This post originally appeared on the blog The Science Penguin 

The Problem?
Student A: (grabs the tray of materials) “I’m going to pour the baking soda in the cup!”
Student C: “Ok. Student A can do that, then I’ll do the next thing. What were the directions?”
Student B: “I think the directions are under the tray.”
Student C: (knocks tray over and grabs directions) “DUDE, you weren’t supposed to pour the baking soda yet!”
Student A: “I don’t care. Who made you king?”
Student D: (You don’t know this student is even there because he is just sitting there.)

There’s no learning. There’s no cooperation. We can’t even tell what the activity is and it seems the students don’t know either. I’ll admit it.  The first few dozen times I did labs, this scenario was about how it played out… except with 5 groups. Other than perfecting their arguing skills, I’m not sure what else my classes accomplished.

The Solution?
Lab team roles! Each student has a clear purpose for the activity. If they forget that clear purpose, they can refer to a poster or to the necklace with their role card written right there for them!

Students practice their roles often during the first unit.  I guide them through reading directions, waiting to deal with materials, deciding as a team who does what, and checking in with each other to make sure everyone understands.

When students have roles, labs went much more smoothly. Of course there were occasional issues, but 99% of the time was productive. Compare that to the scenario I led with and we are looking pretty darn good!

Prevent Lab Team Chaos With
Here’s a video clip about how I use Lab Team Roles!

Want to learn more about lab roles and download free signs and necklace cards?
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Prevent Lab Team Chaos With



Ari blogs and develops elementary science resources for The Science Penguin. She is passionate about helping elementary teachers strengthen their faith in their abilities to provide high-quality science instruction to all students. You can follow Ari’s store here or check out her blog.