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Islands or Groups of 4 or 6 Facilitate Collaborative learning


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Islands 4 -- Tables of Four -- Create Collaborative Teams
Islands or Groups of 4 or 6 Facilitate Collaborative learning

Seating the class in Islands of 4 creates space for a variety of instructional activities.

Jerry Webster

Islands or Tables of four have been a staple of seating in lower elementary classes and can serve to build appropriately social and interactive groups. They can also create problems if routines are not clearly laid out and students use the plan as an opportunity to visit.

Pros and Cons of Islands 4


  • Students face each other and may naturally seek the help of peers.
  • If groups are carefully planned to promote collaborative work, groups can work together on collaborative tasks, such as reports, charts, posters or presentations for the rest of the class.
  • Island 4 creates good flow for students to move around the room, especially if learning centers are part of the instructional environment.


  • When seated in islands or tables, some students at each group will have to turn to face the teacher during instruction.
  • The fact that students are not facing the teacher during instruction encourages off task talking and socializing.
  • During independent work students may be distracted and use independent time to socialize or argue.

Island groups are most successful in a class where students participate in a variety of different educational activities each day: Large group instruction, small group instruction, collaborative groups, discussion groups and learning centers. Grouping in tables creates more space than putting the desks in rows.

Groups of 4 use more floor space than larger groups (see six.) Group instruction would still occur with students seated at their desks rather than at a group rug, though that could be included at least for smaller groups if the room accomodates a rug.

Groups of 4 are problematic when students do not have the social skills to manage their own behavior. This is specifically a problem in inner city schools. Grouping was prescribed when I taught in Philadelphia--best practices commend it. You can't, however, make inner city students behave like suburban students merely by putting them into groups of 4. You must teach the students how to work together in groups, you must model appropriate behavior and cement routines so that the behaviors needed to succeed are in place.

Personally, I would recommend seating the class in the "two by two" seating model as you are teaching routines and inculcating the values of collaboration, co-operation and individual as well as group responsibility. When you go to groups of 4 you increase the expectations but have already laid the groundwork. In all cases, a teacher needs to be moving students when their placement leads to conflict, socializing or other off task and inappropriate behavior.

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