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The ability to work collaboratively in small groups is one of the 21st Century Skills and it is not something that will happen by itself. It is a wonderful way for people to trust each other, share responsibility, and learn from one another. Many educators turn to collaborative group assignments to engage students and promote participation within their classroom. Students are able to not only learn from one another but also teach each other. Creating a successful virtual learning team requires both the participant and instructor to take an active role. The instructor needs to provide clear expectations, allow enough time, and provide closure to the assignment. The participant needs to actively engage in the activities and take responsibility for their learning. All team members need to be committed to achieving the goal through communication and collaboration in order for it to be most effective.

Tips for Forming Teams

Below are some things to keep in mind when creating and working with teams.

Communication Style Inventory

Have team members complete a Communication Style Inventory or similar tool to help understand each other better. This will help members to respect others differences, personalities, and learning styles. If communicating solely online, all group members should be sure to use "netiquette."

Team Size

An ideal team is between 3 to 4 members. With a team this size, all members are able to make contributions toward the goal and become active participants. With more than 4 members, the team runs into clashes in personality and communication styles.

Choosing Team Members

If students need to meet face-to-face outside of class time, create teams based on diversity and sometimes geography. If appropriate, allow participants to choose group members. One difficulty teams face is when someone has placed certain people into teams without thinking about many of these factors. When meeting with a group online, geography is not an issue. However, when a project requires team members to meet, time and distance play a vital factor in the productivity of the group.

Establishing Rules for Teams


All team members need to feel responsible and accountable for group achievements. When all members accept responsibility, they are able to celebrate their successes with each other. However, when teams do not accept responsibility they are found to only point fingers at each other and not resolve the issue at hand.


Share clear expectations of goals and assignments to help all group members understand the outcome(s). Discuss how often group members will meet or check-in and when assignments will be due. Designate class time for group projects (both online and in class). If all group members are aware of the expectations, team members will feel accountable for group achievements.

Best Practices

Rotating Roles

To allow all group members to be active participants, rotate roles (eg. facilitator, coach, resource manager, time manager, etc.). While some team members are natural leaders, others are more comfortable just being the follower. If all team members experience the leadership position or time manager position, accountability for the project will be shared. Share the rotation schedule with team members in advance so that they are familiar with the various roles and have enough time to prepare for each meeting.

Ice Breakers

Ice breakers can be implemented via an online or face to face meeting. Ice breakers can be used for team-building and to help members become comfortable with each other. Always keep in mind your audience and remember to keep it simple!


Ideally, if you have laid the ground rules and followed the tips on this page, you should have minimal issues with group members working collaboratively. However, when working in groups there is potential for misunderstandings or issues. If issues arise, it is best to confront the individual personally and make sure he/she knows what is expected. After speaking with the individual and trying to remedy the situation, one can involve the instructor.

Team and/or Group Activities

Now that you have created a successful team, below are several suggested activities to use/adapt in your classroom. Although these activities are meant for face-to-face groups, they could be adapted to meet the needs of your individual classrooms and/or an online learning environment.

High School

Middle School

  • Teamwork Poetry Presentation: Students will work together to create a poem through the use of puzzle pieces.
  • Using Children's Literature: The students will be provided with an opportunity to explore the concept that all individuals have strengths, abilities, and talents. Through whole-class and small-group dialogue, students determine what each story means in the context of their classroom and themselves as individuals. Students also develop the necessary skills for cooperative learning.

Elementary School

  • Team Efforts: This activity explores the benefits of teamwork with elementary students.
  • Collaborate: Students will work together to create a mural or piece of artwork.
  • Mad Minute Relay: Students will work in teams to answer math problems and to develop good team work skills.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Classroom

  • Activities geared toward students where English is their second language. Many of the activities require the class to be split into two or more groups.

=Assessing Team Performance ----

Feedback Tools

When working in a team, all group members are expected to actively participate and contribute toward achieving the common group goal. To help monitor team member participation, use feedback tools for both team and individual assessment. Many times, a team has presented well, but not every member contributed equally to the teams success. By providing both a team and individual assessment, it allows for honest feedback from each team member so the person in charge knows who did and who did not actively participate in the team.


Check out the following resources for more information on creating successful teams.