How Do I Conduct a Study Group?
Logistics of the Meeting
- Establish Realistic Goals for the Meeting
Knowing what you want to achieve at each session helps the group stay focused and manage its time. At the start of each meeting, a designated session leader should state what the goals are. For example, the session leader might announce, "Today we'll review the 5 concepts we discussed during our last meeting and then discuss the theorems introduced in class on Wednesday, which are also discussed in chapter 7." Be realistic about how much you can cover in one hour or two hours. It is not always possible to review an entire chapter in an hour, so focus on a couple of concepts that are particularly important and/or problematic.
- Decide the Format for the Session
Will the group spend the first 15 minutes reviewing concepts from the last meeting, the next 30 reviewing a difficult concept/idea from this week’s lecture, and the final 15 minutes brainstorming test questions? Determine how you will structure your time.
See Practical Ideas for Learning the Material.
- Consider Assigning Roles to Group Members
- Establish Expectations for the Next Meeting
End each meeting with a basic agenda for the next meeting. Remind group members what they need to do to be prepared for the next meeting.
- Set Ground Rules for the Group
See Guidelines to Help the Group Run Smoothly
Practical Ideas for Learning the Material
- Assign roles to group members and take turns teaching and leading
Assigning roles to group members may help the group work more efficiently. Roles to consider are chairperson, note-taker/recorder, timekeeper, presenter, etc. It is important, though, to at least assign one person as the taskmaster. This person's job is to steer the group members back to the topic if they begin to drift. Be sure to allow everyone the chance to teach and to be taught. When you instruct the group, you not only help the other group members, but you also reinforce your own knowledge. Each week select a person who will guide the discussions for the next week and keep the group focused on the agenda. This person does not do the work for the group, but serves as the facilitator of the group for that week.
- Compare and discuss lab/lecture notes for important concepts and understanding of those concepts
- Try to reach a consensus on what the group thinks is important in the notes.
- Talk about discrepancies in members' notes. Make sure all members agree about what was said and its meaning. Check discrepancies among members' notes by consulting the textbook or by asking the instructor to embellish or illustrate points made in class.
- Be sure that all group members have a good grasp of those important concepts. Ask each member to explain one of the important concepts to the group. The group can offer clarification, ask questions, consult the textbook/notes to ensure that everyone has a basic understanding of the concepts. If there are concepts that the group finds confusing, elect a volunteer from the group to the professor on behalf of the group. Then, at the next meeting, the volunteer shares the professor’s response. (Note: each member is responsible for his/her own learning, so if you are still struggling with a concept, go to the professor yourself).
- Learn the material at two distinct levels
First, make sure you know the material by drilling one another with questions that help you to remember the information at a basic level (memorization). Try to ask and answer questions using your own words, which has a strong, positive association with memory and learning.
Second, it is critical to learn the information at a deeper level. You can accomplish this by using several techniques such as (a) asking one another questions that focus on the application of the material being learned; (b) asking one another to compare and contrast questions; (c) discussing why the information is useful; and (d) discussing how the material is applied in a broader context. For example, how do several aspects or areas of the lecture and textbook readings come together to make greater, holistic sense? Attempt to discuss the significance of materials learned earlier in the course to the areas being discussed in later class lectures and readings.
- Brainstorm possible test questions that ask you to apply the material being learned
One activity your group can incorporate into your session is practicing test questions. Members can bring several possible test questions to the group meeting or you can generate them during the meeting. Be sure to leave at least 5 to 10 minutes of each session for brainstorming possible test questions. Then during the current meeting or the following meeting, go over these questions and brainstorm solutions and answers to the questions. Figure out where in your notes, handouts, and books the answers can be found. Be sure someone in the group takes notes and makes those available to all members.
- Have each member take responsibility for one section of a chapter
Divide the sections among the group members and have each member review the section, summarize it and develop a few questions for the group. Give everyone about 10 minutes to prepare. Then each member shares his/her summary and asks the group to answer the questions he/she has developed. Members can work individually on answering all of the questions or the questions can be divided among the members. Alternately, members can work in pairs to answer the questions or the entire group can work together to find the answers. Then members share their answers, the rationale for their answer and where they found the information. The other group members help by clarifying ideas of the speaker and by gently correcting any misinformation.
If members struggle to develop questions, they can turn headings and subheadings into questions.
- For specific peer group study techniques, consult these resources:
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