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Large Children's Classes and STAD

Large classes offer particular problems and opportunities for teachers wishing to avoid competitive games. Divide and rule is timeless Machiavellian strategy for dealing with large groups. Put students into teams and let them compete. The team with the most points wins. This format can be very popular but unfortunately does not alter the objectionable nature of competition. Competition has a tendency to make children aggressive. It often results in put-downs and other unsociable behaviour. Moreover more able children will usually monopolise any game in order to gain victory. If the game is set up in a way that all children on a team must participate then children with less ability will become scapegoats for any loss. If winning is taken too seriously they will be labelled as ‘losers’. The prospect of always being picked last when children choose teams is dismal indeed. So this time around I’d like to offer an alternative way of running team games together with a few co-operative games suitable for large groups.

STAD or Student Team Achievement Divisions to give it its full name is a system developed by Dr. Robert Slavin at John Hopkins University. The system offers a way to incorporate individual quizzes into a team context. Team members support each other to learn material presented by the teacher and score points according to individual improvement. It works like this:

  1. Students are divided into teams. Four is an ideal number. Teams are chosen heterogeneously. That is to say that a team should consist of a mix of boys and girls and have a spread of ability levels.
  2. The teacher introduces material to be learnt.
  3. The teacher gives handouts and answer sheets to the teams. Each team should receive fewer sheets than the total needed. For example a team of four would be given two worksheets and two answer sheets. This is to stress the idea of working together.
  4. Team members practise together.
  5. The quiz is taken. Students take the quiz individually. If necessary move tables apart to minimise the chance of copying.
  6. The teacher collects the handouts and marks them before the next class. The first quiz becomes the benchmark for team scores. The process is repeated for five or six lessons. Team points are scored as follows:
    • A score of 100% receives 3 points
    • A score of 95-99% receives 2 points
    • A score of 10 above the benchmark scores 3 points
    • A score of 5-9 above the benchmark scores 2 points
    • A score of 4 below to 4 above the benchmark scores 1 point
    • A score of 5 or more below the benchmark scores 0 points
    • Once a benchmark is established it is recomputed after every two quizzes:
  8. The teacher keeps track of the improvement points scored. This can be done, individually, as a team and for the class as a whole. The teacher acknowledges the points scored. This could be done by a newsletter or bulletin board. If desired rewards can be given for improvement points scored. One way to do this is to use a Performance Chart. Here is one based on the idea of pirate treasure. It is designed to be hung on top of a whiteboard or used on a free wall space.

Photocopy the pieces and cut them out. Colour them as desired. For each island determine a treasure. Write it on the back of the card. If you are artistic you might like to draw a picture of the treasure. A treasure can be something tangible such as stickers, erasers, pencils etc, or an event such as a party or watching a video or the choice of an activity such as a game or going for a walk etc. The treasures should be something for the whole class.

Fasten the islands at intervals along the top of the whiteboard. Place the ship at the top left-hand corner of the board.

Decide the conditions for moving the ship. Make these clear to the class. For example you could move the ship every time the class accumulates 50 Improvement points. Alternatively you might move the ship only when every team gets 10 Improvement points for a single quiz. Whatever the target is whenever it is reached move the ship it’s own length towards the islands. When the ship reaches an island turn the card over and reveal the treasure gained.

Types of Quizzes

A quiz should always have at least 10 items. Here are a few formats:

Number the pictures: Prepare a sheet with pictures of 10 vocabulary items. As you describe the pictures the students number them. Depending upon the pictures this could be simple, eg "Number One: a dog, number two: a cat.", or more complex: "Number one: She’s a doctor, number two: They are doctors."

Dictation: Choose words appropriate to the class you are teaching. Dictate the words and the children write them down.

Memory Challenge: Write ten words up on the whiteboard. Let the children look at them for 30 seconds. Erase the words. Give the children two minutes to write the words down.

Write or draw: Prepare a sheet with ten numbered boxes. Dictate your instructions and the children respond accordingly. "Number one: draw a cat, number two; Write dog." Etc. To make it easy to assess the results make the items to be drawn clearly different.

Puzzles: Use some puzzle such as a crossword or word search.

Mini-interviews: If you are team-teaching then another possibility is to conduct mini interviews or oral quizzes. While your co-teacher runs the class pull the children to one side (or even into another room if one is available). Have some activity that can be done in thirty seconds. This could be answering or asking questions or identifying flashcards or reading individual words. The emphasis should be on speed and fluency. Repeat the same activity over several weeks so that you can measure improvement.

The advantage of the STAD system over traditional scoring methods is that it recognises and rewards improvement. It’s a little too much like testing for me but that is another issue, which lies outside the scope of this article. Suffice to say that I have known children who become really stressed when faced with anything like a test (I’ve also met some children who told me they really loved tests!).

For the rest of this article I’d like to give a few examples of non-competitive games for large groups. The explanations that follow are based on introducing the game for the first time. Once children are familiar with a particular game you will be able to skip some of the steps.

