Students may need help managing group tasks and processes once their project or group activity is under way. This page provides tools to help students develop action plans, set timelines, create job lists and wish lists, review team roles and leadership. A separate page deals with Structuring Discussion in group meetings.
Action planning is an effective way to plan complex tasks so that they are completed on time. An action plan helps students break tasks down into smaller, more manageable actions, to clarify goals and to establish exactly what needs to be done and how.
The questions in the following handout show students what is involved in action planning. They can use them to plan the execution of larger tasks by writing an action plan as a group, or to plan how they will accomplish individual tasks the group has assigned them.
Student handout 1
What steps are involved (e.g. Read…, Find…, Search…, List…, Produce…)?
When should the task be finished by?
What will the outcome look like?
Who can help you?
What resources do you need?
How will you know if you have done it well enough?
Adapted from: G. Gibbs (1994), Learning in Teams: A Student Manual, Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Centre for Staff, p. 28.
Divide tasks among group members, using the job list on the page When Groups First Meet. This can also help ensure that the workload is distributed evenly among the group, and students can learn to recognise and draw on the strengths of the group in allocating tasks.
Encourage students to think about whether certain tasks are best completed by individuals, or whether it might be more effective in some cases for tasks to be handled by pairs or sub-groups.
Students often find it difficult to keep on track with group work. A particular task or project may evolve in an unexpected way, or a group may encounter issues that delay their progress.
For larger group projects, timelines or time charts help students keep on track with their projects, and give them practice negotiating and meeting particular deadlines the group sets for itself. Below is an example of a project timeline.
Student handout 2
Developing a timeline
Other tasks you might include on the timeline: collate data, analyse data, discuss findings, write up theory, write up methodology, write up analysis, write up conclusions, prepare presentation.
(From Gibbs, Learning in Teams, p. 27.)
Groups often find that leadership evolves naturally within their group. Sometimes, however, if the leadership role is not clear, groups can lose direction and focus.
When helping students to establish group roles, suggest to them that the role of group leader can change in the course of the project. Groups can use the following checklist to review group leadership, and make sure that all basic leadership tasks are being completed. Students should complete the checklist, then discuss who will be responsible for unchecked tasks. This process also helps students understand the elements of effective group functioning and to value the roles listed. Many of the items relate to leadership within group meetings, but they also apply to other group processes, such as brainstorming sessions and general group discussions.
Student handout 3
Checking that the layout of the chairs and the room is appropriate at the start
Setting time limits and keeping an eye on the time (pacing)
Making the purpose of the meeting clear to everyone
Establishing and maintaining a supportive climate in meetings
Clarifying and reinforcing ground rules
Drawing in quiet members and reining in talkative members
Redirecting discussion where appropriate
Linking points, summarising and building up understanding as discussion progresses
Acknowledging different viewpoints
Identifying decisions and clearly stating them to check that they are agreed
Moving the meeting on decisively to the next point or agenda item
Closing the meeting with a clear statement of what is to happen next
(From Gibbs, Learning in Teams, p. 45.)
Getting the most out of group meetings
Guidelines for meetings (including setting agendas, taking notes, following up on meetings) are useful for students who have little experience participating in meetings.
To keep meetings running smoothly, you might also like to provide students with a checklist such as the one below for reviewing their group meetings. This helps groups identify what they are doing well in meetings, the aspects that could be improved, and how they would like their meetings to be conducted in the future.
Alternatively, you could ask groups to submit a group meeting report including details of who was present or absent, when the meeting took place, what decisions were made, responsibilities allocated, plans for further action and agenda items for subsequent meetings.
Student handout 4
Checklist for group meetings
Conducting the meeting
It was clear who was taking responsibility for chairing the meeting.
It was clear who was taking notes.
We reviewed our last meeting.
We reviewed our progress since last meeting.
Before we arrived it was clear what the meeting was meant to achieve.
It became clear at each stage what the meeting was meant to be achieving.
We had a clear agenda outlining things to discuss and work on.
We moved through the various topics in an orderly way.
The discussions were focused on decisions we needed to make.
We made clear decisions and recorded these.
Recording and following up on the meeting
We have summarised what we agreed.
We agreed on a time and place for the next meeting.
We know what the next meeting will be for.
The meeting was effective.
The meeting was enjoyable.