Classroom Management Teaching Drama

Pros and Cons: Assigned Groups vs. Class-Chosen Groups

Group work
Written by Kerry Hishon

Group work is an enormous part of drama class. Students are always working in groups, whether for warm-ups, improvisation, scene work, playwriting, working backstage, and more. Even if your entire drama class was focused on monologues and one-person shows, students need to work in groups for dramaturgy, giving and receiving direction, assisting with technical needs, and feedback. So the ability to navigate group work is a skill that students need to develop.

The tricky part of working in groups is often figuring out who the group members will be. Do you allow your students to select their own groups, or do you assign group members? Let’s look at some pros and cons of both selection methods.

Assigned Groups

Pros

  • Working in assigned groups gives students the opportunity to work with and get to know other students that they may not know as well. This could be the start of a new friendship!
  • Working in assigned groups helps students work on their communication and problem-solving skills as they learn to delegate the work and navigate different styles of learning.
  • Using assigned groups provides a sense of fairness. If the groups are selected in class by random grouping (such as drawing names out of a hat), then the students can see that the selection process was random and the same for everyone.

Cons

  • Students may not be happy with their assigned group members, or even accuse you of “stacking” certain groups. They may think you put them with someone that they don’t get along with on purpose as a “punishment” or that a certain group member won’t pull their weight.
  • Students might feel shy or scared to do the vulnerable work in drama class with people they are less familiar with or don’t know. Despite the fact that they will eventually present their work in front of the rest of the class, it can be hard for students to open up during the work portion of the assignment.
  • Teachers can never know the full ins and outs of their students’ lives, and it is possible you could assign students to a group who you thought were best friends but are currently fighting, or students who used to date each other but have broken up, or any number of other conflicts. While your students will have to learn to deal with working with others in many different situations, it could cause problems in the short term.
Class-Chosen Groups

Pros

  • Students are generally happy because they get to work with their friends and appreciate being able to control who is in their group.
  • Some students also choose their groups strategically and select the people in class who they think are the smartest or most talented in order to benefit from those students’ skills and boost their own performance, marks, or overall group appearance.
  • Letting students select their own group members gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their decision-making skills and to solve problems on their own. They need to make smart choices about who they do and do not decide to work with.

Cons

  • Inevitably, someone either always gets chosen last or doesn’t immediately find a group and needs help. This can be frustrating or embarrassing for the student who is left out, and potentially cause resentment for the other group members who didn’t necessarily want that student in their group in the first place.
  • Frequently, there are groups of students who really should not work together and it pretty much defeats the purpose of class-chosen groups if you have to go back and change the groups.
  • Particularly in younger grades, students of the same gender tend to band together, which can be difficult if you are working with scripts that require group members of different genders. (However, this could be turned into a pro if the group members find creative solutions to such casting challenges!)

What do you think? What works best with your students? What works best for your curriculum?

Click here for a free list of discussion questions to use with your students about the pros and cons of assigned groups versus class-chosen groups.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

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About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.