Go-To Groupwork Ideas

Authored by:
Last edited: January 21, 2021

Students will approach groupwork giddily with some of these engaging strategies and formats. Plus, a lot of these methods put teachers close to the students so that the learning doesn't turn into socializing. Advisory Board member and groupwork guru, Tara, offers up some exciting ways to teach the "same old" content in different, more collaborative ways.

Go-to Groupwork Ideas for Elementary Students

There are so many benefits to having students collaborate during your lessons, such as improving their communication skills and teaching compromise. Group work breaks up your lessons and cuts down on the amount of direct instruction and independent work. However, it’s sometimes time-consuming to plan activities for your students to do in groups. But, these go-to group work ideas will save you time and simplify your planning.

Guided Math Groups

One of my favorite times to use group work is during math lessons. I start with a whole group mini-lesson. Then, my students spend the rest of the math lesson in differentiated guided math groups. Each day, my students meet with me, complete a problem-solving center, and do a math technology activity. 

To set up guided math groups in your classroom, follow these easy steps:

  • Give your students a pretest to assess their skills on a specific math skill. Use the results of the pretest to put them in three similar-ability groups. You should have an above-level group, an on-level group, and a below-level group.
  • At the “Meet with the Teacher” center, give your students practice problems at their level. You can challenge your above-level group and walk through problems step-by-step with your below-level group.
  • At the “Problem-Solving” center, choose problems from your math textbook or from a worksheet for each group to complete. They should discuss the problems and how they solved them. 
  • At the technology center, the students can practice facts on XtraMath, complete problems on IXL, or play a game to practice the skill. 

The structure of guided math groups helps my lessons run smoothly, and my students always know what they should be doing. The small groups also allow me to differentiate and meet the needs of all my students. For more tips on setting up guided math, check out this post

Strategy Groups

Group work is also a great way to get your students talking about books during your reading lessons. I love using strategy groups instead of traditional guided reading groups because they are more flexible. Find out more about how to set up strategy groups

One of the great things about strategy groups is that your students can bring their “just-right” independent reading books to the group to practice a specific reading strategy. This saves you a lot of planning time because you don’t have to find leveled passages for each group. Plus, the variability of the groups means that your students won’t always be working with the same peers, which allows them to hear the thoughts of a lot of other students and practice the skills they need to improve.

Book Clubs

Another go-to small group activity is book clubs. Once you have the book clubs set up, they are very low maintenance. To set up book clubs, follow these steps:

  • Select a few books at different reading levels. You can either assign your students a book to read or allow them to choose one. There should be 4 or 5 students in each group. 
  • Have the students read a certain number of pages or chapters in their books during independent reading time. 
  • Have the students meet to discuss the book. You can give them a list of questions to answer or they can write their own questions as they’re reading. They can also practice any reading strategy they are currently learning.

When I run book clubs in my classroom, the students read one day and meet with their group the next day. That way, they can finish reading the section for homework if they don’t have enough time at school. You can also set up your book clubs as literature circles where each student has a different job. This resource has everything you need to set up literature circles in your classroom. 

Study Groups

Another great time to use group work is when you come to the end of a unit. Put your students in small groups on days you’re reviewing for a test. I like to call these “study groups”. Before meeting with the group, I have my students write questions they think might be on the test. Then, they take turns asking the group their questions and discussing the answers. Since the students are writing the questions, study groups require very little preparation. 

You can use study groups for any subject. I’ve done them for math, science, social studies, and reading. I’ve found that my students are much more engaged when they’re answering their peers’ questions than when I do a whole class review with questions I’ve written. They love pretending to be the teacher and quizzing their classmates.

Jigsaw Groups

Jigsaw groups also put your students in the role of the teacher. This small group idea works best for content area [i.e. science or social studies] lessons. If there’s a long article or textbook chapter your students need to read, divide it up into 3 or 4 sections. Each student will read one section and become an expert on the information. Then, the students will meet in a group with their peers who read the other parts of the text. They take turns sharing the information from the part they read and teach the rest of the group. 

Jigsaw groups help students learn all of the important facts without reading a really long piece of text. I like to have my students take notes on their own section and then add information to their notes sheet as the other members of the group present their information. Learn more here about using jigsaw groups for cooperative learning.

When your students finish working in a group, it’s important for them to reflect on how well they worked together and accomplished the task. Use a reflection sheet, like this one, to have your students share what they accomplished and what they could have done better or differently. 

It’s also important for you to hold your students accountable for the work they do in small groups. Circulate and check in with them often while they’re working. Then, use an evaluation form to assess their group work.

Check out this post for more tips about managing group work in your classroom.

About the author

Tara Dusko


About Tara

Tara Dusko is a reading coach who helps teachers implement a reading workshop model in their classrooms. She previously taught 5th grade for one year and 3rd grade for 13… Read more

loading gif