Creating Cooperative Classrooms: Prevent the Class that Doesn’t Get Along

With the holidays fast approaching, we want everybody to just get along. This is true in our classrooms as well. The students in our classes are together 187 days a year for multiples hours each day. There will be disagreements, minor conflicts and passive aggression. Unfortunately, sometimes a particular class falls off the deep end and the hostility and negativity starts to overtake the content.

We’ve all been there. This highlights the need to apply a special subset of teaching skills. (Some of you may recall a particular scene from Freedom Writers with Mrs. G standing in front of an explosively arguing class filled with students putting each other down.) The classroom setting can naturally breed competition, and this, paired with so much time spent together, can lead to sudden or ongoing angst between students.

Here’s a fix to help your class come together again so they can get back to what’s really important; the learning.

Cooperative classroom mini-lesson ideas:

Dedicate a week to have 5, 10 or 15-minute mini lessons at the start of your classes. You will decide the content of these mini lessons based on the top five “trouble-triggers” your students may be suffering from. Yes, we teachers are busy, and every minute of our day is precious. Now, raise your hand if you think 15 minutes per day for one week is worth nurturing positive, classroom camaraderie that will persist the rest of the school year. Here are some specific mini-lesson ideas to help your students get along:

  • Revisit rules of engagement
  • Respecting differences in others
  • Complimenting each other
  • Showing respect through your actions
  • Greeting each other in the morning
  • Icebreaker activities to get to know classmates or tablemates better (I’m all about getting the students to move during these.)
  • Taking personality (I linked to a fun one I found for you) or multiple-intelligence surveys (I linked to a print out survey) to understand each other’s learning styles

The secret is that it can’t just be you standing on a soapbox talking throughout the mini lesson. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Inform your students of mini-lesson schedule and objective: Let the class know Monday that you are going to do a 5 – 10 minute lesson in the beginning of every class that will help them grow as a classroom, making it more pleasant for everybody.

Step 2: Students should be taking some sort of notes during this time, but not more than half page. Have the notes written as you are speaking so you can refer back to them. Use the masking technique, where you only reveal a portion of the notes at a time so students stay with you.

Step 3: Use made-up examples of different scenarios to explain your concept.

Step 4: Do some type of guided-learning activity so students can practice the concept.

Step 5: Revisit the concept quickly at the end of the class and compliment the class on how they improved, highlighting specific positive instances to provide concrete examples. Start the class the next day with a similar compliment specific to the prior day’s lesson and start on the new concept.

Example mini lesson:

Monday focus: Using your words with good intentions

The following notes will be visible to your students:

Words are very powerful. They can make others feel confident, smart, and beautiful, or make someone feel lonely, hurt, and depressed. In our classroom, we use a lot of words because that is part of the learning process. In order to learn the most in this classroom, we have to make sure our words are being used to help each other feel confident, smart, and wonderful! Since I am not the only one with a voice in this classroom, it is also your responsibility to use your words to benefit our class.

 Example of a POSITIVE WAY to use your words:

“This work is pretty challenging. How can I receive more help with this? ”

Speaker is taking responsibility for what they need

 Example of a NEGATIVE WAY to use your words:

“I need help! You never help me!”

Makes other person feel bad or attacked

Guided Activity:

 Skits: Give each pair of students a scenario of when they would have to choose how to use their words. Let them take turns acting out an example and a non-example. Give them a few minutes and let them switch with each other if they have extra time.

That’s it. Keep it simple. Keep it positive. Start your content and leave just three or so minutes at the end of class to revisit how they used their words during class.

 Your turn: Have you ever had a class that just didn’t get along? What did you try that worked?