Groupwork is vegemite of learning – students either love or hate it.

a jar of vegemite outside the library

If done well, it can be incredibly powerful. Students can learn a lot, have memorable experiences, improve their communication, negotiation skills, and achieve a lot.  

BUT

If done poorly, it’ll be a Hollywood-level drama featuring  ‘suckers’ who do all the work and ‘freeloaders’ who do nothing, rolled eyes, broken hearts or even loud swearing.

If we think about it, the most ‘drama’ comes from the fact that students get the same mark for their work (a bad practice – read more here), so making sure that students get individual marks for working in groups is essential.

But, the good news is you don’t have to ALWAYS use ‘formal’ groupwork to get some of the benefits of groupwork. You can use collaborative in-class activities to achieve some of the same benefits of groupwork (some examples below).

Being ‘short-lived’, they are not a full substitute for a well-designed groupwork project, just like a one-day getaway is not the same as a 4-week holiday… But, surely, a one-day getaway is still better than no holiday at all, right?

So here are my top 6 picks of in-class activities that can scaffold groupwork skills –

  1. Tickets game

What skills would you like to promote among students? For example, information sharing, asking for clarifications, politely disagreeing, staying focused, etc.

Create GREEN tickets, which list positive skills to practice, e.g.

This ticket allows you to share information

This ticket allows you to ask for clarification

This ticket allows you to disagree

This ticket allows you to get the discussion back on track

Create RED tickets, which list behaviours allowed only in moderation, e.g.

This ticket allows you to introduce a different topic (one not closely linked to the discussion)

This ticket allows you to express frustration without offering a constructive suggestion

Ask students to form groups to discuss a topic. Explain you’ll be playing the ‘ticket game’ , where you need to place a ticket on the table every time you want to make a relevant ‘conversational move’. When students are out of tickets, they need to stay quiet and let others talk.

The winners are students who have the least green tickets left, and the most red tickets.

Why use it?

It helps to ensure that the extraverted, louder students don’t dominate the discussion. It also turns uncomfortable conversational moves, like disagreeing or bringing the conversation back on track, into a game.

2. Think (write)-pair-share

A ‘classic’.

Step 1: Ask the student to think about a problem (question) on their own, write down their thoughts.

Step 2: Pair with someone and share your thoughts.

Step 3: Report back to the class.

Why use it?

It creates conditions for both individual reflection AND social learning. Hence, this technique has earned the ‘classic’ status.

MQ tip: Use the ‘text response’ in the Echo360 Active Learning Platform (ALP) to have the pairs share their notes on their discussion. Why? It allows students to learn from each other and creates accountability.

Other ideas for creating interactive activities using ALP.

3. Snowball

This is a collaborative brainstorm exercise. It starts with each student writing down ideas or keywords on a given topic. They then pair up with another person and create a combined list (without duplications). Pairs then join others and create a ‘master list’.

Variation: the group can be asked to select 3 best ideas to keep the list ‘short’.

Why use it?

It allows students to learn from each other and promotes accountability for one’s learning.

MQ tip: Use the ‘text response’ in the Echo360 Active Learning Platform to get larger groups to share their final lists.

4. Discovery (inductive) method

After some initial scaffolding on the topic, that can include some key ideas or setting the scene, students are provided with real-life examples or samples that they can use to ‘discover’ principles. Groups work on formulating a ‘hypothesis’ about these samples. For example, business students could be provided with several samples of financial reports and asked to formulate what is essential in a business report, or science students can be provided with descriptions of several lab experiments and asked to formulate the step-by-step experiment process.

Why use it?

It’s a great example of ‘discovery learning’. Rather than being ‘handed down’ information, students work on formulating their hypothesis, which in turn promotes ‘deep learning’.

MQ tip: Use the ‘text response’ in the Echo360 Active Learning Platform to get larger groups to share their hypothesis.

5.  Draw a mind-map or a diagram

Students work in pairs or groups to create a mind-map or a diagram of how they would organise the key information from a lecture or the tutorial.

Why use it?

It encourages students to organise their thoughts and learn from each other.

MQ tip: students can take photos of their map/diagram and share them via the ‘Q&A’ feature in ALP

6. Ask a ‘tricky’ question

Groups work on constructing challenging questions for other groups to answer. Groups get points for asking the best questions and for contributing the most answers.

Why use it?

It promotes critical thinking and deep learning.

MQ tip: Students can use the Q&A feature in ALP to share questions and reply to other students’ questions.

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Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught different courses, ranging from undergrad to PhD students. I then joined the Learning Innovation Hub, which I love. I'm passionate about good learning and teaching. Give me a shout if I can assist you in any way.

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