Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Group Work vs. Individual Work by Mike Siekkinen

When determining your classroom setup and how your students will be seated, there are a number of things to consider. Deciding how students are seated (singly, in pairs, groups-group size?) as well as if assignments will be done together or individually will yield different results. The following are some thoughts from a teacher in the trenches vs an educational “expert” who does not teach. I teach middle school, primarily 8th grade, so these thoughts are based on my experience.

Individual seating and assignments


  • You can see precisely what a student can or can’t do.
  • See what a student knows and doesn’t know.
  • Usually “quiet" instruction/work environment (some like this/some don’t)
  • Many students would rather work alone and provide an individual product.
  • No student collaboration (no exchanging ideas).
  • No social interaction (can be a positive or a negative).
  • Some students like working with others vs individually.

Groups Work (pairs or small group)


  • Get a more rounded project or assignment as more eyes on the assignment.
  • Encourages cooperation among students.
  • Students work toward common goal.


  • Students tend to be social, so often can get off task.
  • One student can dominate and provide all the answers.
  • Don’t necessarily get to see what an individual student knows.

I use a combination of both seating arrangements, depending on what I have students doing. When working with groups, I make expectations very clear on conduct and enforce proper behavior working within a group. I explain that in a group or partner situation, talking should be related to the assignment and work they are doing, not a social time. Even with this explanation, consistent monitoring needs to be done (walking around the room, visiting with students, checking where they are in the assignment, etc.). Students can quickly get off track and forget why they are together and it can become a very social environment. You will get a feel of your students over time and decisions about group size and how often you have students collaborate will become easier.

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.