Forming Groups

Word cloudYou may have an in-class activity all ready to go, but have you considered how you will divide your class into groups so they can perform these activities? While group work involves many considerations, including defining roles and expectations, performing evaluations, and possibly switching groups over the course of the semester - you must also determine how you will initially group your students. The course content, student makeup, physical learning space, and much more will all effect what approach makes sense for your class. To help you craft your approach to forming groups, we offer a summary of common concepts and approaches in higher education.

Group Goals

Before creating groups, it is important to understand what you hope to accomplish through group work. Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity offers five goals for good groups.

Positive Interdependence

In a good group, students will need to rely on each other.

Source: Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.4. Washington, DC, The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Individual Accountability

Each student will be responsible for doing their fair share of work and mastering course material.

Source: Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.4. Washington, DC, The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Face-to-Face Interaction

Some of the group work must be spent with members physically working together.

Source: Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.4. Washington, DC, The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Appropriate Use of Interpersonal Schools

Students will learn how to utilize leadership, communication, conflict management, and decision-making skills.

Source: Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.4. Washington, DC, The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Self-Assessment

Students will reflect on how they and their group are performing, identifying how they could improve.

Source: Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.4. Washington, DC, The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Types of Groupings

There are different approaches to grouping students. The following is an overview of the different methods.

Functional Mode

This approach involves grouping students based on certain criteria. For example, if students will be expected to meet outside class, it could be important to cluster students that live on the same campus. Similarly, some instructors ask students to provide their free time and use this information to match up students who will be able to find common times to meet.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Heterogeneous

Heterogamous groups are formed to ensure diversity in its members. Diversity could refer to ethnicity, gender, learning styles, grade point average, verbal skills, and much more. A diverse group can both ensure that students benefit for different perspective. It also increases the opportunity for weaker students to learn from stronger students.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Mixed Expertise

If students will be expected to work on projects that draw on a variety of skills, you might consider forming groups by equally distributing students with certain skills. For example, in a class where students will build a web site, you might want to form teams with students possessing expertise in web design, video, and writing.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Mixed Mode

In this approach, the instructor makes groups after receiving input from students. For example, students could be asked to confidentially list students they would like to work with or not like to work with. The instructor could then form heterogeneous groups using that input.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Proximity

This method involves simply asking students to cluster with those they are already sitting by. This approach is quick and easy, but also invites students to group with students they may have already self-selected to sit by. An additional unintended consequence of proximate grouping can be that students who are late will often end up sitting next to each other, resulting in future classes where most or all of a group may be missing at the start of class.

Random

Random grouping is a quick way to try to avoid self-selecting and accomplish some heterogeneity without being overly time intensive. Random groups can be formed according to birthdays, by giving out playing cards, or by simply calling off numbers.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Self-Selection

Instructors can invite students to form their own groups. While this approach might be popular among the students, there are potential drawbacks. Self-selected groups are likely to be homogenous. Students who did not have a group to naturally join may fee like outsiders. Also, groups that are self-formed may be more likely to engage in unproductive behavior.

Adapted in part from: Forming Groups. http://www.case.edu/ucite/media/caseedu/ucite/documents/Forming-Groups.pdf. Accessed on Nov. 11 2016.

Methods of Creating Groups

The following methods can be used to form the different types of groups listed above.

CATME

CATME is a free, online set of tools designed for class management. With CATME's Team Selector tool, you can import your roster and even ask students to fill out a customized survey to include other information - such as demographics, interests, or schedules - that might be useful in forming groups. CATME will then divide your class into groups based on your specified preferences. Visit CATME's home page to request a free account and get started..

Categories

Create index cards that each fit into one of a number of categories that match the number of groups you wish to create. Categories can be chosen to test and reinforce class material. Randomly pass the cards out and have the students find their groups by seeking out students with cards belonging to the same category. This approach can double as an ice breaker at the beginning of the semester. Example categories include defunct political parties, toxic heavy metals, bones of the hand.

Questions and Answer Cards

Hand out index cards to the entire class, half of which have questions relating to class content; half of which have the answers. Instruct students to find their partner by comparing their questions and answers.

Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 10. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Quick Division

Split your class into roughly equal halves by having students self sort according to information like date of birth or height. Students with odd-numbered birthdays or months or students with odd-numbered inches in their height could form a group or work on one task while even-numbered students make up the second half.

Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 10. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Trio Rotation

Tillett 204 seating chartRutgers-NB's general-purpose Active Learning Classrooms feature group tables that each accommodate three groups of three, labeled "A," "B," and "C." For activities that require students to rotate groups, begin by having students work in their letter groups. Then have the student on the left rotate clockwise, the center student remain seated, and the right student rotate counter-clockwise. Repeat three times and students will return to their original seats.

Adapted in part from: Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 10-11. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

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