Introverts Can Thrive with Group Work

Cooperative group work helps students learn, but some question, “What about the introverts?” Dr. Neil Davidson, self-professed introvert, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, consultant and author tackled this question in a recent session at the Lilly Conference on College Teaching. Dr. Davidson led us through several activities discussing the definitions of extroverts, ambiverts, introverts, including questions on an introvert test. He demonstrated several classroom activities that worked well for all types of people, and emphasized characteristics and behaviors that helped introverts participate fully and comfortably.

For example, I participated in a small group where each participant was to talk for 1 minute. The more introverted participant had trouble talking for a full minute (okay, that was me). The other participants were sympathetic, and appealed to Dr. Davidson, “What do we do when a person doesn’t take the full time allotted?” He pointed out that the others could ask questions or paraphrase what the initial participant said. These directions helped our group function more smoothly in subsequent activities.

He led the group through several other example small group activities, listed below, and pointed out characteristics of the activities that facilitated introvert participation.

Small group activities that work well for all students

  • Rally Round:  A useful technique for reviewing course content. Students take turns reviewing course content in pairs, such that each person takes a turn, sharing a recently learned concept, one concept per turn. Dr. Davidson had us stand up to share characteristics; standing was a very helpful transition to the activity, and energized the conversation.
  • Round Robin:  Groups of 4 students discuss the answer to a question, with equal time (1 minute, when we did it) for each student. Dr. Davidson kept time and reminded participants when to change speakers.
  • Numbered heads together: In groups of 4, number each participant from 1 to 4. Each group discusses the topic or question. The group is directed to ensure that each member can respond to the question. The presenter then asks all of the number 4s (for example) to stand, and asks several individual number 4s to respond.
  • Think pair share:  My favorite technique.
  • Jigsaw: Another favorite, but a bit complex, described on a jigsaw website; more on the jigsaw here.

Characteristics of group activities that help all students thrive:

  • structured activities that build in equal participation and prevent dominance
  • students work in small groups instead of entire class discussions
  • time is allotted for students to think individually before responding
  • reminders to students to take turns, listen without interrupting and paraphrase what others say
  • activities are timed, and students reminded to switch speakers
  • students assigned clear roles for the activities

Not all activities need all of the characteristics. This list will help you modify your course activities to include all students. If you’d like to discuss your in-class activities at Duke, please contact us, we’d love to help.

3 thoughts on “Introverts Can Thrive with Group Work

  1. Sarah the window cleaner

    I’m sure all of the listed practices will do perfectly with introverts. I’m sure these can be implemented not only at school, but in business environment as well. Treating all as equally outgoing (all having equal time to respond) makes sense.

  2. Len

    I love the idea of cooperative learning, especially in smaller groups of 2 or 3 where introverts can not only survive but thrive. I wish that elementary schools would adopt some of these techniques. I recently mentioned introversion to a 1st grade teacher and she said “intro-who”? Anyhow, great article on team based learning.

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