Grouping your students in the classroom can be an excellent way to help promote dialogue and critical thinking within your classroom activities. While there is a place for independent work, direct instruction, and other models in your classroom, student grouping can also be incorporated to build more powerful lessons. With busy classroom schedules and arduous lesson planning, sometimes planning methods for grouping students can be placed on the back burner, resulting in the teacher repeatedly falling back on the same grouping methods. Adding a unique grouping structure occasionally to your classroom, when designed with a purpose to align with and enhance your lesson, can not only add some excitement but can help launch creativity within your students. This article will address a grouping type called the Pyramid Analysis, also known as a Pyramid Discussion. This article uses the term Pyramid Analysis to reinforce the notion that this grouping strategy works well at the analysis level or higher for activities that can enhance critical thinking.
What is a Pyramid Analysis?
In this model, the teacher provides one open-ended task or question to which students must discuss and respond. Students begin in pairs and answer the question together. Then one pair joins another pair, creating a group of four. These four students discuss the question and their ideas again and refine and further develop the idea. Then, the group of four joins another group to form eight, and the process repeats. Each group continues joining other groups until the whole group is joined into one large discussion. At this stage in the discussion, the teacher can also help guide students to a conclusion as a whole group.
In a pyramid discussion, the teacher’s role is to check that student pairs and smaller groups adequately answer the question and provide sufficient detail. Then, as group sizes increase, the teacher can shift to facilitate ongoing discussion, interject with a new idea or point the group can consider, and help moderate and reinforce expectations of larger group discourse. The student’s role is to listen attentively, respect others who are talking, and engage in dialogue and discourse regardless of group size. At each stage of the pyramid discussion, students should also be taking notes.
Analyze this scenario to get a better understanding of the Pyramid Analysis model. In a pyramid discussion of the Three Little Pigs, each group is tasked with creating a new story where the wolf is the good guy. The teacher chooses the Pyramid Analysis model because she wants the students to push back on each other’s ideas and stretch their creativity. Her lesson focus for the week is on methods for adding details to essays. She also wants them to practice refining their ideas before jumping into the essay writing process. The teacher requires students to use evidence from the original Three Little Pigs story to help instead justify how the wolf is a good character. Students are allowed to take creative liberties, provide background information on the wolf and pigs, and expand on the ideas from the original story. In today’s activity, students will decide as a class the outline and format of the story. Then, tomorrow, they will write independently using their notes. First, students work in pairs to come up with their ideas for the Good Guy Wolf. Once each pair has completed their notes and ideas for their story, the teacher regroups students into groups of 4, where two pairs join up. The process repeats, and the four students will agree on their refined storyline, removing ideas and adding on more details. Groups are continually added until students reconvene into their whole class group. At this stage, the whole group finalizes their plot ideas in preparation for their essay writing activity tomorrow. They now recap their ideas with the teacher as she facilitates discussion and potentially adds more ideas and details. After the discussion is complete, each student is ready to practice their essay writing for their new Good Guy Wolf story that they will write tomorrow.
The pyramid analysis can be a great method for students to analyze experiments and write lab reports, perform research for an upcoming project, or even participate in a peer review activity. It is a great model to help increase the cognitive tasks required of students and help students in a structured way to engage in discourse with one another. It helps to provide significant depth for students when accessing lesson content, and it allows for a structured model of collaboration. But keep in mind that this is a more complex model of regrouping students and arranging the physical space, so it can also be more time-intensive than other grouping methods. In addition, the teacher requires significant monitoring and evaluation of all student groups at each level to keep students on task and ensure a high level of interaction with the lesson content. You can best use pyramid discussions to analyze complex themes or ideas, or even to require students to devise something new and to challenge each other’s ideas. It can be a great, engaging model to occasionally use in your classroom to help promote discourse and creative thinking.
When considering grouping: Heterogeneous grouping can better vary perspective within discourse at each level, while homogenous grouping can allow students at the early stages of the pyramid discussion an equal chance at voicing their ideas.