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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

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Premium, Select, and Institutional Plus Member Book (Nov 2009)

Productive Group Work

by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher and Sandi Everlove

Table of Contents

A Study Guide for Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding

This ASCD Study Guide is designed to enhance your understanding and application of the information contained in Productive Group Work, an ASCD book written by Nancy Frey, Douglass Fisher, and Sandi Everlove and published in November 2009.

You can use the study guide before or after you have read the book, or as you finish each chapter. The study questions provided are not meant to cover all aspects of the book, but, rather, to address specific ideas that might warrant further reflection. Please note that there are no study guide questions associated with Chapter 7: "Getting Started: Questions and Answers."

Most of the questions contained in this study guide are ones you can think about on your own, but you might consider pairing with a colleague or forming a study group with others who have read (or are reading) Productive Group Work.


  1. Research points to many positive outcomes of collaborative group work. Which of these outcomes have you experienced yourself? Which have your students experienced?
  2. Think about experiences you have had with group work, either as a participant or in your classroom. What worked well and what was challenging?
  3. What would you say are the reasons many students resist working in groups? What are some of the reasons many teachers avoid or abandon group work?
  4. What are some of the things teachers need to know and do to ensure that group work is truly productive for all group members?
  5. How would you explain to a colleague the role that collaborative group work plays in a gradual release of responsibility (GRR) model of instruction?

Chapter 1: Defining Productive Group Work

  1. Do you think the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky would support the idea that productive group work is not optional but essential if students are to learn and master new skills? Why or why not?
  2. Review Johnson and Johnson's five principles for successful group work. How would you describe each principle in one or two sentences? What examples of these principles can you identify in your own group work assignments?
  3. How does the type of group task affect the quality of collaboration within that group? What kinds of tasks tend to further collaboration? What kind of tasks tend to hinder it?
  4. How would you define the term "a meaningful task"?
  5. How does the possibility of failure influence a group's productivity and students' learning?

Chapter 2: Using Positive Interdependence

  1. What does it mean for students to be interdependent, and why is positive interdependence such a critical component of collaborative group work? Can you identify examples of positive interdependence in your current or past group work assignments?
  2. What does negative interdependence look like within a group, and how does it affect the group members' learning? Can you identify examples of negative interdependence in your current or past group work assignments?
  3. What are students focusing on when they are engaged in process learning versus content learning? How do the kinds of questions they ask themselves differ in these different types of learning?
  4. Why is it important for teachers to pay particular attention to process learning when planning group work?
  5. Studies of the amygdala suggest it acts as a gatekeeper to learning: blocking information associated with negative events while letting information associated with positive events through. Why is this information important to teachers, particularly when they are first introducing students to group work?
  6. Describe some ways teachers can foster positive interdependence by ensuring that each group member is able to contribute to the learning task. How might you adjust some of your past group work assignments to facilitate positive interdependence?

Chapter 3: Promoting Face-to-Face Interaction

  1. What do students gain from face-to-face discussions with peers that they cannot get through written interactions?
  2. What does the growing body of research about mirror neurons suggest about importance of face-to-face interactions for language development?
  3. If mirroring facilitates learning, what are the implications for teachers trying to promote the behaviors necessary for effective group interactions?
  4. During group work, what kinds of student interchanges should teachers listen for as evidence that students are helping each other learn (and not simply telling one another the answers)?
  5. What kinds of instructional routines help to promote productive interactions? How might you incorporate more of these routines into your own instruction?
  6. How can an independent activity, such as a quickwrite, improve the quality of face-to-face interactions among students? For which students are quickwrites a particularly valuable preparation for face-to-face interactions?

Chapter 4: Ensuring Individual and Group Accountability

  1. How would you explain to a colleague the importance of incorporating both individual and group accountability in all collaborative learning tasks?
  2. Review the guidelines for ensuring accountability in group work. As you read each guideline, imagine "short-changing" it or skipping it all together, and reflect on how doing so would affect individual and group accountability.
  3. In this chapter, the authors stress the importance of giving feedback that focuses on learning progress rather than on whether work is "right" or "wrong." What are some tools you can use to provide descriptive feedback about individual and group learning progress?
  4. How can feedback impact the brain's plasticity (the ability of the brain to change with learning)?
  5. What common features are found in instructional routines that foster individual and group accountability (such as numbered heads together, progressive writing, or a collaboratively constructed product)?

Chapter 5: Building Interpersonal and Small-Group Skills

  1. How would you explain "theory of mind" to a colleague? What is important for teachers to know about theory of mind and the role teachers can play in its development?
  2. How can tools such as graphic organizers help students to work more productively in groups? How might you incorporate additional graphic organizer use into your group work activities?
  3. What are some of the key elements of active listening? What are some ways you might teach your students active listening skills? How might you assess students' mastery of these skills?
  4. What do you think Jay Simmons meant when he said, "Responders are taught, not born," and what are the implications for teachers?
  5. You want your students to become skilled at giving their peers feedback that promotes learning. What steps will you need to take to teach your students this skill?
  6. Why is providing students with opportunities to explore situations from different perspectives such a powerful vehicle for learning collaboratively?

Chapter 6: Incorporating Group Processing

  1. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden has been quoted as saying, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." Why is this principle as important in the classroom as it is on the basketball court?
  2. What are students gaining in terms of skills and knowledge when they process their experiences after completing a task?
  3. Why is group work an effective way to develop metacognitive and executive skills?
  4. Why are tools that promote self-monitoring (such as self-monitoring questionnaires) important not only for self-reflection but also for group processing? How can they assist students during discussions about their own and their groupmates contributions?
  5. What can a teacher do to ensure that learning logs serve as a valuable tool for self-reflection and growth? What can students do?


  1. What are the most important things to consider when you are planning for group work?
  2. What are the key factors to take into account when preparing students for group work?
  3. When designing group-worthy tasks or products, what measures will help ensure that the process and product will result in active learning for all group members?
  4. What are some of the ways in which group work prepares students to become self-regulating, independent learners?
  5. What steps can you take to help your students learn to deal with uncooperative group members or manage group conflicts?
  6. Going forward, how will you evaluate group work, and how will you communicate your grading system to your students?
  7. What concerns do you think your students have about group work? What can you do to address these concerns and mitigate them?

Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding was written by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Sandi Everlove. This 125-page, 7" x 9" book (Stock #109018; ISBN-13: 978-1-4166-0883-7) is available from ASCD for $16.95 (ASCD member) or $21.95 (list). Copyright © 2009 by ASCD. To order a copy, call ASCD at 1-800-933-2723 (in Virginia 1-703-578-9600) and press 2 for the Service Center. Or buy the book from ASCD's Online Store.


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