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Playing Cards in the Classroom for Student Collaboration

In my courses, I often put students into small, temporary groups for collaborative work that takes place in class or over the course of a few days. This work ranges from analysis of an assigned reading to researching a local issue to creating a digital resource to conducting an interview with a faculty or community member. We cover how to ensure effective collaboration and communication in small groups, including assigning and managing tasks (something for which an online tool like Basecamp can prove very helpful).

I try to avoid having the same students collaborate with each other for the entire semester because I want students to learn how to work with a variety of other people. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with using a deck of cards to randomly generate groups. Granted, you can just have students “count off” and each time then group them according to various numerical schemes, but that can be time consuming each time you’re creating your groups. If instead you assign each student a card at the beginning of the semester, then you can re-arrange groups however you like whenever you like without having to repeat the process of assigning numbers to each student.

Let’s say you have a class of 24 students (I realize that many ProfHacker readers will have significantly larger class sizes…), and you want to be able to divide them up into a variety of group sizes. You can “deal” the cards to the students where they sit, or you can place the deck of 24 cards at the front of the room and ask the students to each come pick a card (be prepared for magic trick jokes). Here are the combinations:

  • 12X2: Create 12 groups of 2 by asking each student to partner with the other student who has the same number and the same color.

  • 8X3: Create 8 groups of 3 by grouping all of the even cards of each suit together and all the odd cards of each suit.

  • 6X4: Create 6 groups of 4 by asking all identical numbers to get together.

  • 4X6: Create 4 groups of 6 by combining all even red cards, all odd red cards, all even black cards, and all odd black cards.

  • 3X8: Create 3 groups of 8 by combining 2s & 3s, 4s & 5s, 6s & 7s.

  • 2X12: Divide the class in half by grouping the red cards together and the black cards together.

I’ve only just started experimenting with this method, but so far it’s working pretty well. If it turns out to be a disaster or if it turns out to be the most amazing in-class thing I’ve ever done, I’ll be sure to report back with my findings.

What methods do you use in the classroom to foster collaboration among students? Please share in the comments.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Jeff Golden]

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