Break the class into smaller groups to allow students to have more opportunities to contribute.


  • Rather than having a whole class discussion, break the class into groups small enough to allow each member a chance to contribute.
    • Create the groups in way that best serve the various goals of the group-work or overall course objectives. One can base the grouping on:
      • homogeneous ability (students with a similar amount of preparation or prior performance are put together)
      • heterogeneous ability (every group has at least one proficient
      • student, at least one struggling student, etc.)
      • student self-selection
      • “with those sitting near you”
      • randomly (using dice, cards, or last digit of student ID etc.).
    • Consider assigning different tasks to the different groups.
    • Consider assigning members within a group different roles and having those roles alternate within the group (e.g. one student could be a recorder of information, another responsible for sharing out the information, yet another to make sure the conversation stays focused, etc.).
    • Post the instructions for the group activity clearly.
    • Make the task group-worthy, by making the task:
      • open-ended and require complex problem solving.
      • have multiple entry points and multiple opportunities to show intellectual competence.
      • deal with discipline-based, intellectually important content.
      • require positive interdependence as well as individual accountability.
    • Don’t let students be idle. Prepare a sufficient number of quality tasks for the group to do.
    • If a group finishes its task early, approach the group to ask them to explain their ideas or results, which might lead them to discover they need to discuss further within their group.
    • Make clear the criteria for evaluating the group’s work.
    • Read a related tip on overcoming common problems that arise in group work.


  • Students retain the information longer, get immediate feedback on their ideas, which clarifies and sharpens their thinking, have the opportunity to build on the ideas of their peers, learn to work on a team as well as independently from the instructor, learn how to disagree and resolve differences, delegate, and take responsibility for the learning of others, develop more self-confidence. Moreover, getting to know other students better creates opportunities for collaboration that extend outside of class.
  • Lou et al. (1996) found “low-ability students performed best in heterogeneous groups, medium-ability students performed best in homogeneous groups, and high-ability students performed equally well in either type of group.” This group also found (2000) that small-group instruction benefitted all students, regardless of their ability level.