Math Group Work Strategies

Group Work That Works

When you bring up the subject of working in groups, you are likely to be asked penetrating questions and given constructive feedback. The most significant issues, in the opinion of our target demographic: When only one or two students do all of the work, it might be challenging for introverts, and it isn’t fair to grade individuals based on the group’s performance.

However, the evidence indicates that there is some benefit to working in groups at least occasionally.

According to Dr. Keith Sawyer, a researcher on creativity and collaboration as well as the author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, “the most effective creative process alternates between time in groups, collaboration, interaction, and conversation… [and] times of solitude, where something different happens cognitively in your brain.” [Citation needed] Sawyer is the author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.

Therefore, in order to discover the answers that other educators have developed for these widespread issues, we searched through our previous posts and reached out to them via Facebook.


“How many times have we put students in groups only to see them interact with each other through the screens of their laptops rather than with each other?” Or whine about a slacker on the team?” suggests Mary Burns, a former middle school and high school teacher of French, Latin, and English who now provides professional development in the area of technological integration.

It’s possible that unequal involvement is the most common gripe that people have about doing group work. However, an examination of Edutopia’s archives, together with the tens of thousands of insights we receive in the form of comments and replies to our articles, showed a number of techniques that educators employ to promote equal participation in their classrooms. Them include enhancing the level of accountability among members and cultivating a group work dynamic that is productive. Additionally, creating clear expectations for group work is one of these.

Establishing group standards is the first stage in conducting any kind of group activity at Aptos Middle School, which is located in San Francisco. Science instructor Taji Allen-Sanchez, who teaches sixth and seventh grade, writes a list of objectives on the whiteboard, including phrases like “help others accomplish things for themselves” and “everyone contributes.”

The George Lucas Foundation for Educational Excellence
Mikel Grady Jones, a high school math teacher in Houston, takes it a step further by having her pupils sign a group contract for more difficult assignments. In the contract, the students agree on how they would divide the chores and on expectations such as “we all vow to accomplish our job on time.” An English middle school teacher in Los Angeles named Heather Wolpert-Gawron recommends beginning the school year by drafting a classroom contract with your students. This will allow you to refer back to the norms that were previously agreed upon whenever a new activity involving a group is initiated.

Size of the group: Although this is an easy problem to solve, the size of the groups can have a role in determining whether or not the dynamics are appropriate. Students are less likely to be able to get away with hiding while the work is finished by others in smaller groups. This is generally seen to be an advantage.

According to Burns, nonparticipation becomes more challenging when there is less space available for people to hide in. She advises groups of four to five kids, although Brande Tucker Arthur, a biology teacher who teaches the 10th grade in Lynchburg, Virginia, recommends even smaller groups of two or three students.

Printout of the Group Work Roles
These cards, which include role descriptions, responsibilities, and sentence stems, are printed out by teachers at University Park Campus School in Worcester, Massachusetts, in order to scaffold the usage of group work in the context of mathematics instruction.
PDF 584.67 KB
Roles that have significance: Students can be held accountable in a variety of ways, and roles can be one of those ways; however, not all roles are helpful. A job such as materials manager, for example, will not actively engage a student in contributing to a group problem; in order for the roles to be meaningful and interdependent, both of these requirements must be met.

Students at University Park Campus School in Worcester, Massachusetts, which serves students in grades 7 through 12 and is located in that city, take on highly interdependent roles such as summarizer, questioner, and clarifier. During the course of an ongoing project, the person in charge of asking perceptive questions about the issue at hand and providing a few potential solutions to that issue is known as the questioner. Meanwhile, the person in charge of clarifying the situation works to dispel any misunderstandings, restates the issue, and chooses a potential approach that the team will use as they move forward with the project.

A handout that was handed to a student who was given the responsibility of serving as a clarifier.
With kind permission from the University Park Campus School
Cards containing role descriptors and tasks are printed and distributed by University Park Campus School.
Random Team Generator is used at Design 39, a K–8 school in San Diego, to randomly assign groups and roles, but ClassDojo, Team Shake, and selecting kids’ names from a container are also viable options. Students in Design 39 engage in a method of learning known as vertical learning, in which they carry out group projects in public and write out their thought processes on whiteboards to promote group feedback. Students are presented with a variety of approaches to problem-solving, become more at ease with making mistakes, are encouraged to work together, and are given the opportunity to utilise a variety of skill sets throughout the course of each project as a result of the combination of randomising teams and public sharing.

The George Lucas Foundation for Educational Excellence
It is essential to ensure that a project is both tough and interesting in order to provide rich assignments. A problem is said to be rich in its job if it may be solved in more than one method, and if a single individual would have difficulties addressing the problem on their own.

