10 Strategies To Keep Groupwork Accountable

High quality group work isn’t accidental, it takes a well executed plan to ensure students are learning. These 10 Strategies are unique and fun for students. Use these activities to mix up the task or plan with one of these strategies in mind. More strategies will be posted https://www.mathematicaltasks.org/strategies-for-keeping-work-effective-and-accountable/ when as they are available.

1. Checklist Assessment


Ensure multiple opportunities for assessment, provide immediate feedback to students, create a guideline for completing rigorous mathematics independently.


A checklist assessment is an alternative to a summative assessment that provides feedback to students as they complete their assessments. Students are provided a cover sheet which includes the standards and skills they must demonstrate to meet the learning criteria. Using multiple versions of an assessment, students must demonstrate understanding (in a portfolio, on a whiteboard, on an assessment paper). When done, students return to the teacher with the assessment in hand, the teacher can then review and provide feedback instantly about the evidence shown on the paper. Usually, teachers can return the quiz to the student to make improvements and resubmit.

Persistence is key for both teachers and students. Teachers must insist that students contribute high-quality work, and students must persist in advancing thinking and improving their submissions. When students have completed enough marks on the checklist, the student will have demonstrated understanding.

2. Clue Cards


Increasing student staus within group work, increase engagement of all learners, problem-solving, independent learners


Students are provided with clue cards that in some way inform the group of the activity, students are only allowed to look at their card and need to communicate its meaning with others in the group. Students can read the card, but ultimately, each student is responsible that their information is included in the final product.

A helpful tool to ensure this is happening is to remind groups before submitting their product that everyone needs to check that the information on their card is being implemented correctly. This may be an opportunity for a Huddle or I-Spy as a strategy to support more students. Tim Erickson has published a few books that have a lot of these types of problems. Here’s an example.

3. Group Huddle (by group or by role)


Increase access, help get a group unstuck without reducing rigor, suggest alternate methods, listen to an idea.


As an alternative to giving new directions, a group huddle can allow groups to continue working while also communicating a consistent message to each group. Have groups send a nominee to get the information to bring back. Stating with a huddle also gives a clear start, where one group member must take ownership of the task to share the guidelines with teammates.

Additionally, Group Huddles help groups get unstuck. For example: Bringing the task manager into a huddle the teacher may suggest a question to discuss to change the direction of the overall group conversations. Or a huddle could allow a student from one group to share information with other groups and those students can build on the first group’s thinking. For this situation, it’s important that students can build off the information from the huddle, otherwise, they are not taking full advantage of the task.

4. I-Spy


Support groupwork without reducing cognitive demand, share ideas, revising thinking.


If a team is stuck on part of a task, but another group is moved on, have a member of the “stuck” group to another team to spy on the other group’s work. The “Spy” should not talk with other groups and should watch until they understand how to get their own group unstuck. Spy’s then reports the idea back to their own group and moves forward. Low Status students make great Spy’s so they can bring back critical information to their group

Alternatively, during a task requiring a lot of justification, the teacher places a “Hint Sheet” in a location around the room. The group’s job is to reason through the solution and The Spy is the only person who can see the hints and may not bring the paper back. The Spy must report the ideas to the team clearly and may return to the hint sheet as many times is needed throughout the activity. Teachers should be vigilant to ensure this strategy is used appropriately.

5. Levels Tasks


Differentiate instruction, provide just in time feedback to students/groups, rehearse procedural tasks.


Levels Tasks are an opportunity for students to practice skills learned and increase rigor over time. Provide students with a half-sheet of the task. Then, when the group believes they have correctly answered and all in the group can explain, have the group manager ask for teacher review. When groups correctly answer and justify their reasoning, award them with another “Level” and repeat the process. Some students view levels as a challenge and make the activity a competition.

When making Levels, put the key learning in Level 1 or Level 2 and supplement in the higher levels (pre-teaching). The goal is that all students in the class will demonstrate mastery of the beginning levels and groups who move quickly will access higher cognitive demand or more challenging content. Not all students need to get to all levels, but everyone needs to get through ________. Do not tell students about the minimum level (otherwise, this task will backfire), rather frame the task as a challenge…”I wonder how many levels your group will get”.

Depending on the activity, students usually need about 5 or 6 Levels prepared.

6. Math Hospital


Students use error analysis to address common errors in thinking. Increase the amount of justification for procedures.


