Making Group Work Work

Arranging your class into groups before having a larger discussion can be an effective way to increase participation and reach more in-depth conversations; however, group work also carries the risk of groups getting off track. Here are some tips & things to think about before going forward with group work discussions. 



If you know your class dynamics well, consider prearranging your group members:

  •            do you want your strongest students evenly distributed?
  •             your most vocal students?
  •             your ELL students?
  •             students who keep up with the reading?

How many group members do you want per group? Too few members may not have enough opinions. Too many will allow some students to stay silent.

  •             4 members per group typically works well, but adjust according to activity.

Will you assign roles for each group member?

  •            E.g., One person must make an argument, one must ask a question, one must find textual evidence, one facilitates discussion, one takes notes…

Choosing Topics:

Aim for specific questions/topics rather than broad ones.

  •             -If groups are discussing a text, try to focus on a specific section of the text (so students aren’t scrambling to find passages)

Decide whether you will give different topics to each group, or whether each group will discuss the same topic .

Have your desired final class discussion in mind when choosing your topics.



Visit each group as they are discussing your topics.

  •             Give them a few minutes to discuss on their own before visiting.

Spend a good amount of time with each group, and give input – you still need to guide discussion to a certain extent.

Come prepared with points, page numbers, etc. for each topic in case groups need extra guidance.



Go around the class and ask for each group to share their thoughts on the topic.

Respond to each contribution, prompting further discussion as you see fit.

If a group discussed a (good) point with you and didn’t tell it to the class, specifically ask them to speak about it.

If you want to hear every person’s voice in the discussion, make sure you tell them when you initially hand out topics (i.e., “I expect everyone to contribute to the discussion today, so make sure your group decides who will be saying what”).




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