Student roles were one of the best tools that I used in my high school classroom; in fact, I mention it as one of my five essential classroom procedures here. Why? For a couple of reasons: 1) student roles take work off myself to leave room for more teaching! 2) student roles allow students to take ownership of the class and what happens in it, and 3) student roles make for much smoother transitions from activity to activity. Elementary teachers have been doing this forever and workplaces definitely utilize roles to get work done… so why not junior high and high school?!
“So how can I use student roles?”
Well, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. Student roles can look different in every classroom; even two teachers who use the same ‘titles’ for the student roles might use them differently. How you use them largely depends on what takes place in your classroom. For example, my three roles are Manager, Organizer, and Deliverer. But if you don’t allow your students to work in groups, or don’t have supplies that need to be organized, or don’t have materials that need to be delivered, well then, my student roles won’t make a lick of sense in your classroom.
The real question you need to ask yourself is, “When/where/what are some things that are causing issues/taking time away from learning in my classroom?” Once you have a few answers, you will be ready to brainstorm how your students can become part of the solution to these problems.
If you’re having trouble, here are a couple examples:
Students leave trash all over the room – Trash monitor (think hallway monitor?)
You need to collect homework – Homework collector
Groups are required to turn in evidence of work – Recorder
What is the best way to implement student roles?
Ideally, you would want to have your student roles thought out before school begins. The reason I say this is the beginning of the new year is a great time to start a procedure because students are absorbing tons of info about how you do things, and this could just be one of those things.
However, I realize that many of you may want to put this into practice ASAP – and I don’t blame you! The key here is patience. I don’t mean to be condescending, but your students will most likely not get this in a day… or a week… procedures have to be taught and practiced over and over. Student roles are no different.
Basics on Student Roles
Either way you choose to go, here’s the basics on student roles:
1) Use the roles to simplify a task in your classroom (not complicate!)
2) Make the role descriptions specific and name them accordingly
3) Decide how you will assign roles (randomly, according to seating chart, rewards system)
4) Practice, practice, practice with patience, patience, patience
Once you’ve done this, you may have to make a few tweaks. That’s okay – stay flexible. However, some of you will be fine with your new roles and can simply sit back and enjoy the fruits of your practice and patience.
How I Use Student Roles
Now, some of you may be wondering how I do things. My system is really simple and I wasn’t even very creative with the names for my roles. BUT as I’ve mentioned before, I consider them an essential procedure in my classroom, so I will definitely share.
First of all, when I was preparing for my first year, I was super zealous about all the things I would do. I went over how things would go in my head and try to solve problems before they were ever there… so my first thoughts of using roles began by finding holes in my well-laid classroom procedures.
The first hole I noticed was that if I was going to utilized Interactive Student Notebooks (read more here!) with all the supplies (scissors, glue sticks, rulers, highlighters, etc), then how was I going to make sure every student had those every day? I decided I would provide bins of supplies for each group, since I was teaching in school of low-socioecomonic status.
This still didn’t help a whole lot, because I didn’t have tables for groups. So I clumped desks together – the slanted ones that are quite small, which meant the supplies couldn’t just sit out. The solution? The Organizer, who would be in charge of the supply (it was under their desk), distribute materials as they were needed, and collect materials at the end of class. This kept students from arguing over the bin and made one person responsible for ensuring everything returned to the bin.
The second hole really was supposed to be a solution to an even bigger problem – the problem of passing out papers. I thought I was so clever when I decided to implement a classroom folder system for students to pick up their materials (another of my five essential procedures). However, it ended up there were WAY too many students hovering around these folders at one time. That’s when I developed another role: the Deliverer. This student would always pick up materials from the class folder for their group, as well as return any materials (calculators!) at the end of class.
My third role came out of an issue I was having with group work. I love group work, and I love preparing students for their future workplaces. But what I noticed was the groups didn’t really know HOW to work together… even when I explicitly taught them and practiced with them, it just wasn’t working! I realized that some groups worked better than others, if they had a natural leader who managed the group work. Aha! The Manager was born. This role ideally helps the group work together more effectively. I even attempt to train the Managers to ask ‘guiding questions’ and help make sure everyone is keeping up and no one is racing ahead.
These three roles are actually assigned via my seating chart, as you can see in the diagram above. When I go to create a new seating chart, I randomly re-cluster students together. However, I do not randomly seat students in the Manager position. Students who are seated in these places are not necessarily the ‘smarter’, but rather, the most patient or commanding, depending on the other students in their groups. In fact, many of my students show pride when they finally wind up in the Manager role and most rise to the occasion!
As you can see, each of these roles fulfills a specific purpose in my unique classroom. It may take some brainstorming, but I can assure you that what you get out of it is well worth the investment! If you’re interested in reading another post about student roles, you can check out this post from Everybodyisagenius that helped jump-start all my ideas.
Go to the comments and share what you think your group roles will be! Need more clarification on the roles I use, please email me with questions.