Four students at their desks, working in a group.
Teaching Strategy

Assigning Roles for Group Work

Make your students’ group work more effective by giving each member a specific role to fill.

Published:

At a Glance

Teaching Strategy

Language

English — US

Subject

  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Overview

About This Teaching Strategy

Assigning students particular roles can be an effective way to structure group work. Sometimes certain students assume too much responsibility for a group’s work, while other students may be reluctant to contribute to the group’s activities. Assigning roles helps to distribute responsibility among group members and ensures accountability for all students’ participation. As students practice different roles, they have the opportunity to develop a variety of skills.

 

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Lesson Plans

Steps for Implementation

The roles often needed for group work include facilitator, questioner, timekeeper, and big idea grabber. Below are recommended descriptions of each of these roles. You might also add roles like recorder, artist, or presenter as needed. 

  • Facilitator: The Facilitator guides the discussion. They get the meeting started with a group check-in. At the end of the meeting, they lead a reflection. The Facilitator makes sure that everyone’s voice is heard and that one student isn’t dominating the conversation. The Facilitator can help the group review their book club contract if someone feels like a norm has been broken. 
  • Questioner: Everyone should come to book club meetings prepared with questions to discuss about the chapters they read. The Questioner helps the Facilitator by posing the first question about the book. They also have follow-up questions if the conversation slows down. The Questioner can use the “Compelling Questions for Book Club Discussions” handout or prepare their own questions as they read each week. They can write their own questions on sticky notes or a small piece of paper that they use as a bookmark. 
  • Time Keeper: The Time Keeper helps the Facilitator to keep the group on track. They can help the group get refocused if the discussion wanders away from the book for too long. When the meeting is almost over, the Time Keeper lets the Facilitator know that they should start the group reflection. 
  • Big Idea Grabber: The Big Idea Grabber summarizes the big ideas that group members raise during each discussion. The Big Idea Grabber records these ideas and shares them with the group and the teacher. They can “sketchnote,” which means representing what group members say using pictures and images. Or they can jot down key words and phrases during the meeting on a piece of paper. Before the final reflection at the end of the meeting, the Big Idea Grabber gives a summary of the big ideas the group talked about. 

When you first introduce roles, provide clear instructions for the responsibilities that come with each assignment. You might want to make lists of what it looks like when the role is performed well and when it is not performed well. You may wish to share with them the descriptions we provided of each role in the previous step.

It is important that students get a chance to try out a variety of roles. When you assign roles, make sure that you are not always assigning the same students to certain roles.

In writing or through a discussion, ask students to reflect on their experiences working in groups. Which roles do they feel most comfortable in? Which are most challenging for them? Students may also have ideas about new roles that should be assigned.

Remote Learning

Even when students are not together in the classroom, they can still work collaboratively in groups by meeting in virtual breakout rooms, collaborating in shared documents, or communicating by text message or email. Assigning students particular roles can be an effective way to structure group work, and it is especially important for students to have clearly defined roles and tasks in remote environments, since you will likely not be present during group discussions to monitor students’ progress and answer questions. The following guidance for creating roles can help students complete group work in virtual breakout rooms.

  1. Determine the Roles You Need
    The following roles may be particularly helpful to guide remote group work:
    • Facilitator: A facilitator guides a discussion and makes sure that everyone’s voice is heard. Online discussions can be challenging because members don’t always know who wants to talk next. The facilitator can help the group decide how students should indicate when they want to speak and create space for everyone’s ideas and questions.
    • Recorder: The recorder taks notes on the discussion and summarizes the big ideas that come up.
    • Timekeeper: If you ask students to use a discussion strategy that requires them to take turns speaking, the timekeeper can prompt group members when it is time to switch speakers. The timekeeper can also give a warning when the discussion time is almost up.
    • Presenter: A presenter shares key ideas from the small-group discussion with the full class.
  2. Provide Students with Expectations for Roles
    When you first introduce roles, provide clear instructions for the responsibilities that come with each assignment. You might want to make lists of what it looks like when the role is performed well and when it is not performed well. Provide students with a written explanation of each role, so that they have a document to refer to when they are in their small groups.
  3. Debrief and Evaluate
    Ask students to submit an exit card with their reflections on their experiences working in groups. Which roles do they feel most comfortable in? Which are most challenging for them? Students may also have ideas about new roles that should be created.

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