Facilitating group work

Group work is one of the staples of any training delivery. It can help to keep things interactive, social and allows opportunities for your learners to learn the answers themselves, rather than you just providing them all the information. But it also be tricky. Some people get nervous in a new group, work styles can conflict or students can lead each other astray and simply chat, rather than getting on with work.

Good facilitation is vital for making your in class group work a success. Here’s some tips to help you.

Group numbers
Go for large numbers of small groups – 15 people into 5 groups of 3 rather than 3 groups of 5.

Use groups of no more than 3 to 5. Anything more than that and some people can get away with doing nothing!

Give clear direction
There’s nothing worse as a learner than breaking off into your group and finding everyone saying “so what are we meant to do?”

Make sure your instructions and the objectives are clear. If necessary, write the instructions out.

Start work before starting work
Try to plan exercises so that your learners can start work individually for a few minutes before they break off into groups. This allows the group to hit the ground running once they break off. It also takes a little pressure off each individual, giving them an opportunity to think about the exercise before they have to ‘perform’ in front of the rest of the group.

Select a scribe
If your exercise requires a report back from the group, be especially clear about getting them to select a scribe, to take notes and a person to report back (it may be the same person.)

Start with small activities
If your lesson or your course requires a significant activity to be completed in a group, make sure you give the groups a smaller simpler activity to complete first. This allows the people in your groups to get to know one another and get used to how they work together, before embarking on the harder task.

Watch and listen
Eavesdrop on the groups and comment or just make sure they’re on the right track. It’s very common for groups to start simply chatting – while a bit of ice breaking in the group is good, you may need to make sure they get back on to the task at hand.

Give hints
Drop hints or give pointers if they’re veering into an unproductive approach.

Or, don’t give hints
Some group tasks a specifically designed to get the group thinking and working together to solve a problem, ie: the working together and the problem solving is the point of the exercise, rather than ‘the answer’. In these cases, by giving hints you may actually be detracting from the success of the activity.

Give them the wind up
After a certain number of minutes, give a heads-up warning “2 minutes left…” so they can finish up.

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