It’s Magic – Marco Brazil

It’s Magic: Creating Collaborative Games With Young Learners

– Marco Brazil

One of the best ways of getting kids collaborate is to have them create or reinvent a communicative game. Working together to design a game involves many skills including active decision-making and language practice in every skill area while giving them a sense of achievement and ownership.  Creating games is also an excellent craft activity that can involve a lot of language use. The children can make their own dice, create cards, and design game boards based on rules they have agreed upon. Game making almost always excites the children. The project culminates on a day when the game is played.

Recently the six 8 and 9 year old in my class reinvented the classic Fruit Basket Game. I was the weather, practicing questions and answers like:

How’s the weather today?

 It’s (sunny).

I handed out six white pieces of construction paper and asked each kid to draw a different picture of a type of weather. Deciding who would what became a big deal, so they decided to use rock-scissors-paper to work it out. Once they did that, it took them about 15 minutes to finish their drawings and write captions like:

It’s rainy. I don’t like a rainy weather.

Then I suggested we use the cards to play a game. Since there were only cards for six kinds of weather (sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, snowy, and stormy), the kids figured out it would be impossible to play their all-time favorite Card Pairing Game. One of the kids suggested a variation on Fruit Basket Game but was unsure how to make it work. I asked them to discuss it and come to an agreement in five minutes time.

Here’s what they came up with:

1. There will be five chairs to form a big circle, spaced at a distance so that players can run easily.
2. The player who is it should stand at the middle of the circle. Shuffle the picture cards and place them face down on the floor with his/her eyes closed.
3. Players take a card but should not show it to other players.
4. The person who is it should ask a player; “How’s the weather, today?” If the player answers it’s rainy, it’s stormy, it’s windy, it’s cloudy, it’s snowy players should stay where they are and remain sitting. If the answer is It’s sunny everyone shouts Let’s go! then stands, runs, and quickly changes chairs.
5. The player left without a chair and still standing at the end should become the next person to be it.

There was heated discussion among the kids about which of the two weather conditions would be the signal to stand and change chairs: sunny or stormy. At first some members argued that it should be stormy weather, but other members of the class pointed out that you cannot play outside during stormy weather, and everyone agreed.

The class played the game with so much enthusiasm that they didn’t want to stop playing until their English time was up. They didn’t want to stop until I promised:  “I will let you play it again next time, next week!”

The magic behind this enthusiasm is that it had became their game. Of course we can call it collaboration, but kids don’t need big words like that.  All they need are opportunities to do it. Give your kids a chance to create a game of their own and you’ll be amazed at how far they take it.  ~ Marco

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Encouraging student collaboration – Steven Herder

“Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.”

Collaboration helped me to launch the idea of MASH Collaboration among my fellow MA students and gave me the confidence to face the enormous challenges of joining a team to build an International Teacher Development Institute called… iTDi.

“Collaboration may not be for everyone, but for me it is everything.”

Why bother with encouraging student collaboration?
Collaboration works. There are countless success stories based on collaboration: The Beatles in music, Apple and Microsoft in corporate giants, the Wright brothers in inventions and Warner Bros in entertainment. The list goes on and on…

What are the advantages of collaboration?
It makes it easier for people to take a chance and try things. Everyone is good (or good enough) at something. They can choose to do the things that they have confidence to do. Collaboration builds confidence by letting individuals shine at what they do best while being supported in their weaker areas. Collaboration creates an incredible balance between many important functions of learning: confidence, motivation, support, pressure, expectations, success and achievement.

Samples from the classroom
I have done many collaborative writing and group projects. Here is a synopsis of one – My second year high school students had to (or more appropriately “got to”) write an original story and produce the actual story book in groups of 2, 3 or 4 students (based on their proposal of how many people were needed). We spread the activity over three 90-minute periods. Most groups couldn’t finish in three periods but eagerly did the homework necessary to be finished on time. There were several steps and several different roles to be filled:


  1.     Brainstorm a story genre
  2.     Decide on the characters
  3.     Draft a storyboard of 16 pages
  4.     Sell the story to the teacher (i.e. get approval to continue or revise)
  5.     Begin to write the story (35 – 50 words per page, depending on the class)
  6.     Peers check the grammar. Then check it again, and again.
  7.     Final check by the teacher, then revise towards a final draft
  8.     Design the pictures to match the story
  9.     Draw the pictures, and then color the pictures
  10. Design a front and back cover
  11. Present the book to the class
  12. Give a speech about the experience, discussing problems and solutions
  13. Put your book on the shelf for all other students to read


  • Leader
  • Ideas generator
  • Schedule maker
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Illustrator
  • Reporter (to teacher)
  • Speaker (to class)

What did students learn?
We have done this activity a number of times and the same comments emerge:

“I didn’t know hard it would be to make a book from start to finish.”

“I was really glad to work with my partner because she was really good at writing/drawing/English, etc.”

“I realized how important grammar is for the first time because I wanted people to understand my story.”

“I want to try this again someday, because I know how to do it now.”

“I learned that I have to give and take when I work on a team.”

“I felt a lot of pressure from my partners to do my best.”

For output activities like writing and speaking, especially from low-level beginners to intermediate-level secondary school students, doing collaborative activities is an excellent way to provide fun, meaningful and successful learning opportunities.

How do you encourage student collaboration? I’d love to hear your stories…



Encouraging student collaboration – Nour Alkhalidy

Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking in Action.

