Mixing it up: Competition and random groupings in the classroom

I’ve been a fan of Triptico for a while.

For the uninitiated, Triptico is a one-stop shop for games and classroom tools which can be used in every subject classroom. It has timers, scoreboards, selectors and presentation tools. It comes in a free version, although if you pay £15 you can access other programmes and more advanced versions of the free ones.

I particularly like the selectors. You can place students in random groups quite easily and also select students to answer questions. (Oh, how lovely it is to hear the computer get blamed for selecting student X, rather than take the flak myself.)

I now have developed a strategy which I use in all classes ranging from Year 8 to 11 where Triptico is the single, central non-MFL-based resource.

 

Step One: Groupings

Students are placed in random groupings using the ‘Group Selector’. This can take several attempts so as to ensure that groups are of roughly equal ability and are in combinations that will work and (sometimes more importantly) behave well together. Although occasionally we will revert to a ‘normal’ seating plan, students have expressed a liking for working in these different groups. It really does mix things up and provides an air of mystery and unpredictability as students discover (from the board as they enter the room) who they will be working with.

 

Step Two: Competition

I provide opportunities for students to work together in these newly-formed teams.

  • They complete a task together (ideally which has a specific set of answers) but they ALL have to have the answers in their books, as the Triptico group selector software has a setting where one member of each group is selected at random. This ‘chosen student’ is then the one who has to pass their book to the next table for marking, thereby making each student responsible for making their answers as complete and correct as possible, so that the team does not lose out on points.
  • At other times, I will do ‘first-hand-up’ questions for a speedy response to keep classes on their toes.
  • Then there are direct specific questions at individual students which can be differentiated appropriately.
  • Other activities can be ‘against the clock’ with the first team to run to the front with the correct answers scoring more points.
  • For a more creative slant (when creative role play or sentence design are called for), teams score bonus points for including certain categories of words or phrases e.g. different tenses, certain expressions or for other reasons e.g. making me laugh

 

Step Three: Scoring / Rewards

I use the Sliding Scores section of Triptico to keep a tab on the current team scores and can flip to this screen at any time to ensure teams are clear about which position they are in. Clearly, they all need to be aware of the rewards on offer for winning (be it merits, sweets etc) Even those who are unsuccessful (and perhaps feel that they were in a poorly-performing team) know that all will be different in the next lesson.

Step Four: Reflection

  • The competition element is good (particularly for boys) and because they do not know who will be selected, they are all encouraged to complete the work for the sake of the team
  • Groupings are never perfectly equal, so some groups do turn out stronger than others. However, with teacher practice, it is possible to allow all students to shine using this system.

 

I have never been one for changing my classroom routines but when I moved to tables of four, I wanted a way in which students would be able to work together effectively in teams.

For me, at the moment, this is it.

I’ve been using this system for 6 months now and the signs are that my classes don’t want me to stop using it just yet.