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Group Work and Study Groups

Working on a group assignment or presentation? Looking for resources on how to set up a productive study group? Look no further than these online guides from the Skills Centre!

Why study in groups?

Many of the strategies in this section are based on in-person group working, which may not be possible for many groups while social distancing measures are in place. However, you can adapt many of these resources for use in online group work with a little creativity!

 

  • Helps to embed your own learning - discussing information and engaging in study activities is a great way to consolidate information from your lectures and wider reading. Working in a study group allows you to engage in productive activities that help to embed your learning, knowledge and grow your academic ability.
     
  • Learn new skills and ways of studying - joining a study group exposes you to a variety of study methods/techniques and allows you to incorporate them into your own working; observing the habits of others may inspire you to change the way you work in a positive way.
     
  • Introduces you to new ideas and perspectives - by working with others you will be exposed to more than one perspective. Broadening your view of a concept/subject/topic may modify your conclusions. Alternatively, facing conflicting viewpoints may actually strengthen your own conclusions. Either way, engaging in academic discourse with others will certainly help to improve your critical skills.
     
  • Easier to ask a question in a study group - it can often be intimidating to ask a question in a lecture or a seminar. Working with peers in a smaller group can help to reduce some of the anxiety associated with raising questions and ideas in a larger group. This will not only enable you to ask questions (and not miss out on potentially interesting discussion) but will start to build your confidence in your ability to speak out in the future. 
     
  • Complete your notes - it can be really hard to get everything down in your lectures; by sharing your notes with others you will have the opportunity to clarify any errors or misunderstandings, as well as filling in any gaps from the lecture. If you're a great note taker it can also be a good opportunity to teach others some of your top tips, and if you're less good, it's a great chance to brush up on your notetaking skills. 
     
  • Eliminates procrastination - making the commitment to a study group gives you a regular, recurring time for study. This will help reduce time spent procrastinating, help you to stay on top of your work and (should) reduce the need for cramming!
     
  • Support and motivation - it is perfectly normal for motivation levels to fluctuate; study groups can help provide support and encouragement when you are struggling to stay focused and be productive. Working with others can help re-energize your motivation for university work and help you cope with balancing the demands of assignments, staying on top of reading and preparing for exams.
     
  • Studying with others is enjoyable! - studying alone can be an isolating experience. Starting, or joining, a study group can add a social aspect to your studying and make it more fulfilling and enjoyable. This is important as building up positive associations with studying can help to make it feel less like a chore!

Whilst studying in groups is a fantastic opportunity to enhance your learning experience at university, there are couple of potential pitfalls; here are a few tips to make sure you stay on the right side of the rules -

  • Sharing articles and books - one of the advantages of working in a study group is that you can benefit from multiple people researching the same topic. This means that sharing useful articles and books is actively encouraged but, you should ensure that everyone makes their own notes.
  • Preparing and writing coursework - it is really important that unless you are working on a group project, you only use your own notes when preparing and writing your essays. Using someone else's notes to write your assignments could be considered as academic misconduct and should therefore be avoided.
  • If you're unsure, just ask - if you ever have concerns about whether your group is adhering to regulations, it's always best to ask; get in touch with your module leader.

Setting up a group

  • Find your group

Firstly, you need to find people on your course who are also interested in joining a study group. You could consider speaking to people in your seminar group or lab class; this is often an effective method as it can lead to a snowball effect whereby people know others who have expressed interest in similar methods of study. Alternatively, you could try putting up a poster on your department notice board, or contact your course administrator about sending out an email to gauge interest.

  • Think about size

​Bigger isn't always better. Whilst a large group (8+) offers more perspectives and can potentially cover material more quickly, in reality, it can be difficult to schedule regular meetings with a group of this size. Furthermore, it can be hard to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to input and ask questions. A group of around 4-6 is likely to be more manageable; this is enough people to generate stimulating discourse, whilst still being relatively easy to manage in terms of organisation and availability.

  • Think about location

​It is important to have a clear idea about where you want to study and what equipment, such as a computer, you might need. If possible, it is good to try and meet in the same place each session to avoid confusion. Once you've decided on a location you should book it to avoid disappointment.

  • More logistics!

You should also think about how often you want your study group to meet. Will once a week be enough? This will obviously vary from group to group depending on the availability and preferences of members but all members should be in agreement about the frequency of meetings. Likewise, timing is important. It can be helpful to schedule a regular timeslot to minimise confusion and ensure that all members can attend the study group for every session.

  • How will sessions be organised? 

Depending on the preference of the group your study group might follow the content of lectures in order, or each week a different student could decide on a topic (or a particular aspect of a lecture) and let everyone in the group know ahead of the session what it will be about. Neither approach is necessarily better, but the key thing to ensure is that everyone in the study group is informed ahead of time what the study session will be about. This can be where remote working becomes particularly useful for planning and organising sessions ahead of time, to make sure everyone gets the most out of each study session.

  • Make a commitment

It is important that each member of the study group commits to: completing tasks that are assigned to them, completing the preparatory work for every session, and attending each session with a positive attitude and a willingness to contribute and learn.

