Group Work Top Tips – Part II

Ken Templeton | 12.10.2013

In Part I of this series, we discussed the key things teachers can do to plan for successful group work. In this post, we’re going to focus on how teachers encourage effective group work while students are working in small groups.

Here are some tips for running a good small group session in class:

1. Specify how much time the groups have to work

This sounds simple. It is simple, and we often forget to do it! The time expectation should be fair, but also somewhat challenging. If the time expectation is vague, or too generous, we lose a sense of urgency for the work. Some teachers project an image of a clock counting down while students work, just to add to the sense of purpose and also to stick to their own time stamps.

2. Move, move, move

Like it or not, your presence alone can help thoughtful collaboration happen. So, be a presence around the room. Get around to be near each group and stand so you can see the rest of the class.

3. Eavesdrop, but don’t intervene too much

Remember that part of the purpose for using groups is to develop skills of collaboration. If you step in too often, it is harder for students to develop those skills. Some teachers make a rule for when students have questions: make sure everyone in the group has the same question before asking the teacher. Often, if everyone in the group thinks about the question, an avenue will emerge without asking for help. In this 1 minute video, Susan Yim explains her ‘Ask Three, Then Me’ rule (from Teaching Channel).

4. Play devil’s advocate

As you hear groups coming to consensus, be sure they have explored alternative ways of thinking about a given task or problem. You can re-energize group work simply by asking a good question or taking a different perspective. Some teachers write down devil’s advocate questions on colored notecards or sticky-notes and give them to the group’s facilitator. This approach allows teachers to pose challenges to the group’s thinking without getting into a back-and-forth that takes away from the group’s discussion.


This video, from the archive at Teaching Channel, provides a great example of group work in action:

What are some other keys to having groups work effectively in your class?

In our next post, we’ll address how to use reflection and transitions from groups to whole-class instruction to make the most of collaborative efforts.

Featured image was designed by Scott Lewis and was downloaded from The Noun Project

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