Students can master group work by setting aims and embracing a systematic approach.
Students will have to do group work for assessments, so you should learn how to do it. Most jobs require teamwork too, so working in groups now is a good idea. You can also start your own voluntary study groups to learn better and enjoy your studies more. Below we have some specific ideas for how to tackle group work more comfortably.
Note: As AI tools develop, jobs and study will both become more focused on human relationships, human communication, and the things humans do better than machines. Group work is one example.
Assigned group work for students
Some students don’t like group work. They may feel resistant to the idea that other students’ performance may affect their grade. Some may have personalities or neuro-differences that make socialising a challenge. Also, students speaking English as a second or third language may have obstacles to talking aloud and improvising.
These are valid concerns. We hope your teaching staff have thought of these things and designed their assignments to be supportive. Either way, there are things you can do to make the process more comfortable and beneficial.
As mentioned above, you can make group work more enjoyable and successful by identifying clear aims (for yourself and as a group) and by adopting systems and methods to clarify the process. Here are a few specific ideas to get you started…
Start early to make connections: As soon as you know your group, get to know the people. For example, go for tea, have a walk, play a game. Food and drink can make your group feel more comfortable and friendly.
Getting to know each others’ personalities, life situations etc. can help build relationships and trust. You will be more empathetic and want to help each other succeed more.
Talk about it: Actively discuss the purpose of the assignment with your group mates. Identify common aims as well as individual ones.
This discussion can motivate you and help you see the point of putting in effort. Think about which skills you want to practice for the jobs you might want. Skills might be collaboration, design, communication, research, project management….
Use a system or structure: Agree and document aims, mutual expectations, individual roles and obligations, times and places to meet.
You can even agree rules or conditions, such as:
- phones off during meetings
- no texts after 7pm
- use a shared Word doc to collect ideas
- everyone contributes 3 ideas by X date
Accept discomfort: It isn’t pleasant, but discomfort is a reality. Accepting it feels a lot better than resenting or denying it. So if you don’t like group work, tell yourself, OK I can handle this discomfort…and what can I do to feel better?
Seek support: Colleges and universities should have support for you if you need it. If group work or any circumstance in your life is causing you undue anxiety or difficulty, do speak to your teaching staff or your support services. They should offer some guidance. Support departments are usually staffed by smart, kind people who will treat you with care, respect, and privacy.
Study groups you form yourself
Study groups are groups you form by choice. You get together with other students to make studying your subject material more enjoyable and effective. To form an effective study group, follow the same advice as above. Make clear aims and use a system or approach to try to achieve those aims.
Important note: Don’t just “study”, do something. For example…
Reading groups: Sit and read together quietly at the library, later discussing the content over tea. Or: Meet at the café and read passages out loud to discuss immediately. Make notes to use in exams and written assignments.
Writing groups: Book a classroom or other space and meet to get work done on your written assignments. Work quietly and independently for set chunks of time (perhaps 25 minutes). Take breaks and share your progress with each other. Studies show that working in groups like this is motivating and helps people be productive. You can also sign up for an online Writing Retreat through University Material.
Discussion groups: Meet with classmates to practice vocabulary, debate perspectives, review ideas, solve problems, etc. This can help keep you focused on course materials and give you an excuse to do “spaced practice” (which is good for getting knowledge into long-term memory). Use different tools and materials like a whiteboard, sticky notes, coloured pens, or index cards.
In all of these examples, you can use aims and structure to help focus your group work. For example, at your first meeting, discuss and agree why, how, and where you want to work. Set your aims and expectations and agree how to use the time together, and the group will be more successful and focused.
Feeling pressed for time? Difficult to plan all your obligations and get things done? Check out our systems and tools for time management. These tools can help you get more done, do better work, and feel calmer straight away.
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