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My Table-Top Necessities for a Group Work Classroom

Making the transition from a rows-of-desks classroom to a tables-for-group-work classroom was a pivotal moment in my teaching career. I was excited for students to share their thinking as they talked about and learned mathematics and science. I was also committed to using interactive notebooks & Foldables (inspired by the work of Dinah Zike) to help students organize, formalize, and reflect on their learning. I wanted to use interactive notebooks in all of my classes (Geometry, Algebra II, Precalculus, Anatomy & Physiology, & Math Lab); however, with the challenges of 5 different preps, I focused on implementing these practices into my Geometry, Anatomy & Physiology, and Math Lab classes first, trusting that I could transition the other classes over time.

With this new-to-me classroom setup and instructional approach came some new classroom management issues to navigate. Here’s a quick list of what became my table-top necessities for a group work classroom.

#1: Table Boxes

Obvious, perhaps, but this was something I didn’t have when teaching with rows of desks—but something that was essential when teaching with group work. Table boxes provided all students with the materials they would need for their in-class learning. By having these materials on their tables, we cut down on time spent trying to find and/or borrow materials.

Here’s what I included in my table boxes:

What else? What other materials do you include in your table boxes for day-to-day use?

Here’s a picture of my classroom (under construction!) with the table boxes out for student use. The following two Table-Top Necessities for a Group Work Classroom would come later in the year.

#2: Trash Bins

Over time, I noticed something else showing up in my Table Boxes that I didn’t want there: trash! A few students (not many) were putting some of their paper scraps from our interactive notebook work into their table boxes rather than throwing them out in the two garbage cans we had in the room.

A quick fix for this was table-top trash bins! I bought some plastic flower pots (in colours I loved!) from Walmart for 50 cents each and put one of these on each table.

Students then put their paper scraps in these bins during the period and we quickly emptied them at the end of the period. No more trash in the table boxes!

#3: Table Folders

My use of Table Folders grew out of a need, as well—I wanted a more efficient way to distribute paperwork to my students and to collect it back from them. I created a set of Table Folders for each class, with one folder for each table in the classroom.

I labeled each folder with its class name and table number and then laminated them so they would hold up better over time. The folders were colour-coded by class: red for Geometry, orange for Algebra II, yellow for PreCal, blue for AP Calculus, etc..

I stored all of the folders in a decorate file folder basket beside my desk. This made them easily accessible during planning times and during class.

I would prep the folders before class with all of the materials students would need for that class and then quickly lay out the folders for that class period on their corresponding tables. At the end of class, I could quickly pick-up those folders and distribute the next set of folders for the next class period. These folders were invaluable for handling paperwork and paper-based materials!

I also created a Teacher Folder for each class period, where I stored the materials I would need for that period. This was helpful when doing interactive notebook work, as I would prep my Teacher Folder in advance, then place it on the front table (where my document camera was setup) for use during class.

I also had an Individualized folder for each class that I used to plan and collect individualized student work, including extensions for gifted and talented students.

Table Folders were an awesome way for me to distribute materials efficiently to each class. They were also helpful for managing work for absent students. If a student was out, someone else from their group would label the paperwork for them in their Table Folder. The absent student would know right where to find that paperwork when they returned to class.

#3.5: Labels for Cooperative Learning Activities

This last table-top idea is something I tried, but it didn’t really become a necessity in my classroom. I share it here as a possibility, as it may be a good fit for someone else’s classroom.

I was inspired by this Classroom Management Mat created by Region 18 Education Service Center:

That mat, however, was designed for learners who are sitting in a four-desk/seat arrangement. Based on this work, I created the following Classroom Management Mats that were better suited for the 3-person-per-table setup that I was using in my classroom:

I taped these down to the front of each table so that students could quickly reference what number and/or letter they were for management purposes. We used these mats to a limited degree. Perhaps a structure like this would be more helpful in larger classes…?

That’s it…! Those are my Table-Top Necessities for a Group Work Classroom!

What are your Table-Top Necessities for a Group Work Classroom? Why?

Michelle Rinehart

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