Job Gesture Tag

This is based on an old schoolyard game called Lemonade (mentioned in Everybody Wins by Jeffrey Sobel, walker and Company, New York, p41). A large, empty space is required to play. Divide the players into two teams. Each team has a safe zone at opposite ends of the room. Teams line up in their respective zones facing each other. One team is chosen to start the game. This team gets together and agrees on a job to mime (to save time you may decide to show them a flashcard or get them to select one randomly). The teams now start marching towards each other. As they march the first team chants:

We can work! You can too!
Can you guess what we do!"

The second team replies:

Of course we can! We are the best!
Do your mime and we will guess!

The teams meet in the middle. The first team starts miming the job. As soon as someone on the second team guesses the job correctly the miming team race for home. The second team gives chase. Any player tagged swaps teams. Play is then reversed with the second team miming a job and the first team guessing. Play for a set time limit or until all the players are on one team if this should happen first.

Catch it!

To teach this game have everyone stand in a circle. Mime throwing a ball and catching it. Then call out one player’s name. Tell the player what you are going to throw, eg "Catch this tennis ball" and then mime throwing it. The player named mimes catching the ball. Now this player mimes throwing something. Players throw and catch imaginary objects around the circle. Don’t stick with balls use your imagination! Once the players have got the idea get them to form circles of 8-12 players so that more players can get in on the action.

Kings (and Queens) for a bit

Start by naming the four corners of the room. You could use different colours, or animals or food. Now tell the players to go to any corner they like. You should end up with four teams. It doesn’t matter if one team has more players than another. To introduce the game start by standing in the centre of the room and telling the students to do some actions. "Sit down!" "Stand up!" "Jump!" "Hop!" Start with just one or two actions and gradually add more every time you play. While doing this try to avoid doing the actions yourself. Next get the players to sit down and then stand in the middle of the room and say "Your turn". You may need to repeat the process a few times before someone will tell you what to do but eventually someone will tell you to do something (""jump!") is a good first target. Follow the commands given for a while and then move to one group. This group becomes kings and queens. Kings and queens should remain siting down. The others can start standing up. The kings and queens have 30 seconds to give commands to the other three groups. Give each group a chance to be kings and queens. By moving from group to group and sticking with the royalty you can help to come up with suggestions and also avoid having to do them yourself.

Show Me!

This is useful for reviewing vocabulary. You may also figure out how to use it to teach children to say, "What is it?" by mixing in some unknown vocabulary items. Start by getting the children in a circle. Next give approximately half of the children a flashcard. Before doing so show the children how to hold the card. It should be clutched to their chest so that the picture is invisible. Encourage the children not to look at their own cards. Next approach one child and say "Show me!" The child should show you the card. Name the card and then take it. Make children understand that each child can only have one card at one time. You can then start the game. Children move around the room. Those without flashcards find someone with a card and take it by saying "Show me!" and then naming the card. It helps to use a piece of music for this game. The game ends when the music stops. It also helps if you’ve previously taught the children to move around to the music. Don’t assume that children will automatically move around the room freely. Sometimes they have to be taught!

July 2001
(Altogether Now - Large Classes
Column in Teachers Learning with Children
The Newsletter of the JALT Teaching Children SIG)


The description of the scoring system seems rather clumsy to me now. The idea is simply to encourage self-improvement. Maximum points are always given for a perfect score so as not to penalise high-achievers. It's certainly possible to experiment with the scoring system, though consistency is important.

STAD is rather behaviourist in approach. The outline above has been adapted slightly to reduce the competition inherent in the model. For example, I suggested that rewards should be given to the whole class, but they could be targeted at 'winning teams'.

I am very wary, though, of giving rewards. My feeling is that there is a huge difference between rewarding children for good performance and taking the time to celebrate effort, focus and commitment. Inherent in any reward system is a hierarchy. Rewards are top-down. Something unpleasant is lurking, waiting, calculating - hurt is not so far away. On the other hand, I feel that celebrating is positive, uplifting and energising.

Alfie Kohn argues extensively against rewards of any kind in his book Punished by Rewards (1993, Houghton Mifflin). However, Spencer Kagan notes in Co-operative Learning that removing all forms of extrinsic motivators is perhaps 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'. Praise can be encouraging. The best way to give praise is to focus on detail and describe exactly what has been done See How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (1995, Rawson Associates) for information on this. Beware generalisations when praising as these can create illusions impossible to live up to.

April 2002

Further reading on-line:

Fair Test Examiner (1995) Stereotypes Lower Test Scores A brief overview of 'stereotype vulnerability' based on studies by Claude Steele.

Jacobs, G. M. (1990) Foundations of Cooperative Learning A useful introduction to different approaches to co-operative learning.

Person, B & Neill, M. (1999) Alternatives to Standard Tests Article covering problems with, and alternatives to, testing in schools.

Slavin, R (1995) Research on Cooperative Learning and Achievement: What We Know, What We Need to Know 'Four Major Theoretical Perspectives on Cooperative Learning and Achievement'

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