Tip # 2 – Instructions and Roles

Tip # 2 – Instructions and Roles

Once you have experimented with rapidly splitting the class into groups for short activities under your direct control, the next steps are to run parts of the lesson with slightly more structure and a higher level of independence from the teacher.

In a modern classroom, students need clear instructions about who is to do what, the timeframe, and the expected results.


Suppose you are going to teach a topic and want:

  • To know what the students can recall from their previous school, classes, teacher etc so you know what to teach
  • The students to realise what they already know, and do not know, so they are ready to learn new things
  • You can use this 10-minute group activity for the end of a lesson so that you can prepare the next lesson. You will give the same question to all 4-6 groups and will receive different answers from them.


  • “What do you already know about (this topic)?”
  • You have 6 minutes to write down words and concepts you associate with (this topic)
  • Make sure everyone gets to speak
  • Speak one at the time
  • Give time for group members to write / draw
  • One person will present for the group to the class


Students who are new to working in groups will not know what to do. The requirements or “Rules of the Game” are different to that of sitting in the traditional classroom and being taught a lesson by a teacher at the front of the room. Students are taking on some of the teacher’s role.

​Each student will need to know what their role is and what it includes.

Roles can be:

  • Group leader, makes sure only one person is speaking at the time
  • Notetaker, takes notes on what was said (not who)
  • Timekeeper, keeps track of time “We have 2 minutes left”
  • Includer, makes sure everyone gets to contribute if they want to
  • Artist, makes a visual representation of the connections between what has been said
  • Presenter, presents the group’s answers to the whole class

I like to use cards with the roles carefully described for the first four or five times we run groups. You can allow students to choose the roles they want, or challenge the to try something different and decide for them. Anticipate there will be struggles, resistance and failures when working in groups. Use such outcomes as learning for life as an adult when you debrief the activity.

Debriefing is always a good idea whether they ‘failed’ or ‘succeeded’.

Debrief the Activity

  • “So, you went over time. What can you learn from that?”
  • “I see that you didn’t keep to the roles. What are your thoughts about that?”
  • “There were no results from this group. What would you do differently next time?”