As a teacher, we know you’re constantly on the lookout for new and unique ideas to get your students engaged in class, keep them excited about doing schoolwork, and to help them learn! A huge part of helping students learn is by using multiple different approaches when it comes to presenting information, testing the students’ retention of information, and having your students present their own research on concepts. We all know that projects are a great way to mix up instruction and get students thinking outside the box. Projects can also allow students to learn more about something they are interested in and present it to you or the class in an interesting and unique way. While every student has his or her preference about group or individual projects, as teachers, we know that both types of projects have their place in the classroom. But whether you’re new to teaching or are a tried and true teaching veteran, it can be hard to distinguish the best times to utilize group projects versus individual projects, so we’ve put together some pros and cons of each, as well as some examples of which lessons and types of projects work best for groups and for individuals.
When you announce to the class that a group project is coming up, the response is often mixed. No, group projects are not everyone’s favorite, but they absolutely have their place in the classroom. Regardless of the grade or subject you’re teaching, group projects can be incredibly beneficial, though they also come with their fair share of struggles and challenges. Here are the biggest pros and cons of group projects within the classroom.
Pros of Group Projects
They encourage teamwork and collaboration, both of which are incredibly important skills that students will need long after they graduate from high school.
They can help students learn to break down certain tasks and allocate responsibilities.
They allow for group discussion, which often leads to innovative ideas, challenging assumptions, and improved communication skills.
They are able to take on more complex problems than they could handle individually.
They will utilize problem-solving skills and conflict resolution as they work together to create a solution.
More accountability happens—lower achieving students are usually called out on their lack of contribution because everyone’s grade is at stake.
Individuals’ weaknesses don’t affect the group because someone else often has a strength that makes up for one person’s weakness. For example, speaking in public.
Cons of Group Projects
Some quieter students may struggle to contribute to the group.
Groups may allocate work unevenly based on students’ grades or knowledge of a subject, leaving some people to do far more work than others.
Poor communication skills or scheduling conflicts can lead to poor performance.
Groups can often spend too much time discussing ideas, organizing responsibilities, or just chatting as friends without getting much actually accomplished, especially in the beginning.
Students are often required to “grade” one another’s contributions in group projects, which can lead to problems.
What Type of Projects Work Best for Groups?
From in-class work to large, at-home projects, there are countless projects and assignments that work great for groups:
Huge math problems that have multiple, complex steps
Interpretation of literature that may have multiple different answers
A comparison of ancient civilizations, several countries’ economic health, or political issues that are affecting our society
Creation of a fake company to explore business and economics, complete with a business plan and budget
An exploration of genetics, including a comparison of group members dominant and recessive characteristics
Using everyday objects to create waves, as well as reporting on the different types of waves
An investigation of forces and energy, including discovering where they are used in the real world and day-to-day life
The mention of an individual project assignment, like group projects, also garners a mix of reactions from students. As with most things, there is a place for individual projects within the classroom, regardless of if you’re teaching middle school science, high school social studies, or another subject at another grade level. Here are the most significant advantages and disadvantages of having your students do individual projects.
Pros of Individual Projects
Students’ success is entirely based on themselves, rather than on a group of peers who may or may not contribute to a project.
Students have more freedom to do a project on any topic (within the confines of the assignment) because they don’t have to select a topic as a group.
There are no concerns about conflicts among students since everyone is working independently.
Every student is responsible for his or her own learning and completion of the project, so students who may skate by during group projects will actually do individual projects themselves and learn a great deal about their topic.
Teachers have less to oversee during individual projects because students are working independently and will likely have fewer questions about the project.
Students can work at their own pace.
They encourage independent thinking and independent problem-solving skills.
Cons of Individual Projects
There is no accountability amongst peers for completing the project.
Less collaboration, communication, sharing of ideas, etc.
Projects must be smaller and more manageable for individuals.
Presenting individual projects takes far longer than presenting group projects since there is one for every student.
What Type of Projects Work Best for Individuals?
While some projects can work for either group work or individual work, some are better suited for students to work independently, such as the following:
An overview of a country, including culture, economy, contribution to the world, and more
An exploration of a particular concept that is applicable in your current unit
An examination of a specific world religion, regions it affects, its ideal and values, and more
A study of a particular planet
A look into one of Earth’s natural disasters
A report on a specific chemical element
Find the Balance
As you can see and as you probably already know, the best individual projects are focused on learning, researching, and reporting of information, while the best group projects are more focused on comparing different things, discussing ideas and solutions, and utilizing problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Since the majority of classwork, homework, and assessments will be individual, be sure to explore options for group projects to encourage your students to dive into the material and explore the concepts even more. Find a balance between the two so that no students are exhausted or overwhelmed by the assignments you’re giving, and so that each student can enjoy the advantages that come with both types of projects.