Educators agree that when students work in small groups, they tend to understand the subject matter more thoroughly. Small group work transforms the class into supportive learning teams; the group keeps students energized, motivated and provides support to complete complex tasks. Group work helps students explain, summarize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate an aspect of the subject matter. For example, students may answer questions about the content, develop examples, solve a problem, and summarize main points of the readings. Group work also helps students practice essential social, problem solving and communication skills needed for success in the workplace. In addition, groups serve as forums where students can personalize their learning experiences and identify and correct misconceptions and gaps in understanding. Planning and organization are necessary for groups to be productive learning mechanisms.
Before the Group Work - Planning
PLACE STUDENTS IN APPROPRIATE GROUPS. Keep the group small; limit it to four to five members. There are several methods to placing students in groups.
Designate the groups yourself; for example, use 1, 2, 3 numbering system. (Students often will want to work only with their friends.)USE ASSIGNMENTS THAT REQUIRE GROUP INTERACTION. For example, if assignments are too easy, one member may complete it on behalf of the group
Assess students’ personalities before you assign groups (e.g., placing two very outgoing students in one group may be problematic.)
Assign new groups frequently so that your students will interact with everyone in the class. (Sometimes, students who are in one group for too long become too comfortable with one another and begin to chat rather than complete their tasks.)
EXPLAIN THE PURPOSE OF THE GROUP WORK. Why are you asking the students to work together? What will they gain from the group work?
EXPLAIN THE ASSIGNMENT CLEARLY AND PROVIDE A HANDOUT.
INDICATE WHAT SPECIFIC LEARNING OUTCOME YOU ARE EXPECTING FROM THE GROUP. For example, groups hand in written answers to questions, groups present an oral summary of their discussion to the class, groups list main arguments on an overhead transparency.
STATE A TIME LIMIT FOR THE GROUP WORK. Time allocated to group work depends on the nature of the task.
ASSIGN ROLES WITHIN THE GROUPS TO ENCOURAGE EQUAL PARTICIPATION. For example, reporter, note taker, timekeeper, and facilitator.
During the Group Work - Implementation
CIRCULATE AMONG THE GROUPS TO CHECK ON STUDENT PROGRESS. This gives you the opportunity to assess the extent to which students understand the material. What content is clear to them? What questions dothey have?
SIT IN ON GROUP DISCUSSIONS. You can get to know your students better by listening in on the group, asking and answering questions, providing direction and clarification, and praising students for their work. Your joining the group also can help motivate students to complete the task in a timely fashion.
REMIND STUDENTS OF THE TIME REMAINING TO COMPLETE THE TASK. Check with groups to see whether they need more time. Be flexible.
After the Group Work – Report and Reflection
BRING THE CLASS TOGETHER AND ASK GROUPS TO SHARE THEIR WORK. Highlight main issues learned from the groups, possibly use the board or the overhead projector to summarize. Provide feedback on both the content and the group process.
REFLECT ON THE GROUP WORK AND STUDENT LEARNING AND INCORPORATE WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED INTO YOUR PLANNING FOR THE NEXT CLASS.