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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre & STEM Ambassadors's online course, Inspiring Young People in STEM: Communication Skills for STEM Ambassadors. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds One of the driving factors in deciding whether to do it as a whole group or to split into smaller groups is simply resources. If we have enough resources to be able to break off into smaller groups, then the better. Because I find that students learn better in groups of four or five students, rather than 20 to 30. This would be the case in the whole class. A way to get students to work together is probably best putting them with peers. With their friends, they are more open, they’re more susceptible to say I don’t understand this than they are with somebody that they don’t normally work with.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 seconds Now that sometimes means that working at the same ability or slightly better ability to help them. I know some schools have outstanding or stronger students with weaker students but they don’t always communicate and I think a friendship bond works a lot better. [MUSIC] You can engage with the kids more easily when you have a larger number of small groups because you can move from one group to the other. And then you can really get an idea of where each child is at in the activity, what their level of understanding is of the activity, and you can give them more targeted answers to their questions.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds So you can see how they’re progressing, if they feel unsure or they don’t understand the background of the STEM activity, what the science is in it, then you can really give them a better answer than if you were talking to a whole group. Well the biggest difference in communication between talking to a small group and a large group is that in the larger group you have to do a lot more work to make sure you look each student in the eye. And that makes them feel like you’re talking to them rather at them. Whereas in a smaller group, if you’re all sat around the table it’s much easier to ask them by name what they all think of a subject.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds [MUSIC]

Group engagement

Why would you want young people to work together in a group? Well, it helps develop all sorts of inter-personal skills and is often more like the team work involved in many real world workplaces. For example, it can develop the following skills:

  • Leadership
  • Negotiating
  • Diplomacy
  • Collaboration

It can also give a group of young people a shared sense of purpose and a common goal to work towards.

It is important to think about how you are going to use groups to enhance and maintain engagement within an activity. Remember the activity organiser knows the young people much better than you do and they can support you with allocating them to groups.

Watch the videos of STEM Ambassadors and teachers talking about how they engage groups.


  1. Identify the reasons in the video that the STEM Ambassadors and teacher used group work.
  2. In the comments below, add to the list of skills that group work can develop.
  3. Select one skill and consider how you might use group work in your activity to develop that skill, or use group work for another purpose. Share below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Inspiring Young People in STEM: Communication Skills for STEM Ambassadors

National STEM Learning Centre