Group Work Doesn’t Have to be as Terrible as it Sounds!

As soon as a teacher says “group project” or “work in groups” suddenly your gut reaction of dread and probably loathing occurs. Why? Is group work really that bad?

Chances are, if you have the reaction like I just described, you probably either end up doing most of the work in a group project or you’ve witnessed someone else take over the project and you haven’t been able to participate.

This is working in groups executed poorly.

Image result for group work school bad

How can it be better? 

To make working in groups successful and facilitate learning, teachers should look into techniques for cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is different from your stereotypical group work scenario because it places the responsibility of learning on the students and the group members are reliant on each other to complete a task or gather all of the pieces of a concept. Without a member of the group participating, they cannot be successful.

Image result for cooperative learning

An important distinction to make is that between collaborative learning and cooperative learning.

Collaborative learning tends to follow more towards the trend of the hated group work, while cooperative learning allows for more interdependence and learning. This article explains it well:

Collaborative vs. cooperative learning


How do I use cooperative learning?

Below are several different examples of models of cooperative learning

  1. STAD (Student Teams-Achievement Divisions) 
    1. In this model, the teacher presents material and then the teams will get together to work on questions or activities to help solidify the information they have learned.
    2. Students take an individual quiz after the team time.
    3. Quiz scores can be compared to previous base scores to track improvement and encourage teamwork for better understanding.
    4. Recognize team members for their work or improvement over the weeks.
  2. Jigsaw II
    1. Students are split into groups and become experts on a topic.
    2. Students then return to teams made up of different experts in subjects.
    3. They share what they have learned and teach to learning team members the subject of interest.
    4. A quiz is given and improvement is tracked like in STAD.
  3. Co-op Co-op 
    1. Students create teams based on an area of interest.
    2. Within their groups, individual students will research a specific topic within that subject area.
    3. Students come back together to discuss their findings and present to the class what they have found.
    4. Students can be evaluated in any way deemed appropriate including quizzes, group discussions, or have no formal evaluation at all.
  4. Group Investigation
    1. This is very similar to co-op co-op with a few differences.
    2. The groups of students decide what they will be studying and what their specific focus will be individually.
    3. The teacher will help plan out how the students will study this.
    4. Students carry out the learning process in a variety of ways with little guidance from the teacher. They then come together to put what they have found together in a cohesive way.
  5. Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning
    1. Information is presented by the teacher and followed by open-ended questions.
    2. Students can then get into their own groups after writing questions of their own.
    3. They then discuss these questions with each other — they don’t have to know the answers!

Image result for cooperative learning

How can I make this work in my classroom?

Some ideas for incorporating this into the classroom could include:

  • Using Jigsaw II to have students learn about the organelles of the cells. Students could become experts on a specific organelle and report back to their group about different structures, functions, and importance.
  • Using Group Investigation, students can explore the topic of evolution. Some groups may choose to investigate how it has been perceived in education throughout the years, the different types of natural selection and how they can be seen in nature, how a specific organism seems to have evolved over the years, etc. The sky is the limit!

This video goes on to show how this is effective in the classroom and the value it adds to your limited time for teaching.


  1. Delaina, thanks so much! I’m with you completely on hating group projects in high school. Unless you were paired with equally motivated people who were willing to work together, not much was accomplished as a group. And I agree with you that cooperative learning has a ton of benefits! I also think you bring up a good point about asking the shy person in the group what their thoughts are because they can get left behind so easily. Everyone has something valuable to say, its just sometimes a matter of them saying it. But thanks again!

  2. Katie, thank you! I really enjoyed the meme as well when I found it. I think it’s important to recognize that collaboration and cooperation are not the same thing and this is how groups tend to be made less effective and stall learning. And thanks for the suggestion! I tried to cut down to as little text as possible with that, but there’s just a lot of important information to include. And yes, I agree that it is the goal to keep ALL of the students engaged in the classroom and find ways to help them get interested and feel a purpose.

  3. Bryce, thanks! I honestly do have that gut reaction usually when assigned group work because I just know that I’m either going to have to do the whole thing or fix it at the end to correct information, citations, grammar, or concepts being presented in general. After learning about cooperative learning, however, I think that I wouldn’t have that same reaction because it’s more about actually learning than trying to present something perfect for a grade. It also places more responsibility on everyone so I wouldn’t even have the opportunity in most cases to feel like I need to correct things. I think my favorite right now is probably Jigsaw II because I like how the responsibility is divided up. I also like co-op co-op and group investigation as well though since those give students more freedom to investigate topics that interest them and to ask more questions about science.

  4. Margaux,
    I really enjoyed reading your post! The way that you broke down the different types of cooperative learning made them easy to read and understand, and painted them in a more enjoyable light compared to traditional group work! My questions for you are, which is your preferred method of cooperative learning, and do you have the same gut reaction to group work that you describe in your first paragraph?

  5. Margaux,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog! The meme you included is perfect for the purpose of showing how group projects can go wrong. I also like how you included an article explaining the difference between collaborative and corporative learning. I feel like most people would think that these are the same thing, and this gives a good explanation on why they are not.
    If I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be to maybe divide up the different examples of cooperative learning. I really like that you included them, I think it was a good idea! There’s just a lot of text all together, and breaking it up may make it easier to read!
    I really like your ideas for incorporating cooperative learning into your classroom. After all shouldn’t it be our goal to keep ALL of our students engaged in the lesson?

  6. Hello Margaux!
    Great Post! You make awesome points. When I was in high school, I dreaded group work because I either ended up doing all of the work or not doing any of it. Not doing any of the work is just as bad as doing it all. I hate how rude and nasty some kids are. This “I am better than you” attitude will not fly in my class. I know what it is like to feel left out and for people to just want you in the group because you know the answer. I like your video and your graphics. The meme that you posted on here made me laugh because it is so true! I hated working in groups in high school. Now, however, I love it! I love working with students because cooperative learning has many benefits. They are that it teacher kids social skills, allows them to see things from another person’s point of view, it gives them new ideas and different ways of looking at things, and it can be enjoyable when done correctly. I suggest using one of the 4 strategies you described. I personally like Jigsaw II. I love the name and I love the concept because it gets everyone involved in putting a piece of the giant picture together. Adolescents love working with their peers and learning from them. You could make this happen for them by using cooperative learning. I have many suggestions in my post about how to carry this out. One is walking around the room and monitoring the groups. Another is asking the shy person about their opinion on a topic. Shy kids could have awesome ideas, but may not know how to express them. Finally, I love your biology connections and lessons. Using Jigsaw II with cell organelles is awesome. I used it with human biology systems, but both work well. I also like your evolution one. These lessons would work well. Awesome post!

    Delaina 🙂

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