Students Become the Teacher: The Power of "Expert Groups"

Editor's Note: Sixth-grade ELA teacher and Scope advisor Angel Barnsback recently told us about how she uses "expert groups" in her classroom to give students ownership of their learning. After analyzing a text as a class, Angel breaks the class into groups and assigns each group a close-reading question on which the group members will become experts, first learning and then teaching what they learned to their classmates. We were so excited by her brilliant idea that we simply HAD to share it with you IMMEDIATELY. Enjoy!


What I really love about this activity—and why I do it so often—is that it gives students ownership of the knowledge they acquire, which helps them better retain that knowledge. Making students "experts" also gives them a sense of responsibly—to themselves, their group, and the class—to answer their assigned question thoughtfully and thoroughly. My students take this responsibility seriously! And because the activity is done in small groups, students who may be reticent to participate in whole-class discussions have the chance to be engaged in a less intimidating setting.

I usually do this activity with at least one article in each issue of Scope. For the November issue, I had my students become experts on the play This is What Courage Looks Like. Here's how I did it.


What you'll need:
any Scope text that lends itself to close reading, such as this one
close-reading and critical-thinking questions, such as these
vocabulary definitions, such as these
handheld whiteboard or large easel pad

Key skills:
text evidence, key ideas and details, analyzing, synthesizing, vocabulary in context, presenting information

15 minutes to construct answers
15 minutes for all groups to share their answers (about 3 minutes per group)


NOTE: Before I start this activity, we've already analyzed and discussed the text as a class, so students are very familiar with the text.


Step 1: Stuff envelopes.

I like to place the close-reading questions in envelopes, so students don't see the question they'll be answering before they choose it. I place one close-reading question in each envelope along with the definitions of the vocabulary words that appear in the text, to encourage students to use some of these new words in their presentations.



A great way to scaffold the close-reading questions is to add sentence starters and page numbers to direct students to the parts of the text where they can find the answers.



Step 2: Distribute the envelopes.

Divide the class into groups and have one student from each group choose an envelope.


Step 3: Students construct their answers.

Working in groups, students brainstorm the answer to the close-reading question from their envelope. They should use evidence from the text as well as some of their new vocabulary words. They should also make connections to other texts they’ve read, events in the world, or events in their own lives. Students then write their answers on a whiteboard or large notepad. (Students are very familiar with the text at this point, so they'll be flipping right to the evidence that supports their answers.)


Step 4: Students present their answers.

Each group chooses one person to present the group's answer. This student presents the answer to the class, providing text evidence to support the answer as well as explaining how and why the group formed that answer. I encourage students to talk to the class when presenting rather than look at notes. After all, they are experts now!


Step 5: Discuss as a class.

After each group has presented, I invite the rest of the class to comment and add to the answer. The presenting student responds to each comment. This is a great way to assess if the group really thought through its answer.

My students really get into this activity. In fact, one student suggested that every group should get a copy of the other groups' questions to discuss among themselves when they finish their expert group work. He followed up by saying, "That way, we can come to the whole-class discussion fully prepared to contribute." Love these kids!





Angel Barnsback is a 6th-grade ELA teacher at Liberty Middle School in Morganton, North Carolina. She is also a Scope teacher advisor.

No Comments
All comments are moderated before publishing.