Follow these simple guidelines for getting partnerships to work in your classroom:
1. Predetermine your partners. Some people assign high-medium, and medium low students, but I like to just know the personalities of my students and pair who will work well together. The students need to feel as if they need each other to get a job done and so their academic level means nothing unless they are collaboratively working together.
2. Label your partners. Peanut butter and jelly. Chips and salsa. Whatever you decide on keep it consistent throughout the year and label the kids. Lanyards or pictures taped to tables work well. For me I find the later to fit my style best.
3. Specify which partner is to complete a task. I like to do this with a hand held symbol. When it is peanut butters turn to talk, I hold up peanut butter. (Of course I specify that jelly should be listening and providing feedback or retelling.) I keep these on magnets to my white board so they are easily accessible to me. This helps to eliminate.. you go.. no you go.. no you go..! Get's them right to work!
4. Set a finished and quiet signal. When my students are complete with the task they create a partner pyramid - both students each put a hand up and thus forming a triangle. Students during this time are still expected to talk but this sign shows me they are ready to move on! It is also imperative you have a way to regain control of your classroom. I like to clap twice and I raise my hand. The students then raise their hand to to signal they are ready. My students do not clap!
5. Practice, Practice, and Praise. Practice with fun items (Peanut butter tell jelly your favorite color. Jelly tell your partner your favorite kind of ice cream.) Then after each question you can call on the students to tell what they AND their partner liked.
Once you have the basics down you can do amazing learning structures where students are teaching each other.