Managing group work (3)

The problem being addressed in this technique

Critics of group work often accuse teachers of adopting 'wooly' approaches where students sit as a group but do not work as a group. They claim that teachers allow individuals to dominate with some opting out and contributing little. The next 3 examples in 'technique of the week' will focus on managing group activity so that these criticisms are addressed.

1. (31 January): how to ensure all group members participate in brainstorming.

2. (7 February): how to ensure all members of a group have a designated role.

3. (14 February): how to organise a group research activity that meets the needs of a wide range of skill levels.



Principle 3

“Great teachers create a safe, welcoming, and trusting learning environment with fair, clear, consistent, and public systems of classroom management. Group activity is purposeful and well structured.”


Group work that offers challenge and support (one of 29 techniques in Chapter 3)

Critics of group work righly point out that where there is a wide range of ability in group activity there is a danger of some students coasting and others struggling. The jigsaw technique addresses this issue by providing a task structure that can challenge the most able and provide support for those who might struggle.


42. Jigsaw or Envoy

The plan is to produce an article for a history magazine on Victorian England. (Teachers can choose any topic for this tecchnique.) The teacher has defined four sections for the article: crime, poverty, factories and the workhouse.


Teachers select the groups. Using their knowledge of the students, The teacher does not place the confident learners and those who lack confidence together but allocates them to different groups to to ensure that each group is balanced, representing the ability range within the class.


Stage 1. Members of a small group of four are each allocated responsibility for researching one aspect of Victorian life (e.g. crime), with the support of a scaffold produced by the teacher or TA. These groups become 'focus' groups. The scaffolds can be designed to be more or less challenging as the teacher wishes, so that, for example, the scaffold on poverty might require a more in-depth analysis than the task on crime. The teacher must ensure that the allocation of tasks within each group is appropriate, with the most confident taking responsibility for the most challenging activity and the less confident working on a less demanding task.

Stage 2. Each student joins others from the other groups allocated the same topic so you now have 4 different focus groups. In a class of 28 students there might be 7 students in each focus group. The research on each group table can be conducted collaboratively, making use of peer support, but individuals must produce a summary sheet of their own. Because the students are working on appropriately levelled tasks, teachers and teaching assistants can join each group and offer the right level of challenge or support.

Stage 3. Having conducted the research with others and produced a summary sheet in line with the instructions on the scaffold, students return to their original group and teach the others all the things they learnt in their research. The original group now produces the final article for the magazine with contributions from all four learners.

The diagram below assumes a class of 16 with 4 groups of 4 learners. The three stages are shown, with focus groups in stage 2.


To get all the 29 techniques in Chapter 3, Principle 3 go here

To get all 157 techniques for all 7 principles go here

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