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Best Practice: Group Membership

goldfish following a leader

The number of students in your course and how well you know them can influence how you select members for group work and collaboration.

In general, include at least four members in each group. Four-member groups can accommodate an absence and the group can continue to move forward. This size does not permit any student to lurk without participating. Group members can distribute tasks evenly. Four members bring enough diversity, opinions, and learning styles for worthwhile brainstorming and solutions.

If you plan to assign group activities more than once, consider rotating groups throughout the term. However, allow a group to stay intact long enough to bond and be productive.

Group Enrollment Methods

You can create groups one at a time or in sets. You can manually select group members, have the system randomly select them as you create group sets, or allow students to self-enroll.

Manual Enroll

Manual enrollment allows you to assign each student in your course to a group. Manual enrollment is available for both single groups and group sets.

lightbulb   Consider...

With a bit of knowledge about your students, you can successfully assign members to groups to ensure heterogeneity or diversity. Groups containing assorted personality traits or mixed abilities can produce the best results. Students report preferring a group assignment made by an instructor to membership they choose for themselves.

You want to create groups that include individuals with varied strengths, knowledge, and even work habits. You also need to consider gender and cultural differences. Heterogeneous groups work especially well for generating new ideas and exploring a project from different points of view. The stronger members of a group will gain deeper knowledge of the subject as they help struggling teammates. The weaker students will not only acquire knowledge from the motivated students, but may also gain insight on how their group members approach their learning. Hopefully, the results are students feeling good about themselves for helping others and students motivated by peer examples.

Random Enroll

Random enrollment is available only for group sets and automatically distributes membership into groups based on a designated number of students per group or the designated number of groups. Random distribution applies only to students who are currently enrolled in your course. You can enroll additional students manually. When naming a set of groups, the name of each group has a number added to it when they are first created. For example, a set of groups named "Research" results in groups named "Research 1," "Research 2," and "Research 3," depending on the number of groups in the set. After creation, you can edit the group names.

lightbulb   Consider...

Random assignment to groups may work best for instructors who teach courses containing many students—without the opportunity to know them individually. Though random assignment is easy for an instructor as it requires no preparation, some students may view random assignment as their instructor not caring.

By assigning students to groups, you avoid the risk that students who select their own partners will spend too much time socializing and forming cliques. No students are excluded, disregarded, or chosen last. Also, some instructors feel one of the goals of group work is to collaborate with people you do not know, and random assignment increases this likelihood.


Self-enrollment allows students to add themselves to a group using a sign-up sheet. You can make sign-up sheets available to students on the groups listing page or by adding a link to a course area, such as a content area, learning module, lesson plan, or folder. When you create a group using sign-up sheets, you can make the group immediately available to use or available after all members have signed up. Self-enrollment is an option available for both single groups and group sets.

lightbulb   Consider...

When students self-select groups, they tend to do so based on previous relationships or characteristics: friends, teammates, organization membership, social groups on campus, ethnicity, or gender. Students who have few affiliations may find it difficult to become a member of groups composed of like individuals.

Homogeneous groups may not need to spend a great deal of time bonding. They may already have a high level of trust and agreement so these groups may fit your intended outcomes best.

You need to consider how to promote inclusiveness or use self-enrollment only for those courses where you have students with like abilities, interests, and affiliations. You can also use self-enroll groups for group formation based on interest, non-graded collaborations, extra credit, volunteer situations, or for study groups.

To learn how to use the enrollment options, see Create Groups.