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Using Student Groups in Your Teaching 

This post was crafted in collaboration with Rebecca Taub (Brown University), Petra Bonfert-Taylor,Erin DeSilvaPrudence Merton, and Kes Schroer (Dartmouth).

Students in a group meeting.Group work can take many forms, from short discussions to term-long projects. In our Active Learning Canvas site, we have resources on many activities that could be group based, such as Case Study ApproachCreating a Shared Knowledge BasePeer Instruction, and of course Team-Based Learning

Whether you are considering one of these ideas or perhaps trying one of your own, you may find these six essential planning questions to be helpful.

This is a visual representation for the 6 questions for convening groups. This list is broken down in headings below.


  • Groups can solve more complex tasks than an individual
  • Model the practice of what is actually happening in your professional field
  • Encourage team-building skill development

Who are your partners?

  • Who needs to be involved? What will they do?
  • How much time do you have to plan?
  • Is there training needed?
  • When will you debrief & reflect?

What do you want to assess and evaluate?

  • Consider the difference(s) between assessment and evaluation.
  • What are valid types of assessments and evaluations for your task (see question 1)?
  • Should students be assessed as individuals or as a collective? Consider how UDL contributes to assessment tools.

How will the groups get formed?

  • How well do you know the students?
  • What are the important roles? (What is the importance of pushing students outside of comfort zone roles?)
  • What makes sense for your students?
  • Consider how UDL can enhance the student groups.
  • How long will this group be together?


Guiding questions for convening groups based on needs.
Duration Description Good For... Challenges
1 Class informal, formed quickly, random membership
  • Practicing conversations & reviewing knowledge
  • Building allies
  • Groupthink & promoting class conversation
  • More homogeneous groups work well here.
  • Students might not know how they can contribute.
~1 Week meet in-class and outside of class, need to pay attention to group compositions
  • Building trust
  • Addressing some complex material
  • Instructors need to help students talk explicitly about the group process.
Entire Term form a community of learners, group compositions chosen carefully
  • Building trust
  • Addressing complex material, including material beyond the class
  • Accomplishing projects with multiple stakeholders
  • Need a charter, group norms
  • Need to get started right away

Identify time on task and content.

  • How will you facilitate the experience?
  • Consider students’ workload and learning objectives/outcomes.
  • Clearly state the expectations and allow for student discovery and inquiry based learning
  • Are there opportunities to scaffold the tasks?

What technology (if any) should we use?

  • If students are using their own technology, how do they get help?  “We can’t fix the internet for you!”
  • Plan time to consider/learn optimal technologies for group/individual task(s)
  • Will students submit digital documentation or project/experience? (see question 3)
  • What tools will help to accomplish the tasks? Add your recommendations!
  • Canvas Groups Feature (Links to an external site.): Gives students a space to share files & discussions.  They can also submit Group Assignments when you utilize this feature.
  • CATME Team Maker (Links to an external site.): Sends a survey to your students and places them in teams based on the results.
  • DartBox (Links to an external site.) - cloud document storage managed by Dartmouth


Slides from the Dartmouth Workshop on Using Student Groups in Your Teaching

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence site on Implementing Group Work (Links to an external site.)

Carnegie Mellon Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation site on Using Group Projects Effectively (Links to an external site.) Recommendations for Improving Group Work.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window and Promoting Teamwork in the Classroom.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

Group-Writing-The-Writing-Center.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH-1999-Springer-21-51.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

"My Students Don't Like Group Work" by Maryellen Weimer, PhD (aka "The Teaching Professor)

Resources for Forming Groups:

Resources for Facilitating Groups & Training on Group dynamics:

Resources for Assessing Groups:



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