4 Ways to Reinvent the Traditional Group Project

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Students usually don't love working together on group projects. But is this inevitable, or is there a way to reinvent traditional group work so that it becomes something more enjoyable? We believe in the latter. Check out this blog post to find out how.

Group Projects: Freshening Them Up

Teachers aren't clueless - we know just how much our students hate it when we assign group projects. But our students' disdain isn't enough to change our approach to teaching (if it were, tests would be a thing of the past). So how do you assign group work that your students won't hate, but that will still teach crucial collaborative skills? Here are four tips for reinventing the traditional group project.

1. Set Students Free

The best way to increase the chances of students liking a project they might not otherwise enjoy is to let them do whatever they want. Okay, maybe not quite whatever they want. That said, the more freedom you give your students in a group project, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Instead of assigning specific topics, consider giving them a broad subject within which they can choose the topic that most interests them. That way, they'll bring genuine interest and curiosity to their work. While that might mean listening to a presentation about the history of video games in modern society, it might also mean opening the door to a pretty interesting project.

Another way to give your students freedom within their group project is to let them choose their own roles. Provide them with a list of options: one person can be the organizer, helping to ensure that each member knows what he or she needs to do. Another can be the moderator, making sure that group conversations and work sessions are productive. Somebody else can be in charge of the presentation, while yet another group member can be responsible for making sure that everybody completes the work assigned to them.

The group can divvy up the roles amongst themselves, giving students both a sense of freedom and responsibility. That's what we call a win-win situation.

Students work on a group project

2. Allow for Online Work

One tried-and-true method for making certain types of work less miserable for your students? Meet them halfway. Most likely, they already spend most of their free time online, so consider reinventing the traditional group project by assigning one that's specifically designed to be done online. From communication (Discord or Just Talk Kids), to actual work (Google Docs and Google Sheets), to the final presentation (Google Slides and Prezi), you can task your students with completing their group project in what's essentially their digital native habitat, making the work as convenient, and maybe even as enjoyable, for them as possible.

Students do a group project online

3. Give Individual Grades

Another reason why students tend to dislike group work is the feeling of unfairness that arises from receiving the same grade as other group members, regardless of the actual work done, or not done. To avoid this pitfall and make the grading more fair, try reinventing the group grading process by assigning each student an individual grade based on his or her individual contribution.

After the group work is submitted and the final presentations are complete, give the students in each group a rubric they can use to grade their own performances, detail exactly what work they were responsible for, explain how they contributed to the group's ability (or inability) to work together, and elaborate on any concerns they had or issues they feel you need to know about. This will ensure that all group members get the grades they deserve, as well as teach them a sense of responsibility and ownership for their work.

Students enjoy working on a group project

4. Teach Group Dynamics

Group work isn't necessarily suited for every single type of topic. Math problem sets, for example, might be better off done alone. Science labs or creative projects, though, are great candidates for group work. But perhaps the best option of all to teach in a group setting? Group dynamics, an approach that might require a bit of trickery, but that's well worth it. Here's how it's done.

Assign each group a project; something simple is ideal. Let your students loose on the project. Ask them to keep a ''group work'' journal throughout the process, in which they write about how they're feeling about their experiences working together, detailing any issues or successes they're having. You can even introduce some purposeful stumbling blocks for them to deal with, like changing a deadline at the last second or adding a new component to the project, like a final presentation, that didn't originally exist.

Here's the twist: Your students' final product isn't whatever simple project you originally assigned; it's their own insights about what it was like to work together, as recorded in their group work journal. Have a class discussion about what the collaborative process was like and how students can improve their communication and cooperation skills in the future. This will provide them with the opportunity for important self-reflection and venting, while also teaching them about the psychology of group dynamics.

Go for Groups

You don't have to dread assigning group work just because your students don't want to do it. Using these simple tips, you can reinvent group projects into something your students won't complain about - or maybe even enjoy. Good luck!

For creative lesson plans, games, activities, projects, and ideas for discussion questions, check out Study.com's Teacher Edition.

By Daisy Rogozinsky
January 2019
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