Group Formation

Group Formation

Even the most seasoned instructors get stumped from time to time. How to successfully form teams of three students continues to be one of the most frequently asked questions when preparing to teach in TILE.

Experienced TILE instructors use a variety of strategies. Here are two that may work for you: 

Organize First by GPA Diversity, then Randomly

Alison Bianchi, Associate Professor of Sociology, organizes three-person groups three times during the semester. 

In the first round, Bianchi organizes students into groups based on a range of GPAs with an effort to include one “very high” GPA student per table. She says assigning roles directly is crucial.

“Otherwise the high GPA folks might take over and stifle those who may be less inclined to speak,” says Bianchi. 

Being intentional about roles can also make allies of students who might feel burdened during group work.

“Having the high GPA students buy into the notion that 'teaching it means you know it even better' helps them overcome the idea that one person has to do all the work,” she says.

Bianchi forms the remaining two groups randomly as the semester plays out.

“After the first round, you don’t have to worry about students not talking, “ she says. “They get the gist of the notion that all must engage for it to work, and then do, in fact engage!"

Organize by Student Availability

For some students, busy schedules make it challenging to coordinate group work outside of class.

AmyRuth McGraw, Lecturer in American Sign Language, uses a simple strategy to organize groups based on student availability.

Using the ICON Dropbox, students submit a list of their free time to McGraw who uses their responses to make groups that have at least a couple of hours a week of overlapping time.

So far, this process has worked well.

“I’ve heard from students this is one of the most satisfying group project experiences they've had,” she says.

McGraw also finds this process helps set boundaries and responsibilities. 

“Having gone through this process, the excuse, ‘Our project didn't work because we didn't have time to meet’ is off the table,” she says.

As an instructor, do you have other strategies that work well for organizing students into teams? Please send your strategies to tile@uiowa.edu