Partner Work and Collaboration Strategies

Think about the last time you attended professional development of any kind. Did you make plans for meeting a colleague, sitting together, and working together? Most often, we make those plans weeks ahead of time. So, if we want to collaborate while we learn and work, we have to keep in mind that our students do, too.

PLN courses include socialization as a tenet of their teachings, and they promote partner work more often than group work to maintain accountability. For those reasons, partner Math Program 007 by Penn Statework was a critical piece of my daily instruction. Students were more likely to ask questions, participate, and attempt challenging work when they knew they had a partner with which to work at some point during the class period. If you aren’t sure how to set up a collaborative space or begin partner/group work in class, refer to my list of classroom management tips. Here, I offer strategies and tips for both partner work and collaboration.

Partner Work Strategies 

  • Student Choice: Kids are more productive when they have some choice, so allow them to choose their partners. Yes, the kids you do not want to work together inevitably will choose one another; but, if you have modeled appropriate partner behavior and you are consistent with your discipline, this should not be a permanent problem.
  • Monitoring: As long as you have modeled appropriate partner behavior, your role is a facilitator while students work with their partners. You should be circulating around the room, pausing to listen to conversations and making sure students are meeting your expectations. Offer encouragement and praise, or assistance and mediation, as needed. If partners are not being productive, warn them and tell them when you will return; stick to the clock and return at that time (typically 2 minutes later) to preserve your credibility.
  • Accountability: Working with a partner does not equate to one partner doing all of the work while the other passively sits and watches. Specifically assign tasks to each partner (this becomes easier if you number partners and match partner numbers to task numbers) so that all students have a task for which to be accountable. For example, one partner may be responsible for summarizing paragraphs 1-5, while the other is responsible for summarizing paragraphs 6-10.
  • Higher-Order Thinking Skills and Tasks: Assigning a partner task for the end of the lesson is a smart way to incorporate the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy on a daily basis. This means that students need to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate after completing lower-level independent tasks. Students should work through tasks involving analysis, synthesis, and evaluation together; they will be more likely to talk through the task and create meaning for themselves if they can discuss, explore, and question with someone else.

Partner work causes great levels of anxiety in teachers, but if you model expectations and remain consistent with them and your discipline, partner work will be well worth your class’s time. Teachers of nearly any grade or content level easily can implement these these strategies. If you have some surefire methods for classroom management or partner work, I’d love to hear about them. Email Bailey at

Image via Flickr by Penn State

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