Skip to main content

Practical Suggestions to Improve Student Group Work

Team members work together to put stick notes on wall

Working in groups is an important component of authentic and real-life classroom experiences in most subject matters (Caruso & Woolley, 2008). Afterall, teamwork is one of the crucial career-readiness competencies employers look for, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Yet the well-known challenges that come with it cannot be overlooked. You may have heard statements like: “I just did all the work because I didn’t trust anyone else with my grade”, or “I ended up doing everything because my peers didn’t respond/do their part.”

In a recent Insight Higher Ed article, Christina Katopodis shares practical tips to improve your students’ group work success. They include:

1. Students select their roles and responsibilities.

Prompt students to reflect on what skills and strengths they have that can support the group. For example, students may add that they are “patient”, “organized”, “timely”, or “like to edit documents”. You can also suggest roles and responsibilities that they could rank in order of preference to help you form groups (learn more about this in a previous CTL blog post). Taking time for students to reflect might seem like an extra step, but this method resembles how teams are often formed in the workforce: Employees who specialize in certain topics or show certain skill sets take on parts of the project that require that knowledge/skills.

2. Provide task checklists and schedule check-ins.

Each group member will need a checklist of the tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines. You can assign tasks to specific roles upfront, or team members can decide together who will take on what task. Students can submit the checklists at the end of the project and you can use them to help you determine final grades for each individual. In addition, ask students to review their checklists and reflect on the challenges they faced and why, how they overcame them, and what they are still learning about themselves as collaborators and project managers.

3. Foster and measure collaboration.

In the task lists and/or assignment instructions, include four reflection prompts that support collaboration by requiring students to take on these manageable and important actions:

  • I asked my group member(s) for help when [fill in blank]
  • I accepted help from my group member(s) when [fill in blank]
  • I offered to help my group member(s) when [fill in blank]
  • I helped my group member(s) to [fill in blank]

Prompting students to ask for help and to help others encourages them to accept support, ask for it when needed, and normalize needing help.  

Just like scaffolding the road for students to achieve course learning outcomes, scaffolding teamwork skills into small and manageable tasks that are laid out clearly for students and demonstrate our expectations, supports a successful learning experience. Try it out and let us know what you think by sharing a personal teaching story!


Caruso, H.M., & Wooley, A.W. (2008). Harnessing the power of emergent interdependence to promote diverse team collaboration. Diversity and Groups. 11, 245-266.