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In the know - Working together

Group work is a common classroom activity, but how do you get the best out of pupils and ensure that the groups are working effectively?

Remember that each individual has their own outlook, talents and skills, and will in some way be able to contribute positively to a group. The difficult task is to determine in which area it is exactly. This comes with knowing your pupils over time, so allow all pupils equal opportunity to speak and remind them that all contributions are valuable.

Groups tend to work best by consensus, but each group needs a leader. Make sure that everyone in the group knows what they have to do: leader, note-taker, reporter etc. Group work also needs a sense of purpose, so try assigning a group a task that is about helping others in the group. This provides a supportive context and means, for example, that the group is responsible for helping the reporter not to just report the findings to the task, but understand what the task was all about.

Keeping groups the same can be counterproductive, especially if the group has one person doing all the work and others sitting back and watching.

Tips for working in groups:

- Think carefully about grouping pupils so that they are productive, rather than just friendship groups.

- Conflict is fine within a group.

- Disagreements are usually fruitful, highlighting different points of view and approaches to problems.

- A group that never disagrees probably only has one person doing anything.

- Shouting and swearing are not acceptable and disagreements should never be personal.

- Responsibility of individuals is crucial to a group's success.

- Each person has a responsibility to help the group to work.

- Regularly change roles within a group.

James Williams is a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex.

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