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 group size doesn't permit any student to lurk. 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, you can rotate groups throughout the term. However, allow a group to stay intact long enough to bond and be productive.

Group enrollment methods

When you create a group or set of groups, you can select group members in these ways:

  • Manually select group members—also called custom groups
  • Have the system randomly select members as you create group sets
  • Allow students to self-enroll

Manual enrollment

With manual enrollment, you assign each student in your course to a group.

With a bit of knowledge about your students, you can successfully assign members to groups to ensure diversity. Groups that contain assorted personality traits or mixed abilities can produce the best results. Students may prefer group assignments made by an instructor rather than memberships 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 a deeper knowledge of the subject as they help struggling teammates. The weaker students will acquire knowledge from the motivated students and gain insight on how their group members approach their learning. Hopefully, the collaboration results in students who feel good about themselves for helping others and students motivated by peer examples.

Random enrollment

Random enrollment automatically distributes membership into groups based on a designated number of students per group or the designated number of groups. Random enrollment applies only to students who are currently enrolled in your course. You can enroll additional students manually.

Random group assignments may work best for instructors who teach courses that contain many students without the opportunity to know them individually. As a result, it might be difficult to know which students may work well together and get along. Though random assignment is easy for an instructor as it requires no preparation, some students may view random assignment as their instructor not caring.

When you randomly 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 don't know, and random assignment increases this likelihood.


Self-enrollment allows students to add themselves to a group.

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 may want 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 groups based on interest, non-graded collaborations, extra credit, volunteer situations, or for study groups.

More on how to create and manage groups