Managing Collaborative Groups

Site: Colorado Education Learning Management System
Course: High Impact Instructional Strategies for Health Education
Book: Managing Collaborative Groups
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Monday, 15 April 2024, 12:45 AM


1. Background/Introduction

Students work together to help each other understand content, solve problems or create projects and products with the instructor working as a moderator or facilitator. Collaborative spaces in education trickled down from corporate “flex/open workspaces.” They were designed based on the understanding that interactivity and collaboration in small groups produces stronger solutions that would have not been reached individually and encourages sharing of research for enhanced learning. 

Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems. Similar to the idea that two or three heads are better than one, educational researchers have found that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions. This book will explore how to mange collaborative groups in the classroom setting

Why Use Collaborative Learning?

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

    • Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
    • Promotion of student-faculty interaction.
    • Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
    • Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
    • Preparation for real life social and employment situations

From the: Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation.

2. Setting the Stage

How to build a collaborative community:

It is important to set clear norms and create positive classroom environments when moving students into collaborative group work.

Create an inclusive collaborative community “Building a sense of Community”   

What is a collaborative community: the prevailing mood, attitudes, standards, and tone that you and your students feel when they are in your classroom. 

Why have a collaborative community: A negative classroom climate can feel hostile, chaotic, and out of control.  Whereas, a positive classroom climate feels safe, respectful, welcoming, and supportive of student learning.

1. Develop and reinforce classroom rules and norms

Develop or remind students of classroom norms related to collaborative small group learning.

2. Promote positive peer relationships

Tips for Enhancing Positive Student Interactions


The following tips are offered in an effort to provide teachers with suggestions on how they might contribute to the improvement of the social interactions among students with behavioral disorders and their peers:

      • Focus on teaching and modeling social and emotional learning strategies that encourage reflection and self-awareness. Encourage students to consider how individual actions and words have consequences. Through various modeling opportunities, assist in developing students’ ability to take different perspectives and viewpoints. Teach students to think through situations and/or challenges by rehearsing various outcomes (Quinn et al., 2000).
      • Teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Many students with behavioral disorders have deficits in executive functioning skills and require step-by-step instruction in problem-solving activities. Teachers should take the role of a coach and assist students in a problem-solving process. Teach students to identify the problem and brainstorm various solutions, and identify the solution he will use (Steedly, Schwartz, Levin, & Luke, 2011).
      • Create opportunities to practice effective social skills both individually and in groups. Model effective social skills in the classroom through praise, positive reinforcement, and correction and redirection of inappropriate behaviors. Provide role-play scenarios that build social skills (Quinn et al., 2000).
      • Adjust instructional strategies to address social skills deficits. Teachers should provide structure and organization within the classroom. The arrangement of the physical environment should be effective. Clearly stated instructional objectives and behavioral expectations should be provided throughout lessons and social interactions. Providing simulated real-life challenges that students might encounter at school, home, and in the community is essential to placing social skills in practical contexts (Steedly, Schwartz, Levin, & Luke, 2011).
      • Tailor social skill interventions to individual student needs. Utilize various data collection strategies to collect behavioral information (e, g., screeners, observations of student in various settings, parent information, diagnostic information, student interviews, etc.) and use the results when deciding which interventions to use. Investigate strategies designed to meet particular social skills deficits and ensure the intervention is implemented with fidelity (e.g., the frequency, duration, and intensity of the intervention delivery meets set criteria) (Steedly, Schwartz, Levin, & Luke, 2011).
      • Practice Communication Skills. Model and provide opportunities to practice effective communication skills. Teach students how to listen to others and waiting to talk, taking turns in a conversation, suggesting an idea, providing praise to others, saying thank-you, and apologizing. Communication skills can be taught through role play, games, and practice.
      • Utilize collaborative learning environments. Incorporate collaborative learning activities within the curriculum to encourage social interaction. Utilizing collaborative groups will allow students to practice and observe appropriate social interactions with peer.
      • Get parents involved! Obtain parental input regarding the student’s social interactions. Converse and collaborate with parents to develop a plan that can be used at home and in school.
      • Be Creative!! Utilize various forms of media when teaching social skills. Allow students to read books about various conflict situations and verbally discuss solutions. Employ Love Lucy or other media clips and instruct students to view and critique the social interactions among the characters. Verbally discuss the characters’ interactions and discuss better behavior choices.
      • Tips for encouraging positive interactions between students with behavioural disorders and their peers (

3. Nurture positive trusting relationships with all students


Tips and trust builders to nurture positive trusting relationships 

3. Student Roles and Responsibilities

When students are in teams it is important to have each student identify a role that they will play to support the group. 

