Using defined student roles in group activities

All students should be continuously engaged working collaboratively to solve problems and contribute to discussions in the Active Learning Classroom. The assignment of roles helps to commit students to time on task.

Why use roles in group work?

  • Helps focus students on the task;
  • Assigning roles sets expectations for student engagement and clarifies how they need to contribute and take responsibility;
  • Helps prevent one student sitting back and allowing the others to do the work – e.g. if the scribe isn’t doing their job then nothing is being recorded.
  • Develops team-working and interpersonal skills (must rotate roles per activity or session)
  • Prevents arguments about who will make notes;
  • Ensures that assumptions are questioned.

In SCALE-UP the roles of Manager, Scribe and Questioner are used as the basis for triads. Other group roles and sizes can be used in other situations. It can be useful, for example, for students to analyse a task they have been given and to identify the roles they will need to successfully complete it.

The Manager,

  • Directs the sequence of steps in the problem;
  • Manages time;
  • Reinforces the merits of everyone’s ideas;
  • Ensures that each group member participates.

The Scribe,

  • Writes actual steps on the whiteboard or constructs the group presentation;
  • Ensures that each group member understands what is being learnt in the activity as it progresses;
  • Makes sure all group members agree on each step of the problem.

The Questioner,

  • Makes sure all possible problem-solving strategies are explored e.g. encourages group members to think of alternative strategies;
  • Scrutinises proposed actions, raises any concerns and suggests alternative approaches;
  • Provides reasoning and explanations of steps to group members as necessary.

Rob Beichner, who devised SCALE-UP, and his colleagues recommend scheduling some brief training in group functioning early in the module (Beichner et al. 2007). Regular, structured reflection on group roles and functioning is also vital. It is useful to devote some class time to this or to set follow-up tasks where students reflect then produce an action plan for further development. This kind of reflection supports not only students’ development of effective group work skills, but also their self-efficacy. Furthermore, reflection on group functioning following carefully selected prompts can allow students to give and receive constructive feedback, a valuable skill in itself.

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