Working in a public school brings its challenges. One of those is group work activities and projects. I often circumvent this by writing into student IEP’s that they can choose to do the project alone. Choosing to do the project alone adds another layer of stress – the kiddo is now in charge of the WHOLE project instead of one piece of a project.
Just because I offer my students an opt-out choice during group work does not mean that I just don’t teach that skill. I do, but I had to become creative about it. When teaching group work you are teaching several skills: staying with the group, accepting feedback, making a choice, negotiating and compromising, and working together for an end goal to name a few.
Cooperative games are a great way to teach all these skills. They have a clear end goal and eliminate (mostly) competition as the students have to work together to win. And bonus, the kids really seem to love them.
Before using cooperative games in your room, I do suggest that you get a group of your own friends together so you can learn the rules, play through and anticipate issues that could arise from playing the game in your classroom.
Or you could be like me and have to stop class to send a Tweet to the maker of a game for a definitive answer on the rules. The positive take on this is that it showed problem-solving in real-time.
I do have certain rules for cooperative gameplay days. For example, the students can opt-out of the gameplay but they still have to stay with their group. They are allowed to sit quietly and watch or to give advice to the other players. Also, I try to stay out of the gameplay as much as possible. I intervene when there are questions about rules, but generally encourage the kids to problem solve for themselves as much as possible.
I also stop class in time for the kids to debrief. We discuss what went well and what didn’t. I let the students vote games in or out for the next cooperative gameplay day. The kids also fill out a brief reflection sheet on themselves and identify a goal to work on before the next gameday.
A quick Google search of “cooperative games” will get you started with some ideas for your classroom. Once you have a list of games you think would be appropriate for your group, hit up thrift shops, half-price bookstores, garage sales, and black Friday deals to grow your stash of games.
And if you have a favorite cooperative game, don’t forget to leave it in the comments so others can enjoy.