Other Potential Roles



Person Responsible


This person will lead the group.  They do not do all of the work, but they make sure everything runs smoothly by being organized.  They can also delegate jobs to other members. Ensure the team is on tome and on task.



The recorder takes notes and keeps track of everything the group is doing.  They are responsible for keeping track of papers and information for the group.



Researches needed information for the group, gets answers to questions from the teacher or from other sources.



The speaker is the one who will be in charge if any of the presentation is done orally.  They will be the person that asks for help and helps gather materials.


 Other Potential Roles
 Time Keeper  The timekeeper makes sure the group stays on task.  They will watch the clock and remind the group when it is time to move on to the next task.  
 Materials Manager  Finds out what materials are needed, distributes materials to group and collects/returns materials at the end.  
 Encourager  Encourages group members to continue to think through their approaches and ideas. The Encourager uses probing questions to help facilitate deeper thinking, and group-wide consideration of ideas.  
 Harmonizer  Encourages group members to get along and effectively collaborate. They may help facilitate conflicts, negotiation, and effective decision making.  

4. Creating Collaborative Teams

Grouping Student for Collaborative teams should be initially be done purposefully to ensure that students learn how to effectively work in groups. Starting with pairs and working up to larger more complex assignments and groupings. Heterogeneous grouping with regards to academic achievement, task orientation, ability and learning style can be used depending on the subject matter or collaboration technique used. If the project is long or detailed then the support of a stronger academic student in each group will help complete the project. Student self selection is generally not successful, although students can provide input for the teacher to consider. Random assignment promotes the idea that everyone is expected to work with everyone else at some point. Random is best used if the task is of short duration.

Random Assignment: 
  • Use sticks or names from a hat. Write students’ names on Popsicle sticks, shake them up in a cup, and pop out the number of names you want in a group. Or you can literally pull names from a hat.
  • Use a grouping app or website. Many good apps and websites exist for randomly assigning groups. Try a website like Group Sort, Team Shake.
  • Use colored index cards. Let students choose colored index cards from a stack, and sort them based on the colors they picked up. You can even write items on the cards that further indicate tasks or topics. Create a set of cards that have stickers, colored dots, images, roles, names etc. on them students sort into similar of different groupings. Similar color dots, one of each color etc..
  • Count off. Of course you can count off by numbers, but maybe try something fun. If you want four groups, then count off by “Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, and Swift,” for example.
  • “Left Out” Game. Have your students stand up, and then you shout out a number. Students must immediately cluster themselves according to that number. Anyone left out gets a bonus task.
  • Use a pack of cards. Playing cards is effective and versatile. Pass out cards and group students based on having similar or different suits, black or red cards, cards in a specific order, the same numbers, or any other values you assign to the deck.
  • Use synonym vocabulary word cards. Have sets of synonyms written on different index cards and randomly pass them out. Then have students find the other person in the room who has the word that means the same as their card. Also try antonyms!
  • Famous pairings. A variation on the synonym cards, pass out cards that have various pairs of duos that pertain to your course. Have “Huck Finn” and “Mark Twain” cards, or “Einstein” and “E=MC2” cards.
  • Puzzle pieces. Take small puzzles and have students randomly select a piece. Then have them find the other students who have the rest of that puzzle’s pieces.
  • Arrange desks. If students have assigned desks, confuse them by rearranging the desks before they come in for the day.
  • Birthday buddies. Who has their birthday in the same month as you? Ask students that question, and group them accordingly.
  • Pick colored pencils/markers. When creating a poster or colorful project, have students grab one colored utensil and ask them to mix with others with different colors.
  • Line it up and fold it. Ask students to line up in response to a question or trait. They could line up by height, or perhaps line up based on a spectrum of how much they know about the day’s topic. Then fold the line in half, so the least knowledgeable student is paired with the most knowledgeable student and so on.

  • Snowball, Have students write their name on a piece of paper, crumple up the paper and throw it in a can, line students up have have them throw the paper. Other students find the crumpled paper and partner with the person whos name is on the paper.

