Today’s Q&A post comes from an email this week (used with permission) from Sherrie, an English teacher who is thinking about adding Quarter Trios to her spring semester classes. Quarter Trios is a game-based classroom management tool I use to build community and increase student enthusiasm for our work together. You can learn more about the strategy here.

Hi Laura,
I really want to implement the Quarter Trios, but I have so many questions that I don’t even know where to begin. Here are my most basic questions:
1. What if someone refuses to participate? If I randomly chose the group members and they end up with someone not interested in competing, that can give a bad taste at the very beginning.
2. Unfortunately, we have a lot of cheaters or “just-get-byers” who will take advantage – like, “Oh, we found that grammar mistake, too.”
3. Do they get a handout of the options they have to earn points? Or are they just announced randomly throughout the semester?
4. It does sound like a paperwork nightmare as far as points are concerned. Can all groups turn in, say, a grammar mistake for a point? Or just announce if it is a “first group to post something” gets the point?

Thank you so much for your time. I so admire all the work you do to help your fellow English teachers. And I love the activities you have that keep the kids engaged and still learning something.
Sherrie

I hear you, Sherrie. New routines can be nerve-racking, especially when we try to launch something mid-year after we’ve been struggling to win over a difficult section or two. You know I’ll help if I can! I’ve numbered my answers below as a move to organize my early morning pre-coffee brain:

1. Pick your battles. Seems like there’s always a quiet, checked-out kid or two in every class. I strategically pair that kid with two higher achievers so he/she has no choice but to go with the flow. I never let kids pick their own Trio teams. Two checked-out kids in one group could become a problem. Also, I try to make the challenges so fun and interesting that those kids can’t help themselves but join in and lose themselves in the moment. If a kid is quiet and just riding the wave, I don’t say anything about it. If he/she is being disruptive, that’s a whole other issue. I have some ideas for dealing with those kids on my YouTube series on classroom management that you can check out here.

2. I watch everyone like a hawk. Having teams reveal their answers at the same time by raising their small white boards on my count goes a long way toward eliminating this problem. I also regularly warn teams during challenges to cover their white boards to prevent competitors from trying to cheat off of them. Sometimes, I have to warn a particularly rambunctious class that if I catch anyone trying to cheat I’ll dock a point from that team, though I haven’t ever actually had to do that because I nip those wanderers before they’re able to steal any answers. Again, I trust no one and watch them all during game play. If you don’t have a set of small white boards, you can make an inexpensive set of homemade boards by following the directions in this blog post.

3. I announce each week’s challenge randomly, depending on my mood and how much time we have available on a Friday. I have a list of 25 Trio challenge ideas here on the blog as an inspiration tool for teachers, but I don’t have a master list I give to the students. My Trio challenges are random and unpredictable – and that’s part of the fun!

4. There’s no paperwork at all other than a Post-It note where I write down the team numbers and how many points they just earned. Then, once a week, I update the ongoing point tally on our class webpage. I project that tally at the beginning of class each Friday as I announce that week’s game/challenge. Good grief! I always have more than enough papers on my desk so I don’t ever collect anything from Trio teams. I only throw down challenges that are low-prep and fast to grade right there on the spot because I just don’t have time for anything else. Also, I choose challenges that allow every team the opportunity to earn the point; it’s never a race with only one winner for that round. After my own child’s struggles with timed multiplication table tests, I decided that fast ≠ smart and some kids/teams just need a dang minute to decide on their answer. I give them the mental space to think things through (especially with brain teasers) and I want every Trio team to feel they have a fair chance to win so they’ll stay engaged throughout the nine-week-long contest.

I hope this is helpful, Sherrie. As you know from my gushing on the blog, I love Quarter Trios. I mean, I became a teacher because I wanted to help teenagers AND I thought teaching would be a fun way to spend the day. Trios have helped fold back in some fun, for sure. Hope you give the routine a try. Holler when you need me!
Laura

Okay, teacher friends, what other advice would you give to Sherrie? Have you used Quarter Trios or something else in your classes to help build community and engage your students? What’s working for you? Leave a reply below and share the good stuff!

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Fantastic. This will be the perfect way to start off my second semester. Thanks!

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  2. Since we have trimesters instead of quarters, I’ve tried Tri Trios this year. My middle school students absolutely love it. They tell me that they are best behaved (even though somedays that is hard to believe) in my class. I give them points (just keep a clipboard with a running total) for completed homework, being to class on time with the appropriate supplies, and acts of kindness. They love it – I love it! Go for it!

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  3. Glad to hear this, Dana. Happy new year!

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  4. Tri-Trios?!! Love that, Rhonda! 😀

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  5. I’ve been using Trios for several years and it’s a great tool, especially when I realize we have 5-10 minutes to fill. Trios are also my go-to for any activities that move or separate students. (They traveled in Trios for their Reindeer Run again this year – love that one!) Transitions are quick and smooth, with little extra planning on my part. I just say, “Go to your trios,” grab or pull up the activity while they move, and we’re off.

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  6. Yes, Jennifer! I had no idea this idea would smooth transitions like this, but the exact same thing happened in my room. Love it! Happy new year. 🙂

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  7. Oh – and this is the Reindeer Run that Jennifer mentioned in case anyone else out there is wondering what we’re talking about: https://laurarandazzo.com/2018/11/10/im-thankful-for-free-stations-materials/

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