In the eighth grade math class at Design 39, one recent rich work investigated the topic of how monetary investments expand. Groups were given the job of solving exponential growth problems using both simple and compound interest rates.

Not only the math classroom can benefit from rich tasks. When Dan St. Louis was an English teacher, he encouraged his students to come up with a group definition of the word “Orwellian.” Now, Dan St. Louis is the principal of University Park. They did this by using a strategy known as the jigsaw method, which is a form of grouping method that was recognised as very successful in John Hattie’s research Visible Learning.

According to St. Louis, there may be five distinct groups of five kids each reading a different news item on the modern world. “After that, each student would join a new group of five where they would need to explain their previous group’s piece to each other and establish links to each,” the teacher would say. The group is then tasked with developing an explanation of the term “Orwellian” by making use of these links. Watch this video from Cult of Pedagogy to get an additional illustration of the jigsaw strategy.


The effects of group projects on students who prefer to work alone are a source of concern for educators. It has been suggested by some of our instructors that offering individuals who tend to be more reserved a choice in the company they keep can assist in making them feel more at ease.

According to Shelly Kunkle, an experienced educator at Wasawee Middle School in North Webster, Indiana, “even the most reserved pupils are typically at ease and confident when they are with peers with whom they connect.” Wolpert-Gawron gets her students to write down the names of four classmates with whom they would want to collaborate, and then she makes sure to link each kid with someone from that list.

Introverts are protected from being overshadowed by their more extroverted classmates by having clearly defined roles within groups, such as questioners and clarifiers. Having clearly defined roles within groups also provides structure for students who may be less comfortable operating within complex social dynamics.

@Edutopia’s Vertical Learning at the Design 39 Conference
At Design 39, a K-8 school located in San Diego, California, the job of the scribe is to record what is being discussed by the group in written form.
Last but not least, keep in mind that introverted students frequently need need time to recharge their batteries. As long as they receive some quiet time and privacy to recharge, many introverts do not mind and even like socialising in groups as long as they have the opportunity to do so. “It’s not about being shy or about feeling insecure in a huge group,” explains Barb Larochelle, who taught high school English in Edmonton, Alberta, for 29 years before retiring recently. Larochelle taught for a total of 29 years.

I structured the classes so that there would be some time for students to work quietly by themselves, some time for students to interact in smaller groups or as a complete class, and some time for students to stand up and move around a bit. A full class of any one of those is likely to be challenging for one of the groups, but finding the right balance is important.


The grading of collaborative projects presents many challenges. Frequently, you do not have a crystal clear knowledge of what each student knows, and the lack of effort by just one student can completely derail the grade for the group. Strategies that provide a window into each student’s knowledge and contributions include those that require public presentations from groups, as well as those that require meaningful roles to be assigned to members of the group.

However, not every piece of classwork has to be graded. There are a large number of individual assignments that are graded, in addition to a large number of additional possibilities for formative evaluation. However, the group work that Suzanna Kruger, a high school science teacher in Seaside, Oregon, assigns to her students is not graded.

John McCarthy, an education consultant and adjunct professor at Madonna University for the graduate department for education, is a former high school English and social studies teacher. He recommends using group presentations or group products as a non-graded review for a test. McCarthy is also currently employed as an education consultant. But if you want to grade the work that was done in groups, he suggests that you make all of the academic assessments that were done within the group work into individual assessments. For instance, rather than marking a presentation made by a group, McCarthy gives each student an essay to write and then evaluates. The students then use these individual essays to compile their group presentation.

Paper, tape, and scissors are being used in a collaborative effort by the students as they work on a project.
University Park Campus School students studying precalculus in the 11th grade are working together to construct a polynomial cube out of cardboard.
Self and peer evaluations are used by fifth-grade teacher Laura Moffit in Wilmington, North Carolina, to shine light on how each kid is contributing to group work. The evaluation process begins with a lesson on how to conduct an objective review. According to a comment that Moffit made on Facebook, all pupils need to do is circle the appropriate response to three to five things about their partners. “At that point, you should hand the evaluations back to each individual member of the group. A rude awakening can be caused by discovering what people’s honest opinions of your performance are.

And Ted Malefyt, who teaches middle school science in Hamilton, Michigan, carries a clipboard with the class list formatted in a spreadsheet with him as he moves about the classroom to check on his pupils as they are engaged in group work.

According to Malefyt, “By using this spreadsheet, you will have your own record of which student is fulfilling your objectives and which student requires additional assistance.” “As the formative evaluation is taking place, simply document in a hurry with checkmarks.”