Here’s a great idea I saw science teachers Marilyn Dombrowski and Kristin Combs use at Furness High School in Philadelphia when their students worked in small groups:
Give each group two plastic cups, one green and one red, and advise students to keep one inside the other in the center of their table (or adjoining desks), with the red cup on the outside when a group needs your help and the green on the outside when it doesn’t.
I love this idea for a few reasons. First, it lets teachers see from anywhere in the room which groups need help at any given time. Second, it’s a concrete way to uphold a key to promoting independent and interdependent learning: only helping students if they’ve exhausted all other available resources including each other.
Best of all, the cups help students develop important non-cognitive (or character) traits/skills such as self-determination and collaboration. At first, for example, some students are quicker than others to give up and reach for a red cup. But more often than not, one (or more) of their fellow group members will protest: “Hey, change that back to green.” Over time, this I’m-not-ready-to-give-up-and-ask-the-teacher mentality becomes contagious, and students are more persistent. They’re also more motivated to reach out to each other for help. Who would have thought a couple of plastic cups could inspire such tenacity and teamwork?
Try this clever, easy to implement idea, and may your and your students’ cups runneth over.