Collaboration is one of the most important 21st Century Skills. Students need to be able to work well with others in their personal and professional lives, and also while they are continuing their education.
This post continues our series of articles on 21st century skills in secondary education and focuses on ways we encourage our students to collaborate and develop their communicative skills in the classroom.
Why is collaboration an important skill?
Work in the 21st century crosses international borders and often involves teams dispersed over thousands of miles. Today it’s not uncommon for people to be working on a project together when they are in completely different offices, cities or even countries.
What’s more, international businesses are keen to collaborate with people from other cultural, educational and social backgrounds as it encourages diversity within a company and ensures products are more attractive to the global market.
In the future, our students will be looking for work in this global workplace and will need the skills of collaboration and communication to do their every day jobs. In many cases, they’ll need to both manage a team and work as part of one, identify when and how to share ideas, demonstrate flexibility and the ability to compromise and develop skills to respectfully communicate with all team members.
5 ideas to incorporate collaboration into your classes
1. Do creative projects
When students work on a project, such as designing a website, they’ll need to make key decisions with their classmates. As well as agreeing on content, they also need to assign jobs within the group and identify each individual’s skills and talents.
Imagine you’d like your students work on a project related to planning a destination for an end-of-year trip – and your plan is to design a website (either on paper or using a free online website builder like Wix or WordPress).
In this activity, students will need to research, prepare and present their website plans to the class – and then vote on the most popular destination. In order to do the task effectively, students will need to:
- Discuss and agree on a destination
- Research the destination and find transport and accommodation options, as well as things to do there
- Include relevant information in their website to encourage others to go there
- Incorporate eye-catching and informative images
- Write a proposal or presentation to share their destination with the class
- Use presentation skills when showing their website to the class
Looking at these different roles, we can see that some students will show strengths in certain positions: the artistic students can demonstrate their creativity by choosing images of the destination and designing the website, students with strong digital literacy skills will be able to research the destination quickly and effectively, and students who enjoy public speaking will be best-placed to present the project to the class.
2. Make interactive videos
Many students also love the creative and collaborative aspects of making films – and there are lots of opportunities to do so. Ideas include creating a Vox Pop video interviewing classmates on a topic, filming a mini documentary, or even producing a short film. The video resources in GoGetter and Wider World can give students good examples to model their videos on.
To make their own Vox Pop video, they’ll need to: decide on a topic, write questions, record interviews with classmates and then edit their video, which could include adding music or visual effects.
Here’s an example to help them get started:
For a short film or documentary they’ll need to: write the script, rehearse, choose a filming location and source props, record the movie and then edit it.
All three projects include roles for students who prefer to be behind the camera – the cameraman, director, prop designer, video editor – and the short film also allow for students with a love of acting to show off their skills.
3. Practice jigsaw skills
While this activity does require a little more preparation, it combines collaboration and communication with language skills work.
In a jigsaw reading or listening, students are given different parts of a text, which come together to form a whole. Their task is to work together to find out the information the other members of their group have in order to be able to answer comprehension questions or form an overall understanding of the topic.
With a reading text, this can easily be done by giving students a photocopy of their part of the text; however, if your students have access to their smartphones in class, you could share links which take them to their individual texts.
If they bring their headphones to class, they can also participate in a jigsaw listening and you can share the different parts of the audio on a platform such as Edmodo or Google Drive, providing you have permission to use these platforms with students at your school.
4. Cooperative learning
This educational strategy has become particularly popular in recent years. It fosters communication skills and collaboration in the classroom.
Within the class, students are divided into small groups and each member of the group is assigned a particular responsibility. For example, within a group of four students there may be an organizer, a timekeeper, a research runner and an encourager. When the students are given a task to carry out, each student performs the duties associated with their role, and this encourages collaboration within the group.
One important factor to consider when setting up a cooperative learning classroom is that students should take on a variety of roles throughout the year to allow them to develop in each position. Furthermore, with any type of collaborative work, students should work with a variety of classmates to further foster their communication and social skills.
You can read more about cooperative learning here: Teacher Vision.
5. Play team games
Adding an element of team competition to your classes is a great way to motivate teenage learners.
This is a great way to get students working together, both to answer and ask questions. At the end of a unit, divide the class into two teams and have each team write ten questions about what they’ve just studied. They can write questions about the language introduced or the content of skills lessons. Make quizzes more interactive using a platform like Kahoot.
Back to the Board
In this activity a student from each team sits facing their teammates, with their backs to their board. The teacher writes a word or a phrase on the board and the team have to give clues to elicit the word or phrase from the student on their team. It requires students to work together to give clear clues to their teammate, rather than shouting over each other.
This fun team-building activity works well at the start of the year to encourage inclusion and collaboration. Have students stand up and tell them to get into groups with people who were born in the same month or who have the same number of siblings – but that they must do this without speaking. It encourages them to find other ways of communicating, such as making hand gestures. You can also have them stand in a line in alphabetical order of their surnames, or in order of their birthdays or height, again, without speaking.
Students also need to collaborate in this activity. They must form groups with a specific number of body parts, such as thirty-seven fingers. In a class of twelve, this could be three groups of four students: three students hold out all ten fingers and the fourth student holds out seven fingers. There are three simple rules to the game: you can only be in one group at a time, the group must have the exact number of body parts and everyone in the class must be included. It encourages a little critical thinking as well, plus it’s fun watching students work out how twelve people can get into groups with nine eyes each!
Materials with collaboration skills for your students
We have a number of courses which focus on 21st Century Skills to help prepare your teenage students for the future.
GoGetter is a comprehensive, four-level course for lower secondary students. It provides collaborative pair and group activities throughout the series to allow students to use the target language and reflect on their learning.
The culture pages include interesting information from around the world and encourage students to take their learning beyond the book. They provide a great starting point for group projects, allowing students to develop their collaboration, creativity and digital literacy skills.
With a focus on digital literacy, Wider World is our four-level course for secondary learners. The authentic BBC content and interviews with real people in the Vox Pop videos provide a real-life look at the world around us, with collaborative projects to further engage with the content.
Throughout the series, there are opportunities for pair and group work to enhance students’ communication and collaboration skills.
What activities do you do to encourage collaboration in your classes? Leave a comment below!