Purposeful Assignment: 
  • Grouped according to same strengths or skill level. You can have ability-specific tasks assigned to each group. (see student roles chapter). Students can be grouped based on knowledge of a topic area. 
  • Value Line, Have students group based on how they respond to a specific question. Students can be grouped base on similar responses or can students can be grouped based on varied answers to the questions. 
  • Randomly mixed up pre-assigned groups. You might not need specific students together, but you do want speed. Pre-assign groups of students so that they just have to get together without long transition time.
  • Grouped to mix skill levels. Students learn well when different skills and levels are mixed. With this, you can make sure your strongest students are intermingled with others.
  • Rotational system. Instead of having one partner or group, students can set up in a circle, and a portion of each group rotates clockwise while the other portion stays in place.
  • Alphabetical rotation system. Group students based on the alphabetical order of their names; and if you choose, rotate them based on their names as well. You can go down your attendance roster listing A1, B1, C1, A2, B2, C2, etc. and reorganize groups based on letter or number. Get creative!
  • Day-of-the-week group. Assign each student to a specific partner or group for each day of the week. So if it’s a Tuesday, have them get together with their Tuesday group, which is different from the other days. 
  • Grouped for classroom management . We all know those friends who are more likely to get off task than create a quality product. Pre-assign groups and make sure students who need to be separated are kept apart.
  • Grouped according to interest. If you’re aware of different interests of your students via discussion or a survey, you might want to put them together and have them connect their common interest to the task.

Students Choose Groups
  • Students select their own group. The simplest way could just be to tell students to get into groups and trust them to do it.
  • Students select their own group with exceptions. A variation from above, you can let them choose their groups but add, “Don’t join with the last person you were with,” or “No more than ‘X’ many people.”
  • Students grouped based on responses. Give a survey or quiz, and group students according to what they think or how they score.
  • Clock partners. Give each student a clock chart, and have them go around assigning themselves a partner for each time of day. They’ll have a one o’clock partner, a two o’clock partner, etc. Then you just say, “Get with your ________ o’clock partner.”
  • Contact list. Like the clock partners, have students create their own contact list of classmates like they might on their phones. Then tell them, “Get with your third contact.”
  • Students given options. Try describing what different group tasks are available, then letting students choose which task they’d like to join.
  • Students choose an option, and mix with others. You could also try letting students choose which task they’d like to do, but then creating a group consisting of students with each of the other tasks. In a reading class, you might have one student be a “vocab finder,” one be a “summarizer,” etc.
  • Students choose based on random interest. Have students mix based on something they are personally interested in. You can give them suggestions or categories of interests, and design their task to include that interest.

5. Skills Considerations

When collaborative groups are developed students should practice the specific skills needed to work in a collaborative group. Health skills like accessing information, decision making, goal setting, communication (assertive communication, negotiation), self management, and advocacy are all key skills that students should be taught and practiced through effective collaborative teams. Below you will find a simple framework and a flow chart for teams to use as they get started on their collaborative work. 

Word document for student handout represented below 


Teaching Progression

Teaching Considerations/Examples

Makes and follows agreements


Students in the group need to be able to develop agreements that everyone can use during the process.  These might include:

    • Makes agreements about how the team works
    • Rules for discussions
    • Rules for making group decisions or develop consensus
    • Rules for how to resolve conflicts
    • Appropriately takes action when agreements are broken
    • Attempts to resolve issues without adult help

Agreements need to be general and written in the positive.  Practice needs to happen in being able to stand up to team members that are breaking the agreements.  They also need to understand that before they go to a teacher, they need to make sure they have tried to solve the problem first.

Organizes work


  • When a group is collaborating, they need to be organized and have accountability for their work.  This area includes:
  • Assign roles for with a task list for each member
  • Set a schedule in order to meet deadlines
  • Work is divided fairly and evenly between members
  • Materials are organized
  • Members use their time wisely


The students need set concrete roles, check in dates, and places to keep materials.  The group will have more success if the teacher controls the “chunking” of the activity in order to create the whole product. 