The premise of a “Math Hospital” is that students are the doctors and they are operating on “sick” problems. All problems come into the hospital sick and need to be:

    • Diagnosed – Explain why the problem is “sick.”
    • Fixed – Demonstrate the correct procedure or justification.
    • Prevention – Articulate ways to avoid “sickness” in the future.

This could be combined with other strategies including Jigsaw or Select & Sequence. Provide students with ample time to address all three of these ideas. Students may benefit from a reporting template to help organize ideas.

7. Multiple Choice Task


Assessment practice, updating/revising thinking, fluency practice, group interactions.


Provide students with Multiple Choice forms (bubble sheets, scantron, ZipGrade form)and a multiple-choice/select-all-that-apply test that is similar to an upcoming assessment (SBA, SAT, ACT, or in-class assessment, etc.). During class, students are given the assessment to work on in groups, they must agree on answers together and as a team brings up their bubble form. Using the multiple-choice question checker (Scantron or ZipGrade form), in-class quickly grade the quiz and return to students. Then, students must recheck and provide additional information for the questions they got wrong as a group. They have at least 2 (or more depending on the need) to build mastery of the assessment questions.

Check out https://www.zipgrade.com/ if you do not have a Scantron form at your school.

8. “My Dog Ate My Homework”


Critiquing the reasoning of others, explain the reasoning, connecting mathematical concepts, compare ideas of others, understanding the logic of others.


Students are provided with only part of the task. The task has progress towards a solution, but the bottom part is missing…the ‘dog’ ate it. So, students must prepare the ending of the started work using the reasoning provided to complete the task and generate a viable argument.

Another approach to this group strategy is to provide only part of the work…the ‘rip’ is vertical versus horizontal…or take a small chunk out of the side. The missing work should be strategic to encourage group thinking and public reasoning.
Consider providing alternative procedures to common problems to help students approach a new line of reasoning.

9. Participation Quiz


Communicate high-quality group work behaviors, encourage collaboration, provide feedback about processing skills.


Contrary to the name of this strategy, it is not a quiz. Rather this is a piece of formative assessment for students about how they are working in a group. Simply, a participation quiz requires a few key elements.

    1. Clear expectations about group norms and group roles.
    2. A group-worthy task for students to engage.
    3. Feedback structures (throughout or at the end).

When using a Participation Quiz, at the beginning of the task, teachers must state some “look-for” behaviors when students are working in groups (all heads in, using group roles, re-reading the task card). Then, as student engage, have a public space to write public feedback to groups. Encourage a specific group member to review the teacher notes periodically. During the task, or at the end of class, provide feedback about some strengths and areas of growth in the group processing skills observed. It’s amazing what students will pick up on without verbal reminders.

This is an opportunity to highlight good things that are happening and provide awareness for those not engaged in the ways outlined at the start of the lesson. Feedback in a participation quiz should not penalize a single student, but make them aware of the group behaviors witnessed. Think court reporter…the public notes and feedback are to document, not assign judgment.

Participation Quiz’s change the role of the teacher significantly from an instructor to a facilitator of the learning process. This shift takes some time for both teachers and students to become more familiar.

10. Select & Sequence


Build ideas consecutively, increase the participation of groups to a whole class discussion.


Teachers notice that different groups are having amazing conversations, but not all of the groups are talking about the same ideas. Teachers want others to hear these great conversations, so a select and sequence allows teachers to strategize to choose parts of the conversation to bring forward to the whole class. There are several approaches to this, consider reading “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions” by Smith & Stein for more detailed examples. Select & Sequence is just part of the 5 practices, but very effective and simple to implement. We recommend you practice all 5!

Option 1: Building on Ideas

Tasks can be long and overwhelming. Sometimes it’s nice to show students a summary of this work. At a point during the task when students need a larger picture, select groups who have strong explanations of their work. Sequence these students to discuss a specific part of their work to the class. To make this more successful, prime the groups you want to talk before having them share…for example: “Sarah, when I call on your group, I want you to share out how your group came to this conclusion…team members, help Sarah get ready to share out.” Doing this for multiple groups allows for a quick and successful conversation. Encourage all students to listen to the sharing…consider your Options for Structuring Mathematical Talk.

Option 2: Different Ideas

Some mathematicians can benefit in generating models and making conclusions by examining many ways of understanding a single representation. Many examples of this exist online, here are a few that support using this option to help mathematics.

Some ideas found on this page are adaptions from work created by Jess Griffin, Karen O’Connell, William (Bill) Feeley, San Lorenzo High School Teachers, and College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM). Activities have been modified based on classroom experience by the author.

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