Group work is a powerful way to increase student learning of content while also assisting students with developing important interpersonal skills they will need in the workplace. However, developing effective group activities and monitoring group progress are challenging tasks. Here are a few tips to that increase group productivity:
- Consider whether a group activity will best achieve your course learning outcomes. Group work is most productive when it requires interdependence and individual accountability so keep these in mind as you develop group activities or assignments.
- Be sure students have adequate background knowledge for the group task. When students first learn content via a lecture or by reading the text or other materials, they will be more productive in the group atmosphere.
- Consider assigning students to groups. When students self-select groups, it may have a negative impact on minority and low ability students (Shimazoe & Aldrich, 2010). When students work with others who are different from them, critical thinking is also more likely.
- Train students on the group process. The 5R Approach to Group Work (Harrington, 2016) is a good framework for this process:
Get Ready to Work
Remember to Evaluate
- Encourage individual reflection prior to group work. Research shows that groups will generate more ideas of higher quality when they have time to independently reflect on the task first (Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991). For group projects of a more significant nature, assigning an individual project will help ensure that every group member is contributing to the group project. For example, consider assigning a paper prior to a group presentation topic so that everyone has background knowledge on the topic.
The Jigsaw Classroom Exercise is a great in class group activity that has been connected to high achievement (Walker & Crogan, 1998). This is in part due to the high level of interdependence and individual accountability that are built into this activity.