Assigning Roles for Group Work (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. Assigning roles helps distribute responsibilities among group members and ensures that students can organize their group discussion independently. 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.


If you are teaching in a face-to-face setting, use our original Assigning Roles for Group Work strategy.

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