Working with Student Groups

Collaborative learning can be a powerful teaching tool but group work must be designed carefully to be effective. Always keep in mind the five key elements that differentiate effective collaborative learning from simply putting students into groups: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Face-to-face (Promotive) Interaction, Interpersonal and Small Group Social Skills, and Group Processing. Ensuring that these elements are implemented can be the difference between transformative group experiences and loud student complaints. Some suggestions for effective group work:

  • Be clear about the expectations for the group and for each individual. Allocate tasks to be done and be sure that each person knows what he or she is to do and what the deadlines are.
  • Be sure that everyone contributes to the discussions and tasks. If appropriate, assign students different roles (e.g., chair, scribe, authority) and vary these roles at each group meeting.
  • Have clear criteria for assessment. If students will be evaluating each other, define different levels of performance for different criteria in a rubric so everyone is on the same page.
  • Discuss with students why you are having them work together and how the group can promote their learning.
  • Provide students with tools to improve their team-building skills (see links below).

See the following links for additional guidance: