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Top 3 Strategies for Effective Partner Work in the Middle School Math Classroom

Top 3 Strategies for Effective Partner Work in the Middle School Math Classroom

In the world of education, the age-old adage "Two heads are better than one" holds especially true when it comes to group and partner work in the math classroom.

While it's no secret that partner work has its fair share of challenges (we talk about some of those here), the incredible benefits it offers, such as collaborative learning and practical application of knowledge, make it a valuable teaching tool.

In this blog post, we'll explore three top strategies for seamlessly integrating partner work into your math classroom.

1. Harness the Power of Ability Grouping

Partner work can be a game-changer for students, providing an opportunity for one-on-one assistance and peer learning.

Ability grouping involves partnering students according their current skill level with the topic at hand. I love pairing a student who's mastered the concept with a student who's still struggling a bit. 

This type of pairing is great for the struggling student because they get the opportunity to receive one-on-one help, and it's great for the student who is teaching, as it deepens their mathematical understanding while they teach.

However, we do want to be mindful not to overuse ability grouping, as it can inadvertently undermine the sense of teamwork and shared accomplishment that partner work aims to foster. Our next strategy tackles this issue head-on.

2. Dynamic Partner Rotation

One of the most effective ways to balance the needs of students in partner work is by implementing partner rotation during your class.

  • Start by breaking a single activity into 3-4 sections, or choose 3 quick activities.
  • Partner students together and set a timer. (Choose a length of time that will allow them to complete the activity, or section of the activity, without getting off task).
  • When the timer goes off, one partner from each pairing moves clockwise to create a new pairing.

This approach empowers struggling students by pairing them with peers who can offer assistance during the initial activity.

Then, armed with newfound knowledge and confidence, they can actively contribute to the problem-solving process in subsequent activities & pairings. This also prevents one student from having to play the role of teacher for the entire class period.

Partner Packs are great for these types of rotations, as they're designed to practice the same problem types with varying game formats to choose from!

3. Start the Partnership with a Simple Choice

Sometimes, jump-starting the problem-solving process is difficult when one (or both) partner is feeling shy or awkward about the pairing.

To remedy this, I like to provide them with a really simple first choice: selecting their activity.

Provide students with a range of activity options, allowing them to initiate teamwork with a low-stakes decision. For instance, our Partner Packs offer three activity choices to kickstart the collaborative process. This approach can be applied to any set of activities, promoting a smooth start to partner work.

No matter how you approach partner work in the math classroom, it's a powerful tool for enhancing learning outcomes, promoting teamwork, and nurturing student confidence.

But by implementing these three strategies—leveraging ability grouping, encouraging partner rotation, and simplifying partner selection—you can create a classroom environment where "Two heads are better than one" truly shines, unlocking the full potential of your students' collaborative efforts.

Want to shop no-prep partner activities? Click HERE!

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