effective group work strategies

Getting Realistic about Group Work

It’s no wonder employers highly value college grads that are already good team players (Finley, 2021), not only because the ability to collaborate is key to professional success but also because developing this skill set is no easy task. As faculty, we know this all

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Assessing the Group Instead of Individuals

Students often avoid discussing how they’re working together in a group, especially if the subject is the group’s effectiveness. I think we sometimes forget how uncomfortable group work makes students feel. They do all sorts of things with each other socially, but those activities don’t

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A Group Work Classic with New Recommendations

“Lessons From the Best and Worst Team Experiences: How a Teacher Can Make the Difference”—that’s the title of a 1999 article by Donald R. Bacon, Kim A. Steward, and William S. Silver that was published in the Journal of Management Education. It’s a fine piece

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A Vision for Effective Group Dynamics

I’ve been doing some work on resources related to group work and have been impressed yet again by the amount of scholarship being done on groups both in classrooms and online. Faculty use and study groups in virtually every field. And as a sidebar, I

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time to evaluate

A Solution to the Free Rider Problem in Group Activities

Group activities are an excellent way to improve student learning in an online course. But they invariably raise the free-rider problem—the student who does not contribute his or her fair share of the effort. This is particularly bothersome to students when there is one group

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Group Work: What Do Students Want from Their Teammates?

Providing students with useful information about how to function effectively when they work in groups stands a good chance of improving what the group produces. It also helps students develop important skills they can use in group activities in college and beyond. Providing the information

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group work

Five Things Students Can Learn through Group Work

I often get questions about group work. Recently, the question was phrased like this: “Can students learn anything in groups?” And, like faculty sometimes do, this questioner proceeded with the answer. “I don’t think my students can. When they work in groups

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Many of us know by now that didactic lecture is incongruent with student learning: receiving information passively tends to disengage students, which is likely to result in undesirable learning outcomes. Even though lecture remains the predominant form of teaching, collaborative learning has been a popular educational approach representing a significant shift away from the traditional lecture-centered setting in college classrooms. In collaborative learning, students work in groups, focus on exploring the course materials, and search for understandings and solutions, all of which are effective ways to motivate and help students engage in effortful thinking and active learning (Laal & Ghodsi, 2012). But it is also common that students in collaborative learning may have off-topic discussions, frustrate themselves, and even feel like they’re wasting their time. To overcome such drawbacks, the instructor can step away from the lectern and move around the classroom during collaborative learning.

  1. The instructor listens for trends emerging from the group discussions, responding to any questions or concerns students raise. This provides the opportunity for an open exchange of ideas between students and the instructor. Students will receive timely and supportive feedback, which promotes their personal connectedness and competency in learning materials, thus resulting in increased conceptional gains.
  2. The instructor will also be able to determine what students are struggled with and what their misconceptions might be. It provides valuable feedback about students’ understanding and helps the instructor decide when to move forward. The instructor can then address these misconceptions directly when the class reconvenes as a full unit.
  3. When high-quality interactions occur between students and the instructor during collaborative learning, the instructor increasingly supports students’ autonomy for learning and engagement in a coordinated effort to solve the problem collectively. This improves student-student and student-instructor connections and establishes a positive learning atmosphere. In addition, the instructor can bring disengaged students back into the discussion by encouraging and talking with them, which increases their self-esteem and helps them develop positive attitudes toward the class. 

While many faculty may already do this and might see it as their responsibility to circulate among groups, some might still stand back and leave groups alone, afraid of interfering group functioning. If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can devote some time for students to work on their own before getting involved, giving them some instructions or hints as needed to accomplish the task, without providing answers right away.

Involvement in learning, involvement with other students, and involvement with the instructor are key factors that make an overwhelming difference in student retention and success in college.  By circulating through the classroom during collaborative learning, instructors involve students more actively in the learning process, which also invites students to build closer connections to their peers and the instructor. The classroom becomes more of an interdependent community for students in which everyone is welcome to join, participate and grow, and this can boost students’ participation, engagement, and achievement.


Laal, M., & Ghodsi, S. M. (2012). Benefits of collaborative learning. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 486–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.091

Yunteng He, PhD, is a chemistry instructor at Central Community College in Kearney, Nebraska.