Group work can be a good way to motivate students and keep them actively engaged. However, careful planning, preparation and monitoring by the teacher is needed to ensure that it is successful.
Group work can involve getting students to work in pairs, small groups, larger groups or a combination of all three. Group work can raise students’ awareness of their individual strengths, weaknesses and preferred ways of working, and can also help them to develop leadership skills and other ways of working more effectively with others in the world of work.
Below are some best practice tips to help make it as smooth as possible.
Best Practice Tips
- Carefully align the group task with the learning aims of the session/module. Each type of group work should have a purpose and larger learning aim attached to it. Set expectations for cooperative and civil behaviour.
- Consider the layout of the room in advance of the class – is it conducive to good group work? How could it be adapted? Do you need to move to a different room (if feasible)?
- Ensure that your students (and you) are clear about the expected outcomes of this task and you have predicted the kinds of task responses that students will produce.
- Allow sufficient time for students to complete the group activities. You may need to cut down on content (or consider a Flipped classroom model) to allow discussion and collaborative time. You should also give students time to share their work with the class.
- Consider how familiar your students are likely to be with the task and/or group work itself. If the task type is likely to be unfamiliar to the students, you may like to build in fixed stages with mini-plenaries, e.g. explain the stage and set a deadline for the group to complete that particular stage and report back.
- Dividing your students into groups will depend on your cohort. Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to monitor groups carefully and be available to group members in case there are issues.
- Advising students to each choose a team role (whether determined by the group or through a standard model, e.g. Belbin’s Team Roles) may be a useful way of helping students to talk about their preferences and to be confident about their contribution to their team.
- Be a facilitator rather than a director. Some students may find it more difficult to integrate within a group or know how to contribute. You therefore need to ‘monitor’ groups and model inclusive group work practices for all students. Consider whether group work is essential to achieve the outcomes, or whether you will permit individuals to work alone.
- Consider in advance how you will mitigate against the burden of work falling to one or two individuals if other group member(s) fall ill or drop out, particularly if group work is to be summatively assessed.
- Include a reflective element (either verbal or written). This can help students understand more about themselves, how they can improve in the future and also help you to assess how well it went.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85-118.