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Establishing Group Guidelines

As you build out your collaborative group process in your classroom, you will want to establish concrete guidelines to support your students so that all students know the purpose of the group work time.

As the teacher, first decide if groups of 2, 3, or 4 will work best for you. The key is having the students work together to discuss their methods and solutions. When problems in the text require that students work in groups, you will want to structure the collaborative group (Note - be mindful of building heterogeneously mixed groups to supposed all learners). On the other hand, when problems in the text require that students work individually, it is possible to maintain a collaborative classroom where students can communicate and share information.

To form groups initially, you may want to set arbitrary groups and make changes as you observe students. One suggestion for structuring groups is to think about having two types of groups: long-term groups and short-term groups. The long-term or home groups stay together for the entire school year and sit together in class. Long-term groups enable students to build trust and confidence and to learn how to negotiate with each other to derive success. On the other hand, the short-term groups are randomly assigned to specific tasks. Short-term groups allow students to develop the ability to work with many different people. How you arrange the groups will depend on how you best meet your student's needs. Keep in mind how your groupings will support your emergent bilingual students and Special Population students. Be sure you are aware of any accommodations dictated in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) and that you are creating enough diversity in the groups to be supportive yet challenging. For emergent bilingual students, group students with English-proficient peers and other emergent bilingual students with varied linguistic proficiency levels and content knowledge to ensure they feel challenged to work on their mathematical content knowledge and develop academic language. 

Most importantly, you want to ensure that students are respectful of one another at all times. The group's success depends on cooperation, which can be achieved if students accept one another and value the contributions of others. 

If you have students who do not want to work in groups, do not force the issue. Instead, allow those students to work alone. However, the student working alone must understand that the teacher is not a group member. After these students find that they cannot talk with others and that those sharing information are progressing more efficiently, they will naturally gravitate to a group. 

You want to structure the success of the group experience, so it is essential to use guidelines and timelines. Work with your students to develop the operating procedures and the appropriate timelines for their work. This way, students have ownership over their work, and you, as the teacher, can support and offer guidance to determine the main points of importance (deadlines, etc.)

After the groups are formed, you may want one person from each group designated as a facilitator. Some responsibilities of the facilitator include: 

  • Obtaining and returning all materials
  • Communicating information from the teacher to the group
  • Handing in the completed assignments for the group
  • Report the progression of the group

Success while working collaboratively depends upon every group member working on every part of the problem, so you may find that you do not want to assign roles, such as recorder or reader, to group members. 


Students working together should generate noise and movement in the room. Some have defined this attribute as "controlled chaos." To ensure that the groups have agency as they work, you will want to monitor group interactions and check for understanding of the task. You may also want to ask students to complete parts of a lesson or activity, stop and discuss the work done, summarize the main points, and then continue. This works well when a lesson or activity is lengthy. 


Because groups will work at different paces, you might want to prepare additional tasks or extensions for those who finish quickly.