Group work is an integral part of encouraging learning and motivating pupils to engage in activities which can help with the developing of thinking skills, ways of communicating and how to arrive at and make decisions. It’s an aspect of any lesson though which needs considered planning and careful facilitating to ensure that multiple factors are monitored so that pupils achieve the best outcome possible.

The main elements of group work

The overall aim of any group work is to produce a positive experience for those taking part and a number of studies including Astin (1997) and Tinto (1998) have evidenced that this kind of classroom learning style enhance learning, improved attendance rates and lead to higher achievement and success results.

When tackling group work, certain skills can be reinforced which include:

  • Being able to break a task into different steps
  • Time management
  • Planning
  • Discussion skills
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Improved communication
  • Learning to assign or delegate roles
  • Working as a collaborative
  • Resolving differences of opinion

Whilst the development and achievement of all these skills is the desirable outcome, simply setting a group work task and giving free rein does not mean that much – or indeed any – positive outcome may be achieved. Group work requires the initial design by the teacher, supervision through either distance facilitation or one to one discussion during the activity and to be assessed after the activity and during the time the task is being undertaken to ensure it is moving in the right direction.

Preparation for group work

Group work requires direction from the teacher from the outset. This means preparing the pupils by pre-determining the size of the groups and assessing how this will work within the classroom space. There needs to be enough space for work to take place – can the work of one group be overheard and potentially be copied by another?

Ground rules are essential and this can be an activity in itself as an icebreaker as a pre-cursor to the main task. The class must realise that there must be respect for each other, listening must take place and that all must have equal contribution.

As a teacher, it’s necessary to know what you want the group to achieve on two levels; personal development such as social interaction skills as well as academic achievement.

The task should be challenging – it will be a way to pool skill sets, stimulate every member of each group and realise particular strengths of the individual which when added to the other strengths create a whole which can achieve success in a much more challenging task than one tackled individually.

The task must have enough time assigned to it so that the groups are driven but not rushed. Always allow some plenary time for the presentation of the results of each group and for discussion to take place and for feedback to be given – question and answer is a good method as it means that exploration of thinking skills can be undertaken by the teacher and group processes shared as a whole class learning exercise.

The overall point to remember is that group work should never be assigned for the sake of it; as a change to the usual style of classroom time for example. The only time group work should be utilised is when there is an actual collaborative benefit to the pupils in relation to the desired activity as well as personal development outcome.