Projects to Foster Student Collaboration Across Grades

McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas
Published in
4 min readMay 1, 2024

Student collaboration beyond individual classrooms can be tricky. It presents logistical challenges and requires lots of planning. However, allowing students to connect with peers of different ages can also be enriching for learners and benefit the overall school culture.

Cross-grade collaborations encourage leadership among older students, provide younger students with models for successful learning, and promote deeper engagement. These collaborations also offer opportunities to practice early social and emotional skills and even career-relevant soft skills.

Here are a few cross-grade project ideas to consider attempting at your school:

Buddy Systems

The most flexible and common form of cross-grade collaboration is a simple buddy system. Students can be paired one grade up, a few grades up, or even across schools. Buddy meetups can be flexible to meet teachers’ needs and even be impromptu to make meaningful use of downtime. Buddy partnerships benefit younger learners with a 1:1 mentorship and older learners with a chance to take on a leadership role.

Buddies can simply read together, do a craft together, or partner up and play games together. Long-term buddy programs across schools can also help repair damaged school cultures. For example, in the 1990s, this school used a cross-grade buddy program to combat bullying issues and promote respect. Older students responded positively to having a younger student to look out for on the playground and school grounds.

Teacher for a Day

Make students the “teacher for a day” by pairing them with younger students. While this project is flexible, it may be easiest to keep it within your building and spread it throughout the school year. For example, if fifth-graders and first-graders are in the same building, schedule one fifth-grade student to visit the classroom of a first-grade student for a short, manageable period of time to be the “teacher.” Depending on teacher preference, students in the “teacher” role could read to the younger students, lead a brief lesson (with plenty of guidance!), or pick a topic they’re passionate about and prepare a presentation and activity in the style of a Genius Hour.

Student-Led Field Day

Start a new end-of-year tradition by having students lead your school’s field day! Assign older students mini “camp-counselor” roles to help plan and lead activities for the younger students. Incorporate group activities for students to lead and have them design tie-dye shirts for everyone participating. Students can even practice math skills as they plan activities. For example, have student leaders calculate necessary supplies or snacks, design a field layout by determining needed space for each activity, and on the day of, perform math tasks like measuring how far the participating students can jump or throw.

Mix Up Audiences for Performances and Presentations

Here’s a quick, simple way to allow students to collaborate across grades: Invite another class to serve as an audience for your class. These performances and presentations don’t have to be elaborate assemblies. Whenever students get up in front of the class to share their work or perform in some way, there’s an opportunity to invite younger learners to learn from older ones or to have older students cheer the younger ones on. So long as everyone is respectful, sharing growth and successes across the school can be fun.

Interactive Museum

Put a twist on project-based learning by having older students apply advanced knowledge and skills to create an interactive experience for younger students to visit and learn from. They could design and build a mini science museum, an obstacle course, or a planetarium. This art teacher even had her students create a putt-putt golf course. Both student groups can complete reflective assignments on what they learned from creating and participating in the project.

Kindergarten and Senior Buddies

Kindergarten-senior buddy systems can be a rewarding partnership for students and can contribute to a positive school culture. This program can take different forms depending on what works for your school. At the beginning of the year, each graduating senior can be paired with a kindergartener for a maximum amount of 1:1 buddy pairings, or seniors can sign up (or be selected by teachers) to be assigned to multiple kindergarteners. Senior visits to kindergarten classrooms can be scheduled throughout the year and seniors should hold some responsibility for organizing activities, crafts, or outings. Putting older students in a position where they know they’re serving as role models can do wonders for their self-esteem and growth, and younger learners will benefit from having successful models for what they can become. Here’s a look at how one school in Columbus, Ohio approaches its “K-Buddy” program.

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McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas

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