer or idea that the interesting discussion takes place.  The group has to investigate the different idea or answer to find out whether:

  • one person got the wrong answer or idea - if so, HOW and WHY?

  • both answers or ideas are right

  • the 'wrong answer' is actually right and everyone else is wrong

To make it clear to pupils what you are looking for in their discussions, you should model the process for the pupils.  Gather the pupils together on the carpet and give them individual white boards and pens.  You act as team leader and draw pupils' attention to your use of the two 'thinking questions'. 

During the class discussion, observe carefully to identify the most confident pupils for the different roles.  Ask for volunteers for the team leader role and select from these for the number of teams you want. (Teams of six work well.)  Select children to play the other roles and group pupils strategically!

When trying out the teams, ensure that the pupils are sitting close enough to all be fully involved in debate.  This will probably involve grouping pupils around one end of a standard table of six.  Use some simple subject matter which the pupils are familiar with, such as a page of a Maths textbook.   Teams discuss each section of the page, record their answers individually, and then mark them together before moving on to the next section.  Circulate and spend quality time with each group in turn, listening in to their discussion and modelling the language that the team leader, monitor and recorder need to use to ensure everyone is staying on task, participating maturely in the discussion and recording what and when they are meant to be!

Stay relaxed if it doesn't seem to be working!  Calmly call the class to order and involve them in discussion about what difficulties teams are having with making the process work effectively.  Praise the teams that have been having success, agree the way forward and try again.  Repeat this as necessary, stick at it, and trust that your pupils will make it work!

Once you have it working well, ask for feedback from the class as to what they like about this way of working and ask them for suggestions as to how the process could be improved. 

Good luck!  Have fun!


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