I began teaching as a graduate assistant immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree in English. During my early years as an instructor, one assignment that regularly caused trepidation, both for me and for my students, was “the group project.” As a student myself, group projects often led to frustration. Students have different goals, different levels of engagement, and different skill sets. Often, students working in groups are quick to throw each other under the bus when problems arise. Students will complain about not being able to choose their own groups. Students will complain when one or more members of the group fails to attend class or show up for group meetings. Students will experience high levels of anxiety, fearing that their grades will be negatively affected by the shortcomings of their group members. Despite the clear benefits of giving students practice with collaboration and working in groups, I found myself empathizing with my students and their concerns. Group work can be difficult to grade, and the resulting projects are often splintered, predictable final products that lack creativity and genuine teamwork.
I have included the general set of instructions for the group project, along with sets of instructions for three preliminary assignments that each group completes as they progress throughout the semester. I hope these ideas and materials will help other instructors who want to assign group projects, but may feel some trepidation. Trying some new things has helped me move from an instructor who resisted major group projects and sympathized with frustrated students to an instructor who views group projects as exciting opportunities with limitless potential for both creativity and professional development.