(Some) Strategies to get Students Truly Collaborating

One of my favourite ‘tech’ strategies is not that exciting.  Or, ‘techy’, really.

Pretty simple, actually.

But I find it is one of the most powerful.

Creating a slide deck, putting it in your Google Classroom, and assigning it as “students can edit”.

This leads to students sharing resources, giving feedback, and, selfishly, me being able to look at one slide deck of work rather than open 25 + separate slides.

However, the first time you do it, without setting up the classroom culture of collaboration, can be daunting (at the end of this blog, I will link you to some articles/blogs that focus specifically on developing a culture of collaboration in your classroom).

Sometimes, all chaos ensues.  Items get deleted, students write over each others’ work.  There may or may not be yelling.

Then, in frustration, you call it quits! You don’t go back to the strategy of using a shared slide deck because it didn’t work.

But it can work!  With some patience, time, and the willingness to let your students and you truly collaborate.  It can work!

Before you start Collaboration using Technology:

Start with creating a classroom that values collaboration from day one.  Here are some general strategies:

  1. Set the tone through play:  Have hands-on math tasks/games, borrow a ROM or other hands-on Science/Social Studies kit through the DDSB Media Centre, and let students explore in small groups.  Have them talk and share what they learned from each other.  Start this at the beginning of the school year.
  2. Talk, talk, and talk:  Give time to talk with each other.  Circulate and sit in on conversations, and then talk as a group about what made the talks successful or not.  Model the importance of hearing all voices, but having students actively call and ask for other students to share as comfortable.  Start in partners, then building up in group numbers.
  3. Use talk stems if students need the prompts, and promote rephrasing of ideas in your classroom. This will lead students to ‘piggyback’ on ideas, which will develop trust between students.
  4. Chart paper:  Have students write together, do math together, organize ideas together, on chart paper.
  5. Give think time first:  Some students find groups and sharing ideas daunting for many different reasons, and giving time for students to develop a thought before having to share gives students time to formulate their own ideas.

I would love to hear what you use in your classroom to give students opportunities to build their collaboration skills!


Teach your students, first with your using, and creating a back and forth conversation, the comment button.  Give feedback constantly, and give students time to think, act on, and respond to feedback.  If students are used to the practice of giving feedback through the comment tool, then they can give feedback in the comment box, rather than into the slide itself.

Untitled drawing (2)

Remember, you can add links in the comments!  This is a favourite thing for me to do as a teacher, I might give a question, then have a link that I have vetted that students can find more information.

Getting Started in Collaborative Tech with some GSuite Tools:

Here are a few tips/strategies to work up to a whole-class Google Shared Slide (or shared Doc, Drawing, Sheet, for that matter!).

  1.  Send comments to students as they are working, or shortly thereafter.  Explicitly teach students how to go back into their Google Slide, read your feedback, and respond.  Try putting your feedback in the form of a question – it may take away the feeling of being ‘wrong’ for the student.  Add a link to a YouTube video or good website to further their thinking.
  2. GIVE TIME for your students to read, process, and respond to feedback.  This is one I think we overlook — think of when you have received feedback.  You need time.  So give your students that time, too.  I might start my morning by having students purposefully go in and read my feedback, and make a change, and then re-submit.  Teach them to highlight where they made changes so you can easily find it when work is resubmitted.
  3. Get on their Slide while they are live working.  Just to get them used to seeing you working on their slide.  Have your device open to your student Slides while you do a guided group (grid view is amazing for this!)

gridview (1)

4. Do Small group Slides as a guided lesson:  Start with a shared slide between a small group of students.  Have each student work on a slide, and then review each other and give feedback.  You could have them, for example, after guided reading, write a quick reflection with an image in their slide of a connection they made, and students can comment.  This way you have a small group of accidentally deleting.

5. Wreck a Slide/Make a Slide better:  For the first time, you could have a premade slide and ask students to wreck it.  Have them notice what keys/clicks (causes) create damage (effect).  Or, have a really bad slide deck, and have them improve it (great to pull into your curriculum expectations, and also talk about what makes a good slide presentation at the same time).

Make an “Everything Was Deleted!” Plan:

The ability to view and save under a specific version history may be the best bet.  After a few periods of work, check with everyone that all of their slides look as they should at that particular point.  Then save the version history.  That way, the next time everyone gets to work, and something happens, you can go back to that particular version history.

Go to File, then Version History.  You can choose to view, or save the current history.

On the right, you can see version history so you can restore as needed.  Also, save versions as you go when you know students are ‘good’ with where they are, so you can always restore that version if a disaster occurs.

Talk to your students beforehand.  If they accidentally deleted something, if they admit it, a simple undo (control z) can fix the problem.  No need to go back and find it all out.

Teach students to make a copy of their slide in their own drive.  They can just copy and paste their slide into their own slide deck.  Some teachers even start with students making their own slides, then copying them into the shared slide after they are done.

Reflect/Feedback/Keep Going:

Collaboration is a skill that students need to be immersed in.  It needs to be constantly practiced.  Collaboration needs teacher and student feedback, which should be ongoing within your classroom practice.

Keep going!:  If your first few times having students work on a shared piece of technology, the more time they have to reflect, to talk about what went well and what didn’t, and the more explicit you are in your expectations, they will rise to the task.  Then you’ll be loving the simple collaborative power of a shared slide, doc, or sheet as much as I do!


5 Strategies to Deepen Student Collaboration

Children Must Be Taught to Collaborate, Studies Say

Student Collaboration in the Classroom

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