Living in digital complex communities requires us to handle a lot of information that is beyond what we can manage alone. Therefore working in teams becomes crucial to accomplish many complex tasks in less time and with more effectiveness.  For a 21st century classroom, UNESCO  has named  learning to live together as one of the 4 Pillars of education along with Communication, Creativity and Critical thinking. These are the 4CS

Our goal of preparing our students for a better future becomes more achievable by teaching these skills and enhancing them in the classroom work we do.

Because collaboration is a student choice, it’s the teacher role to make students feel more passionate about it, and this can be done by creating a positive climate in the classroom, where learners feel more comfortable and willing to collaborate. To do this teachers can:

Build Team skills
Build your groups’ skills once a week, through ice-breakers or cooperative games which emphasize having fun more than competition, while improving communication and collaboration skills , and sometimes enhance some academic ones as well.

Celebrate Diversity
M. Scott Peck advises us to “share our similarities (and) celebrate our differences.”  Perhaps one of the most things we need to do is to respect the differences among members of the same team, thinking of these differences as gifts as they are in multiple intelligences theory.  Everyone has a gift to share with others and should be encouraged to do so. Thus, no one is left behind, all students work together, and everyone is passionate and motivated.

Have One Clear Goal
The definition of collaboration is “working together to achieve a goal“. Teamwork must be directed toward one real goal, where each member ‘s task depends on other tasks — not divided but integrated.  Each task must be a challenging one, where all group members have to think together, and each member needs other team members to accomplish their work. Try strategies from the two PBLs:  Problem Based Learning, and Project Based Learning ” to achieve this goal, or you can try activities like ” Jigsaw“.

Encourage Commitment
Commitment comes from responsibility.  That’s why it’s important to let students be responsible for their own work. Have them assess their teamwork, let them write their own work rules, and have them share their work in and even outside the classroom. I believe that having students do global projects with others around the world makes learning more fun and gets students working harder and more willing to share with others.

Emphasize the idea that We are all Winners and If you win I win
It’s not about competition but is more focused on contributions where there are no winners or losers, but only successful relationships, enhanced skills and group outputs. Keep this in mind when choosing  and assessing activities.

Assess Appropriately
Value each member and the group work.  Focus on the output but also on  how students work together to achieve their goal. How did they communicate?  Were they feeling happy with their work in the group?

Use Technology
Technology offers a virtual and a real place for groups.  It facilitates communication in and outside the classroom and allows students to save and share their work. Rather than suggest  a technology  tool or a device to your students, let them choose what they are familiar with. They are our digital savvy heroes! Let them play that role.  Still, may I tell you about some of my favorite simple web 2.0 tools for collaboration? Here they are:

GoogleDocs, Stixy,  Popplet, Zoho, Twiddla, TypeWithMeWallWisherVoicethread, and the social bookmarking tool Diigo. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) can also be great to help students feel more comfortable, independent and responsible for their learning as they work with their own tools – but don’t just take my word for it.  Embrace the 4Cs and try these ideas out in your own way in your own classes and then tell us about it. That’s Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking in action.

Encouraging student collaboration – Vicky Loras

How can we encourage student collaboration?

The classroom as an environment, a place where students feel welcome and comfortable – that is what I imagine as a great learning place. It all starts from the teacher: when the educator creates such an environment, the students instantly feel it and help cultivate it.

It can all start from the moment when an educator sets pair work and rotates partners – the students feel comfortable with each other. I have noticed that a good relationship among them can lighten the atmosphere and create a great place for interaction and learning. They also then enjoy learning in small groups or pairs and even go after such ways of collaboration. I have noticed a nice image in my classes: I instruct my students to complete a task and they automatically turn to the person next to them and start discussing the topic, exchanging opinions and working together. Their relationship is so much based on cooperation, that when one of them is absent, the others contact them to update them on what they missed. When that happens, I know something great is going on!

In some cases, I find students who have something in common so they can use that to their advantage in a cooperative task. They feel that they share something, that they can create something together and that inspires them to work alongside each other. Expanding a little further, when the class collaborates in little cells such as pairs or small groups, then those cells create a healthy body!

Of course sometimes it can be a matter of character and some students might not be able to work with each other, but I have noticed in other teachers’ classes as well as my own, that when educators try to cultivate a great atmosphere in class, in the majority of times they succeed.


Encouraging student collaboration – Naomi Epstein

Naomi EpsteinStudent Collaboration – Smoothing the Way for the Struggling Learner

Remember the child in sports lessons, who was always left for last when choosing teams? The one nobody wanted on their team because that child was clumsy and slow? We can all imagine what such a child feels.

Thankfully, sports lessons are only an hour or two a week. But the students who are slow readers and struggling learners have a much harder time of it. They are the ones nobody wants to pair with or be with during group work. Their learning difficulties stay with them all week! A student who feels rejected will not be able to focus on the task at hand and may be a source of disturbance to the other students.

Using a few simple strategies, the teacher can help such students become a sought-after member of any group activity.

1) Give that student a “hint-sheet” or “help-sheet” for the activity given to the group. When the members of the group have a question or need reassurance that they are doing the right thing, they must consult with the student. The help sheet can include a glossary, points that must be included in the task or hints as to where to look for the answer.

2) When playing a game in groups that student plays the role of the teacher. In a board game in which the students progress after answering questions, the struggling learner poses the questions and has the answers written on the back of the question-cards. Reading the answers to the questions serves as an important review for the student while bolstering his/her self confidence.

3) The student who needs to get up every 10 minutes can be named the “roving reporter”, the one who reports to the teacher on the progress of the members of the group or the one who goes up to the board to mark off the tasks the group has already completed.

A bit of planning in advance can go a long way to helping smooth the way for student collaboration!