NOW READING: How To Begin Building Collaborative Student Groups the Right Way

How To Begin Building Collaborative Student Groups the Right Way

One of the Essential Fluencies of learning, Collaboration Fluency, is the essence of the modern classroom and the modern workforce. Building collaborative student groups in the best ways is something you and your learners can benefit from together.

It’s about much more than students sitting around a table working to solve a problem. Collaboration Fluency means working cooperatively with real and virtual partners to solve problems that matter. Of course, to give your learners the best possible team experiences, there are definitely things you should and shouldn’t do.

The gang at TeachThought have published these tips from Jennifer Rita Nichols on how to succeed at building collaborative student groups in any classroom. It’s terrific food for thought for any teacher.

The Do's and Don'ts of Building Collaborative Student Groups

The Do’s

Considering distance and access to online tools: Accord to Nichols, it’s best to build collaborative groups with ease of accessibility to each other in mind. Ensure they can easily communicate with each other both online and offline.

Grouping students according to ability: This is tricky but necessary for everyone’s success. “In many cases, the multi-level grouping of stronger and weaker students does not have the effects we would hope for,” says Nichols.

Varying between teacher and student choice: You can approach building collaborative student groups by letting students decide who they want to work with. Choosing to work with friends can be beneficial since we must guide learners to work through distractions. This is how they find productive enjoyment in collaborating with people they’re familiar with.


Considering common interests: Teachers notice many things students don’t, such as what they have in common with people outside their peer groups. Mixing it up among who your learners interact with is a great way to build classroom community.

Grouping students according to a skill that needs development: Another idea or building collaborative student groups is using learners that need to improve specific skills. This is effective for a few reasons. For starters, it can help you focus assignments on either single or multiple skills. Additionally, it can also help stronger students take the lead to partner up with those who struggle more.

Creating random groups: Sometimes it can be interesting to leave things to chance and group learners who might never have considered working with each other. However, it’s also important to let students know that, if being grouped randomly, there are guidelines to follow. Set parameters for mutual respect and ensure your learners know what is expected of them. “This method works best for smaller, more general assignments. Its effectiveness varies depending on your class dynamic, but is worth incorporating with other grouping strategies,” Nichols cautions.

The Dont’s

Using the same grouping method every time: “Students need to learn to adapt to changes,” advises Nichols, “and also have many different skills that they need to work on.” Ultimately, varying how you build collaborative groups with learners will keep things fresh and challenging.

Avoiding using group work: In order to learn how to work in groups efficiently and productively, the old maxim “practice makes perfect” applies here. Modern learners gravitate towards group work anyway because they find it an enriching part of learning. With this in mind, make sure they get to do lots of it.


Using group work to solve personal conflicts: More often than not this winds up having the opposite of the intended effect. Pairing up students involved in a personal conflict can be dangerous—to themselves, to others, and most of all to everyone’s ability to learn.

Being rigid or overcommitted: Unfortunately, group work isn’t always successful. Sometimes when building collaborative student groups in a classroom, it ends up not working out no matter how hard everyone tries. In this case, Nichols encourages us to remember that such instances don’t reflect on us as educators. “Be open to modifying groups as needed,” she says. “Split them up, merge them with others, or allow for individual work if the situation calls for it.”

Read 10 Dos & Don’ts For Group Work & Student Grouping by Jennifer Rita Nichols on TeachThought.Critical Thinking Companion