Group Work: Techniques
See also Group Work: Design Guidelines
The instructor poses a question. Students are given time (30 seconds or one minute) to think of a response. Each student then pairs with another and both discuss their responses to the question. The instructor invites pairs to share their responses with the class as a whole.
Divide the class into groups of four. The instructor identifies a controversial topic in the field covered in the course and gathers material that gives information and background to support different views of the controversy. Students work with one partner, forming two pairs within the group of four. Each pair takes a different side of the issue. Pairs work outside of class or in class to prepare to advocate and defend their position. The groups of four meet, and each pair takes a turn stating and arguing its position while the other pair listens and takes notes without interrupting. Each pair must have a chance both to listen and take notes and to argue their position. Then all four talk together as a group to learn all sides of the issue. Next, each pair must reverse its position and argue the opposite position from the one it argued before. Lastly the group of four as a whole discusses and synthesizes all the positions to come up with a group report. There may be a class presentation in which each group presents its findings.
Instructor or students identify a number of significant articles on a topic. Each student individually outside of class writes a reflective commentary on one article. In class, students are randomly paired with another student who has written a commentary on the same article. The two partners read each other’s commentaries, comparing key points to their own commentary. Then the two students team-write a commentary based on a synthesis of both their papers.
Students in small groups sit in a circle and respond in turn to a question or problem by stating their ideas aloud as they write them on paper. The conversation can go around the circle, each student in turn, more than once if desired. After the roundtable, students discuss and summarize the ideas generated and report back to the class.
This can be used an icebreaker or as a tool to generate ideas and discussion. Ask each student to find one partner they don’t know well. Make sure everyone has a partner. You can use triads if there is an uneven number of students in the class. Students interview their partner for a limited amount of time using interview questions given by the instructor. Often questions are opinion- or experience-generated: How do you use writing in your daily life? Should premed students study holistic medicine? After a set time, students switch roles so that both get a chance to be interviewed. Then, join each pair with another pair to form a group of four. Each partner in a pair introduces the partner to the other pair and summarizes the partner’s responses. Other variations on this activity are possible.
Thinking-Aloud Paired Problem Solving
Students in pairs take turns thinking through the solution to a problem posed by the teacher. The student who is not the problem solver takes notes, and then the two students switch roles so that each student gets a chance to be both solver and note taker. Then they can go into larger teams or back to the class as a whole and report back about the solutions and the process.
Same as think-pair-share except that instead of reporting back to the entire class students report back to a team or class group of four to six.
Ask students to hand in a first draft of a writing assignment. Photocopy each paper and identify it with a number instead of the student’s name. Give each student in the class an anonymous paper to edit. It is helpful to give the students verbal and written guidelines for editing criteria. After the students edit a paper, each student receives the anonymous feedback from his or her unknown peer editor. It is often useful to have a class discussion about how this process worked for everyone.
Reciprocal Peer Questioning
The instructor assigns outside class reading on a topic. The instructor asks students to generate a list of two or three thought-provoking questions of their own on the reading. (Note that asking productive questions can be a new skill for students to learn; you may want to give some attention to this.) Students bring the questions they have generated to class. Students do not need to be able to answer the questions they generate. Students then break into teams of three to four. Each student poses her questions to the team and the team discusses the reading using the student-generated questions as a guide. The questions of each student are discussed within the team. The team may then report back to the class on some key questions and the answers they came up with.
At the GSI Teaching & Resource Center we have other material to help you plan and design group work activities. Come and visit us in 301 Sproul Hall, or send an email with your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.