Need Help with Groups / Group Work

I arranged my desks in pods of 4 (or 5) as I shared in this tweet:

I’ve never really done group work well or consistently. But, with a nudge / inspiration from Alex Overwijk, I am going to work through this.

So, here is my question –

How do you do groups in your (high school) classroom? How do you balance instruction (which I will need to do because it’s Algebra 2) with appropriate group oriented activities? Please either tweet me (@lmhenry9) or add it in the comments. Any and all help is appreciated.


7 thoughts on “Need Help with Groups / Group Work”

  1. Amy Zimmer says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I am very clear about the student roles. I assign randomly: facilitator, supply manager, speaker, recorder. This helps set up norms. I front load with “agreeably disagreeing” and what it sounds like. (Do this with sticky notes giving feedback where students practice finding something positive about WORK (not handwriting) and make a suggestion for improvement. It can be on individual work or on a group thing. (I used WODB that students brought made). We practice in pairs giving feedback to the same piece of student work (I copy something that someone did half right, half incorrectly). I try to put an answer key to the previous night’s homework and give them some time to discuss. I assign a problem for students to work out on NPVS. Instead of written classwork, I put a problem up at the NPVS and the students do it together and can sit down when I have a checked in with them. I have a rubric for group work…What else? If all else, put one copy of whatever it is in a plastic sleeve and say, “go!” OH, I do the four corners problems where the students solve 4 problems, either individually or together, They put the sum of their answers in the middle. I say yup or nope, and they have to figure where the error is.
    I also have a listening activity I will send you.

    You are brave! Tell us how it is going every so often! Oh, and you will want to get a set of those three way cardboard presentation boards for tests. Easier than moving the tables! and your custodian will like you more.

  2. Lisa Winer says:

    I have had a lot of success with random grouping through Here is my post about it:

  3. Laura says:

    “OH, I do the four corners problems where the students solve 4 problems, either individually or together, They put the sum of their answers in the middle. I say yup or nope, and they have to figure where the error is.” LOVE LOVE LOVE… I am stealing this!!!!!

  4. Tom says:


    If you have not been to the amazing Sara’s Blog, here is a great first link. This post by her has about 5 activities she uses to get students working in groups and then she explains how it helps them the rest of the year.

    Here is another blog post that is amazing. If you haven’t met this other Sarah, she is great. This post is another group activity that forces students to work together or they cannot complete it.

    Here is her post on the different roles in a group and posters to go along with it!

    In my classroom I have different colors for each group of 4 and different numbers, so purple 1-4 and red 1-4 and blue 1-4… each day they come in and grab a popsicle stick that will have a color and a number. They get their seats random every day. I think this is good for them to work with other students as well as sharing what they could have learned the day before. If they are always with the same students the different ideas each group come up with on how to solve are not shared with any other group. If I find they are becoming too comfortable then I switch the groups from purple to all the 1’s, 2’s 3’s and 4’s. Each time they group I get more then 1 option of groups. You can do like colors, you can do like numbers, or you could do one of every color and number, red 1, blue 2 yellow 3, purple 4… The start of the year I have them stay together for a week at a time until I figure out who they are and what their personalities are like. As soon as I have a handle on the students I switch it up every day.

    As for balance. My school follows a model where the first problem or examples are done by the teacher and then there are 3-4 example problems that the students work in groups doing. Then we repeat that doing the next example and more example problems for group work. Students do the problems while practicing and sharing their knowledge. It is difficult some times to make them work together but I saw a post on Sam’s blog (another great one) that helped me solidify the idea of working together. I am going to try it this year.

    Here is another post by Sam about switching up groups, simple but good reflective piece for students before they interact with their new group.

    Getting out there on twitter and following @MTBoS_Blogbot is probably one of the best things you can do. Its a bot that posts new blog posts of math teachers. Its amazing.

    Good luck!


  5. I, on the other hand, have had good results without assigning roles, in part because I don’t expect most work to be done as a group, and in part because I prefer a natural, informal work atmosphere. So it’s less choreographed, and more of the responsibility is among the students. It’s more about helping each other than formally working as a group. Here’s a summary of my approach:

    Good luck!

  6. Kara Tobaben says:

    I do groups in my HS math class every day. The students know my expectations and I thankfully don’t have behavior issues. (Even with the usual suspects.) They know they better behave or they will lose the privilege. Groups might be parties of 3 or 4, partners, or even the class split in half depending on the activity. I teach small groups at a time while the rest of the class is working on homework problems, real world application, hands on activity, etc. I have found groups keep them active and engaged and keeps the ones who need to move around happy as well as fosters a friendly atmosphere in the classroom where everyone works together and they aren’t just paying attention to me the whole period. And I always easily attain my Fitbit goal walking around so much every day!

  7. Trever Reeh says:

    You are on the right track. I almost have the same setup, but I have two desks facing each other and two desks facing forward to have a front wall of the classroom that all students can look at easily.

    I have been trying to find good group activities and limit homework. Been using more group tasks and projects to build learning.

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