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Group work and participating in class

While you’re at university, there will be many times when you’ll work with other students, for assignment and in-class activities. Find out how to work effectively in a group and participate in class.

Group work

Research in the field of education shows benefits in group learning. When you discuss ideas with other students, explain concepts, debate a point of view or work together on a task this can lead to higher quality learning, compared to just reading and attending lectures.

Successful group work also requires you to develop expertise in:

  • avoiding and resolving conflict
  • sharing and coordinating tasks
  • encouraging and managing group discussion.

Being able to demonstrate that you’re an effective member of a group or team is also important for future employment.

Getting started

At your first group meeting, take some time to:

  • introduce yourselves and swap contact details
  • agree on how to communicate (for example, email, a Facebook group, Google Docs) and when to meet (frequency, dates, times, and location)
  • get a feel for everyone’s strengths, skills and perspectives
  • establish roles for everyone (for example, leader, coordinator, minute taker, idea generator, devil's advocate, researcher, technical expert, editor, proofreader)
  • discuss the standard of work expected of all members
  • decide how you will keep a record of meetings
  • explicitly discuss academic honesty and how, as a team, you’ll work together to ensure your acknowledgement of sources is accurate and consistent from the beginning. Talk about acceptable sources of information and sharing of information.

Working together

There are three important factors for successful group work.

Time and space to work together

The group needs enough time when everyone is available to meet. You also need a space that has everything you need for your work, for example tables, internet access and a quiet environment. You should consider:

  • physical spaces on campus (libraries, cafés, lawns, labs)
  • working together online (simple chat software, meeting software like Adobe Connect)
  • online document sharing, such as Google Docs.

There is a lot of useful software for group work, including free versions. Some online resources may have already been provided for your unit of study.


Clear goals and roles for individuals and the group

It’s important that everyone knows what the goals are, for the group and for each individual. For example, what the group should produce at the end or what grades the different members would like the group to achieve.

The most successful groups will also set clear goals for what the group should achieve at each meeting, or what each person will do by the end of each week. These goals could be:

  • choose a topic
  • search databases
  • do reading and make notes
  • share notes with the group
  • collect data
  • write the first draft of a section
  • proofread and edit.

It is also important that everyone knows their role from the beginning. Make sure everyone agrees that the workload has been shared fairly. Your tutor or lecturer can give advice on this.


Supportive and responsible cooperation

A group often contains a mixture of different personalities, cultures and levels of confidence and experience. Effort is needed to make sure group work goes smoothly. For example:

  • everyone needs to have a chance to express their ideas
  • group members should be positive and encourage one another
  • everyone needs to respect the group. This includes being responsible for their own workload, arriving on time and replying to emails.

Bad feelings in a group often cause lower quality group work, lower marks and low quality learning. These feelings can arise, for example, if a group member feels embarrassed or criticised, or like they are doing all the work.

Participating in class

It’s important to take part in discussions during seminars and tutorials. Some units of study include ‘class participation’ as a part of your assessment. Even if there is no assessment for class participation, taking part in discussions can improve your learning and help increase your assessment marks.

If you are feeling shy or unsure about what ideas to contribute to the discussion, the following guidance could be helpful.

  • Prepare your ideas beforehand. For example, after you have completed the reading(s) or attended a lecture, write down at least two questions you would like to ask and two opinions you have about the reading or the topic.
  • Talk about your ideas with another person before the whole group discussion. For example, you could meet up with another student 10 minutes before class. This can be a good way to build confidence before a discussion, as well as to develop your ideas more.
  • Remember you can often make a helpful contribution without saying very much. You can encourage others who are speaking and respond to them. For example, you can turn your body to face them, make eye contact, nod, smile or disagree politely by shaking your head. If you disagree, you may need to be ready to say why and to give your own view.

If you are from a language background other than English and do not feel confident speaking up, the following tips may help.

  • Remember that ‘perfect’ grammar is not necessary in a discussion.
  • The important thing is for your meaning to be clear. You can help people understand what you mean by repeating your main idea using different words, giving examples and using hand gestures or diagrams.
  • It can help to prepare the vocabulary which will be used for the discussion. Look up definitions of new technical terms, and practice pronouncing and using them.

Read more about how to manage nervousness and anxiety.


This material was developed by the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning), which offers workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.

See the handout on Collaborative learning: a strategy for success (pdf, 154KB).

Last updated: 03 November 2022

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