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Guidelines for Running a Study Group

You must establish ground rules that create an environment of trust and respect so that all members feel their contributions are valued. When such an environment exists, members are more willing to take risks, to think more creatively, and be more open, which leads to a deeper, richer discussion.

Expect members to be prepared.

All members should bring notes, textbooks, and other materials and be prepared to discuss the material. Before a session, each member should complete any assigned readings, review notes, and jot down concepts he/she would like to discuss. If members are prepared, the study group will be able to devote its time to understanding the material more deeply rather than simply reviewing the basics.

Avoid allowing the group to become a place for note-gathering.

Discussing notes and sharing notes can certainly be a part of an effective study group, but try to discourage members from using the group as a way to get notes from class. Discourage members from seeing the group as a replacement for attending class.

Respect different viewpoints.

U-M is a diverse university with students from around the world. Thus, it is advantageous to encourage all members to contribute; it is equally important that members listen to and consider input from all members and avoid quickly dismissing an idea. Each person brings a unique set of experiences and a background that can add important dimensions to the group discussion.

Create a safe environment by accommodating different learning/working styles.

Some members of your group will jump right in with their thoughts and comments, but other members may need more time to process information and to consider ideas before commenting. Furthermore, some members may not feel comfortable participating because they are not confident in their knowledge. Therefore, it is a good idea to structure different activities in the group to allow people of varying working styles to participate. For example, incorporate 5-minute activities that require members to write down a response before sharing it with the group. If the group consists of 6 members, it might help to occasionally divide the group into pairs to work out a problem together and then share with the group.

Offer tactful comments.

Allow a member to finish his/her idea before responding and then offer tactful, constructive comments. If members feel that their ideas are being attacked, they will stop participating or stop attending. Ultimately, a group will not work if members perceive it as an unsafe environment to share their questions and thoughts.

Avoid allowing one or two people to dominate the group.

Groups can address this before it becomes a problem by setting guidelines when they form the group. For example, the group can decide that no one person can speak for more than three minutes or that once a person speaks he/she cannot speak again until another person offers a comment. The group could also elect a facilitator who guides the discussion, keeps the group on task, and is responsible for asking for feedback from all members. Be sure to rotate the role of facilitator to allow each member to have the opportunity to guide the discussion and help to ensure that all members’ voices are heard.