Meeting your group for the first time

Meeting your group for the first time

  • Set ground rules and expectations

This is important to ensure that every member of the group understands what they are required to do before, during and after sessions. Each study group is free to come up with its own rules, but the following list can be a handy guide:

  • Arrive on time for every session.
  • Bring a positive attitude and a preparedness to work to every session.
  • Ensure that any pre session work has been completed.
  • Set a clear agenda for every session to stay on task.
  • Only one person speaks at a time. Allow people to finish speaking before responding/offering comments.
  • Everyone contributes to discussions and group work. Nobody should use the group as an excuse to sit back and let others do their work. Contribution can take many forms - commenting on articles, answering questions, relating information to examples in the real world - these are all examples of meaningful contribution!
  • Any criticisms should be constructive. Criticise ideas, not people.
  • Name calling, derogatory comments, racism, misogyny, and homophobic language are not welcome in any learning environment and have no space in a study group.
  • Get to know each other!

Depending on how you draw together your study group, you might not know the members very well. Take some time to allow members to introduce themselves. Get to know people's names, background, academic discipline, and specific strengths. It can also be useful to try out some of these activities to start getting to know your peers and to create a fun learning environment!

  • Exchange contact details

Simple but often forgotten! It's important to be able to let people know if you aren't going to be able to attend a session. 

  • Coffee!

This is more of a suggestion for something to do after the session. Having a coffee with your group is a great way to continue getting to know each other (without taking too much time away from studying!) and is a fantastic excuse to have a piece of cake!

Getting the most out of studying in a group

  • Set clear goals

You should have a clear idea about what you want to achieve in each study session. Having clear goals helps to keep your study group focused and accountable.

  • Don't get distracted

It's very easy to go off topic, especially once your study group knows each other better, and become distracted talking about social activities and life beyond university. This isn't inherently bad… BUT, it will take you much longer to cover material and may lead to something being missed. To help reduce the chance of becoming distracted, it can be nice to have a social activity planned for after each study session; this allows you to keep meetings for university work, rather than socialising, and acts as a reward at the end of each session for all your hard work!

  • Avoid domination

It is important that all group members have equal opportunity to contribute to discussion and group work. To help prevent this you may like to establish some time limits on talking or make use of an item such as a 'talking stick'. This helps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute without interruption and helps to build effective communication and a culture of respect between group members. Remember, it's ok to disagree, but this needs to be done in a polite and constructive way; criticise ideas, not people. If you do find yourself in situation where there is conflict between group members it can be useful to take a break and allow tension to diffuse. When you come back together, try and identify why the conflict occurred and how similar situations could be avoided in the future. Ultimately, team working isn't always easy and often requires negotiation and compromise. 

  • Stay positive and enjoy the experience!

​​It's easy for a study group to become a negative forum where students share their experiences about the demands of university life. Whilst this can be cathartic, it isn't beneficial to your studying and will mean that your group doesn't accomplish as much as it could. Instead, leave the negativity out of the room and use the study group as an enjoyable, productive space that can help you to achieve the best possible outcomes for your learning.

Tools and techniques for working together

  • Think, pair, share -

This activity helps students to think individually about reading, or the answer to a question, and then share their ideas with a peer. It requires active engagement with a reading or question and helps to build communication skills.

  • The group should begin by deciding on the question they want to answer.
  • Next, students should think individually about their personal response to the question, considering their perspective and prior knowledge about relevant information and topics.
  • Then students should pair up and share their ideas with a partner. This is an opportunity to share and challenge ideas.
  • Finally, each pair should share their conclusions with the wider group.
Top tip - Find a facilitator
This task benefits from selecting a member of the group to be a facilitator to help organise the group into pairs and to lead the discussion when each pair shares their ideas. This helps the task to run more smoothly and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

  • Divide and Conquer

This is a time efficient way of tackling large volumes of information. This strategy works how it sounds; the study group breaks off into pairs that are each responsible for answering key questions about a particular part of a topic/lecture. Each pair then feeds back this key information to the wider study group, and may even provide the group with a resource or handout.

  • KWL (What I know, what I want to know, what I have learnt)

This is a good strategy for reading that encourages learners to reflect upon their prior knowledge, and consider what they want to achieve from reading.

1. Firstly, after you have selected your reading, list everything you already know about the topic. This may include key concepts, terms, quotations or any background information that you can remember.
 

2. Next, generate a list of questions that you want answered from the reading. It might be useful to briefly skim the article for headings/sub-headings to help guide your questions.

  • These questions will help to direct you by focusing your attention to particular aspects of your reading.
  • You might also like to share your list of questions with others in the group. This might help prompt yourself and others to consider new avenues to explore within the reading.

3. Finally, as you complete your reading answer the questions you have asked! Make a note of anything you found surprising, confusing or what to know even more about as this can help stimulate discussion.

  • Share what you have learnt with others and see if your findings match theirs. Use this as an opportunity to explore ideas/concepts that group members found interesting or challenging.
  • Get visual

Making posters or infographics can be a great way to break up the monotony of readings walls of texts and creating pages and pages of notes. Making a visual resource to represent your notes/reading is a great opportunity to get creative and find new ways to represent your learning - maybe you could create a comic strip, or top trumps - the choice is yours!

Useful resources for study groups