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Integrating Group Work into Your Classroom

This page includes information on:

  • Student roles within groups
  • Ideas for Peer Discussion
  • Additional Resources
  • Return to the Collaborative Learning page

Student Roles Within Groups

Within each group, students will assume certain roles.

Preferred Student Roles*

  • Leader / Explainer
  • Collaborator (Listener and Explainer)
  • Listener
  • Recorder

*social identity (e.g. gender identity, social status) can influence a student’s preferred role.

Problems to watch for:

  • “The Dominator”: student(s) with perceived or actual conceptual mastery, high self-efficacy, high self-confidence
  • “The Subordinate”: student(s) with language difficulties and/or who do not perceive the value of peer collaboration

    Caution, Student Experience May Vary! Social identities impact a student’s experience in peer discussion:

    Eddy, S. L., et al. 2015. Caution, student experience may vary: Social identities impact a student’s experience in peer discussion. CBE – Life Sci. Educ. 14.4: ar45.

Structuring Peer Discussion

The following images are options for structuring peer discussion and problem solving groups. Click on each image to view.

1. Jigsaw Plan

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.30.21 PMFirst, students meet in groups to discuss and research specific (assigned) aspects of a problem or question.  They are instructed to learn their assigned aspect well enough that each student can serve as an expert.

Second, new groups are formed with one expert from each of the former groups and they are each  accountable for their “piece” of the puzzle.  Then, the students address the problem or question as a whole.


2. “4-2-1”
arrow with same text below pictureFour students solve a complex problem

Two students solve a similar type of problem

One student solves another similar problem

This “4-2-1” structure leads up to the last problem and holds individuals  accountable throughout the process.


The 4 S process:

Student group work can be organized around a problem or case in the following way:

  1. Significant Problem:

    All the groups address a question, problem, or case with significance and the letter S in multi colorsconcrete aspects that ground the abstract elements.  The work that students do will demonstrate the “real world” aspect of the concept(s) of the class.

  2. Same Problem:

    Groups address the same problem simultaneously, so that they can compare answers and rationales at the end.

  3. Specific Choices:

    the letter S in multi colorsAs students work, they are asked to make specific, concrete choices and make decisions that use course concepts.  Each group is required to take a position.

  4. Simultaneous Reporting:

    Whether by a quick poll or by simultaneous presentation (turn in answers or hold a “gallery walk” of posters), simultaneous reporting avoids many of your groups saying that they decided the “same thing” as the first group.

    Additional Resources on Collaborative Learning

    1. Developing and Planning Group Work

    2. Forming and Facilitating Groups

    3. Evaluating Group Work (Process and Product)

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