Personal Responsibility


    • Is prepared and ready to work
    • Uses technology to complete work
    • Completes tasks on time and without being reminded
    • Uses feedback from others to improve work

One of the areas that is the most difficult for middle school is the ability to give feedback so that it is not perceived as being mean or a put down.  A suggestion would be to teach the students to give a positive first, then give the idea for improvement.  Time also needs to be spent on how to give the feedback and accept criticism.

Work as a whole team


As a team, members need to use the talents of each member.  If any ideas or products are developed individually, they are brought back to the group for feedback.

    • Uses special talents of each member
    • Creates products with the help of all members
    • Work done separately is brought to the group for critique and revision

Even though students will gravitate towards roles they feel comfortable with, it is okay for them to try different jobs that they might not feel they can accomplish.  Teachers can also make sure projects for collaboration have a menu of possible products.

Respects others



Respecting others allows the group to focus on the final product.

    • Treats teammates politely
    • Listens to other points of view
    • Respects others perspectives
    • Disagrees appropriately
    • Compromises

Time needs to be spent teaching students polite ways to disagree. They also need to be made aware of the fact that they are working together for a common goal--not becoming best friends.

Helps the team


Successful collaboration also involves help from all members.

    • Following rules and asking questions
    • Providing feedback to others in the group
    • Helping others who need it
    • Solves problems and manages conflicts
    • Contributes effectively to discussions
    • Helps others that need it

This is important for the teacher to monitor this throughout the collaboration activity.  One other issue is that if a student is having difficulty doing their part, the student needs to make sure they are helping, rather than taking over and doing the whole project.


Collaboration Flowchart Organizer



Assign Roles:






Set and establish agreements for the group.



Identify the task or final product.



How to make decisions

Team member accountability

Asking for help


Final Product:

Recognize successes

Discuss challenges



Step 1:  Assign Roles:  Take a look at the roles and decide who is going to responsible in your group.




Person Responsible


This person will lead the group.  They do not do all of the work, but they make sure everything runs smoothly by being organized.  They can also delegate jobs to other members.



The recorder takes notes and keeps track of everything the group is doing.  They are responsible for keeping track of papers and information for the group.


Time Keeper

The timekeeper makes sure the group stays on task.  They will watch the clock and remind the group when it is time to move on to the next task.



This person is in charge of organizing the presentation if it is needed.  They make sure the product has an acceptable quality.



The speaker is the one who will be in charge if any of the presentation is done orally.  They will be the person that asks for help and helps gather materials.



Step 2:  Set and establish norms/agreements for the group.

The facilitator will lead the group into coming up with 3-5 rules the group will use during the collaborative experience.



Why is this agreement needed?













Step 3:  Identify the task or final product:


The recorder will write down a description of the task or final product.







Step 4:  Group operations


The facilitator will lead a discussion on the following topics.  The recorder will record the results.


Group operations

Results of the discussion

How will the group make decisions?



What are the expectations of the team members?







Who, how and when do we ask for help?



How do we solve problems in the group?



Step 5:  Final product:  Successes and reflection


1.      Is the final product meet the requirements and is the quality acceptable? Explain.

2.     How did we support or show our appreciation to our other group members?

3.     Did everyone contribute equally?  Explain.

4.     If there were any problems in the group, how were they solved?  Explain.

5.     What did you learn about collaboration?

6.     How can we celebrate our successes?

7.     What would you do differently next time?

6. Accountability

For accountability a teamwork rating scale can be used to rank and provide evidence to effective team work. 

Teamwork Rating



●     Using the rating scale circle how you feel you contributed to the team.

●     Underline the level that your overall team contributed.

●     Provide evidence. 




Rating (1 is the best)


Takes responsibility for oneself

Has supplies and is ready to work

1     2     3     4     5



Stays on task in the group

1     2     3     4     5




Helps the team

Solves problems in the group

1     2     3     4     5



Gives appropriate feedback to group members

1     2     3     4     5



 Respects others

Polite and kind to team members

1     2     3     4     5



Disagrees appropriately

1     2     3     4     5




Makes and follows agreements

Follows rules made by the group

1     2     3     4     5



Takes appropriate action when group rules are broken

1     2     3     4     5



 Organizes work

Meets deadlines

1     2     3     4     5


Keeps materials and notes organized

1     2     3     4     5



Works as a whole team

Participates effectively in assigned role

1     2     3     4     5


Final product

1     2     3     4     5



 Download Teamwork Rubric.