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Guide and features
Featured Early Years Foundation Stage; US Kindergarten
Featured UK Key Stage 1&2; US Grades 1-5
Featured UK Key Stage 3-5; US Grades 6-12
Featured UK Key Stage 1, US Grade 1 & 2
Featured UK Key Stage 2; US Grade 3-5
Featured UK Key Stages 3 & 4; US Grade 6-10
Featured UK Key Stage 4 & 5; US Grade 11 & 12
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Stage: 1 and 2
Article by Liz Woodham
Published April 2013.
In her article
Group-worthy Tasks and Their Potential to Support Children to Develop Independent Problem-solving Skills
, Jennie Pennant outlines the benefits of working on mathematics as a group, arguing that group work also supports children's individual problem-solving abilities. Almost all NRICH tasks could be tackled by a group of learners, as opposed to an individual or pair, but
the Developing Group-working Skills feature
is a collection of activities which have been designed especially to develop children's
How can we help children get better at group work?
We cannot expect learners to be able to work well in groups overnight. We must help them develop the skills that are needed for successful group work and give them many opportunities to put these skills into practice. In her article
Developing Good Team-working Skills
, Jenny Piggott offers the following list of skills related to working collaboratively, based on those found in Elizabeth Cohen's book 'Designing Groupwork':
Asking questions - making sense of your own understanding
Explaining by telling how and why
Helping others - by responding to their needs
Helping others - to do things for themselves
Sharing knowledge and reasoning
Finding out what others think - asking for, listening to and making sense of their ideas
Reflecting on and making use of what has been said
Being concise - communicating thinking
Giving reasons for ideas - communicating reasoning
Allowing everyone to contribute
Pulling ideas together - sharing, listening, valuing all contributions
Finding out if the group is ready to make a decision - consensus making.
Jenny suggests that these collaborative working skills can be developed through particular group activities and she offers six categories of team-building activities that can be used to focus on a range of the different skills. Jenny's article links to several classroom activities within each category and we have chosen a subset of these in our
Group Work feature
which exemplifies the full range of skills.
The featured activities
For more details about the kinds of task and further example activities, please see
, a Stage 1 task, is only complete as an activity when every member of the group has completed their own part. The task is undertaken in silence which helps group members respond to the needs of others.
, aimed at Stage 2 and above, is done in exactly the same way.
Counters in the Middle
, a 'designer' makes an arrangement of counters without the team seeing it. The team has to agree on the final pattern by asking the minimum number of questions, which requires them to listen to each other, give reasons for their opinions and pull ideas together.
, each learner completes a picture themselves, based on the designer's instructions, but with support and advice from other members of the team. This therefore encourages children to respond to the needs of others, help others do things for themselves and explain by telling how.
Guess the Houses
, a Stage 1 activity, depends on learners sharing reasoning, listening to opinions, reflecting and pulling ideas together. The team is required to guess the rule in the minimum number of questions.
, one member of the group is trying to find out what is on their chosen card (the unknown) by asking as few questions as possible. This task therefore depends on group members being concise, asking questions, listening and reflecting on what has been said.
requires the group to recreate a 2D arrangement of cubes which matches all the information on their cards without showing each team member's information to anyone else. Among other skills, learners must allow everyone to contribute, share knowledge and reasoning, reflect on (and make use of) what has been said and come to a consensus.
Due to the nature of these tasks, it will be a little difficult for children to submit solutions in the usual sense to the live problems in this feature. However, we would love to hear about how the activity helped them work better as a group. It could be that you as the teacher summarise your observations or it might be that the learners themselves can articulate their thoughts. We would be delighted to hear from you. You may find it helpful to use the list of skills above as an assessment 'checklist' (see
Having tried these activities which aim to build learners' group-working skills, why not have a go at other NRICH activities using a group-work approach? In May 2010, we created several group-worthy tasks, based on
research on Complex Instruction, and in February 2010, all our problems were designed with collaborative mathematics in mind. You can find these activities and accompanying articles by clicking 'Past features' in the top banner, then following the 'Past Monthly Issues' link, or by clicking
. Of course, as we mentioned at the start of this article, almost any NRICH activity could be worked on by a group, so you could encourage children to tackle any of our tasks using their group-working skills.
Taking the tasks home
We have rewritten some of these tasks so that they are suitable for just one child to do together with an adult. We've collected these
Cohen, E. G. (1994) Designing Groupwork - Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. Second Edition, Teachers College Press.
Shape, space & measures - generally
Meet the team
The NRICH Project aims to enrich the mathematical experiences of all learners. To support this aim, members of the NRICH team work in a wide range of capacities, including providing professional development for teachers wishing to embed rich mathematical tasks into everyday classroom practice. More information on many of our other activities can be found here.
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