Group work is a powerful instructional strategy that encourages deep engagement with content through active and social learning. Successful group assignments and activities allow students to exercise collaborative skills in order to create something together that individually they would not, or could not. Group work can be done as a semester-long project, a short activity confined to part of a class session, or anything in between. It can be adapted to in-person, hybrid, or online classes.

While educational literature seems clear that collaborative learning benefits students [1], some students and instructors are resistant to it due to the complications of working on a team or because of bad experiences in the past. By carefully designing group work in accordance with best practices, common pitfalls can be avoided and group work can successfully help students engage in the course and learn from each other.

Best Practices

  • Design group assignments/activities around a question or problem that requires interaction and collaboration. Activities that require consensus building or problem solving often work best.
  • Devote time to team building and learning how to work with others. It may be helpful to discuss different communication styles with students. One instructor asked students to identify the strengths they brought to the group at the beginning, which helped them work together [2].
  • Present group work to students as an opportunity to improve their soft skills as a way to motivate them.
  • Embrace diversity. Try to consider diversity and inclusion when creating groups, and coach students on intercultural communication [2].
  • Provide resources for success. Include specific guidelines, exemplars, rubrics, and other information students need to do well. Allow students to spend their time on group logistics and content instead of guessing what success looks like.
  • Use frequent or multiple intermediate deadlines for long-term group assignments. This allows students to check in with the instructor and make sure they are on the right path.
  • Create a high degree of individual accountability within the group assignment. This might include incorporating both team and individual aspects, allowing group members to privately evaluate each other, or both [3]. Creating accountability can minimize social loafing and encourage everyone to participate.
  • Create interdependence among group members. Perhaps each person has a designated role on the team, or maybe the activity requires input from each individual. This can also be achieved by assigning group tasks with enough complexity that students must tackle them together [3].
  • When using group work as a summative assessment, use several methods of evaluation to more effectively review the final product, the process of working collaboratively, and individual contributions [1].


  • An engineering instructor asks students to spend one class period constructing a working model that demonstrates principles they learned in the previous class.
  • A business instructor assigns a semester-long project in which students draw from each unit to submit a business proposal, which includes a written proposal and a presentation.
  • A physics or mathematics professor asks students to work on a problem individually and then complete the same problem in small groups for a few minutes before polling them on whether they achieved the same results both times. She then completes the problem herself to show the students the correct process and answer. This is known as a think-pair-share.
  • An international relations professor assigns a group debate where teams of three must collaborate to form an argument and counterargument.

References and Additional Resources


[1] Rafferty, Patricia, 2012. International Journal of University Teaching and Faculty Development. “The assessment and evaluation of group work: A case study of graduate student experiences and perceptions of positive group work outcomes.”

[2] Reid, Robin and Kyra Garson, 2017. Journal of Studies in International Education. “Rethinking multicultural group work as intercultural learning.”

[3] Carnegie Mellon University. “What are best practices for designing group projects?

Further Exploration

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