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Dr. Spencer Kagan

Breakouts To Energize Brains and Boost Achievement

Special Article

Two Ways To Form Breakout Groups

1. Grouping Structures. Grouping structures are structures specifically designed to efficiently move students into groups. They do not have an academic focus. Once students are in their breakout group, an interaction structure may be used to have students interact over the content. Often we use a grouping structure to form pairs, triads, or groups of four, and then use an interaction structure to have students process the content of the lesson. There are many grouping structures to efficiently form groups on the fly. Perhaps the most common grouping structure is StandUp–HandUp–PairUp. Just like it sounds, students simply stand up, raise a hand high, move to find someone other than a teammate in the room who also has a hand up, give each other a high-5, and put their hands down. That is all there is to it; the students are now regrouped. When all the students are standing in their breakout pairs, the teacher provides the pairs an activity to do. For example, the teacher may use RallyRobin to have all pairs name key events in the chapter. Any of dozens of pair structures for interaction are possible once students are in pairs, including, to name just a few, Timed Pair Share, Quiz-N-Show, and Paired Heads Together. Variations on StandUp–HandUp–PairUp such as Find Your Number and Find A Different Number add novelty, increasing interest and excitement. If students are in teams and have numbers, instead of always saying put a hand up, they can be told to hold a hand high with their fingers showing their number and either find someone with the same number as themselves or someone with a different number. In All Around the Clock students pair up at predetermined times to process their learning or to interact as instructed by the teacher.

To form groups of three, the teacher may use Find Your Number or Find A Different Number, but tell the students to form groups of three. Students hold up their fingers to show their number and form groups of three, each with the same number for Find Your Number, or each with a different number for Find A Different Number. Once the students are in triads, the teacher may have them do a RoundRobin or a Team Interview to review content or to share their ideas. Because the students won't always breakout into even groups of three, we find it useful to define an area as the "lost and found." Students who cannot find a partner go to the lost and found and the teacher can direct them what to do. For example, if everyone is in a triad but one student is in the lost and found, the teacher simply directs the lone student to join one group to make it a group of four.

Sometimes when students are in pairs, we want to form groups of four. My favorite is Pairs Pair. The pair is told to each put up a hand and walk together until they pair up with another pair. They give the other pair high fives and then put their hands down. When all students are in groups of four, the teacher gives them an activity to do and may use any of dozens of structures for groups of four including Three-Step Interview, RoundRobin , Pairs Check, and Pairs Compare. Another way to form breakout groups of four is Find A Different Number. Students are seated in their four-member base teams and each has their number. The teacher then asks students to stand up and form groups of four, each person with a different number and no two members of the same base team in any group.

At times, we want teams to group with other teams to compare answers, exhibit and explain projects, and/or give each other feedback. Team Up! is a favorite. Just as Pairs Pair groups two pairs to form a group of four, Team Up! groups two teams to form a group of eight. Team Inside-Outside Circle is great for teams to present to each other, meet as teams to improve their presentations, and then rotate to another team to present their improved presentation.

Sample Grouping Structures

Structure Resulting Group Size
Forming Pairs
StandUp–HandUp–PairUp 2
Forming Teams
Pairs Pair 4
Forming Larger Groups
Team Up! 8

2. Interaction Structures that form Breakout Groups. Many cooperative learning structures that are primarily designed to structure the interaction among students over academic content, also result in breakout groups. Although these structures were not designed with the goal of regrouping students, they result in breakout groups. In our book, Kagan Cooperative Learning, we talk about structures that have "built–in random team formation." That is, random teams of four are formed as a by-product of using certain structures. The intent in forming random teams is usually for a brief positive interaction — an activity or a project. For example, let's say we are doing Traveling Heads Together. Traveling Heads Together is Numbered Heads Together with a twist. After teammates have put their heads together to tutor each other on the correct answer or to reach consensus on a quality response, the teacher calls on a student number to travel. The student with that number travels to another team, to share her or his answer. If we do three rounds of Traveling Heads Together calling a different number each time and having students move each time to new teams where there are no base teammates from their base team, we have formed random teams: each team has all new teammates. At that point, without spending any time away from the curriculum, the teacher can have students do an activity in their new, random teams.

There are many interaction structures that serve to form breakout groups. Some result in formation of groups of four such as, Folded Folded Line-Ups, Stir the Class, and three rounds of Traveling Star. Structures that result in pairs include RallyQuiz, Quiz-N-Show, and Rally Derby. Larger groups are formed while using structures like Corners, Similarity Groups, and Same Number Groups Present. Mix Freeze Group results in groups of different sizes depending on the number the teacher calls. All of these interaction structures regroup students and are effective breakouts — they provide an opportunity for students to interact with others who are not part of their base team. Once students are regrouped via these interaction structures, the teacher may have them sit down together as a pair, triad, or group of four or more and use an additional structure or structures to direct their interaction.

Sample Interaction Structures
That Form Breakout Groups

Structure Resulting Group Size
Forming Pairs
Traveling RallyQuiz 2
Forming Teams
Traveling Heads Together
(3 rounds)
Forming Groups of Various Sizes
Mix Freeze Group Various Sizes