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Make the most of “reporting out” following group work to maximize student learning

November 12, 2014

Have you or your students been frustrated when the products of a small group activity don't seem to reflect specific learning goals? An in-class activity can be misperceived as mere entertainment that distracts from “real” learning if students don’t clearly understand connections between the activity and learning goals.

Asking groups to report on their discussions to the whole class at the close of an activity should highlight how the activity relates to learning goals. However, sometimes students don’t pay attention to the reports of other groups because they are busy thinking of what they will say, reports from individual groups repeat earlier reports, and some students simply tune out.

Create structure and meaning for the report-out activity to reinforce learning goals

The debriefing aspect of an activity is an important component of in-class group work that can support and reinforce student learning: students compare findings, hear insights that might not have emerged in their group discussion, and identify patterns revealed about the concepts at the center of the activity. Dewey (1938) discussed the importance of reflection for learning from our experiences. More recently, Kolb (1984) and Zull (2002) proposed models of experiential learning in which reflection plays an important role. The debriefing time of an active-learning group activity is when the class as a whole can reflect on their collective ideas and make meaning from the experience.

Suggested structures for an effective whole-class debriefing of a learning activity

  • When you design the activity, identify 2-3 concepts or skills you would like students to get out of the activity. Make these the focus of the reporting out activity. Analytical or insightful aspects of an activity are better suited for sharing as a class than are the repetitive or procedural aspects.
  • Avoid asking groups to report out in a predictable order. If you’ve created a safe classroom environment for discussion, you can randomly choose groups to speak, and ask previous groups to speak again to keep all students engaged in the discussion throughout the debriefing. 
  • If the activity has multiple parts, discuss one aspect at a time. For example, ask all groups to report on a question related to one aspect, then ask groups (perhaps in a different order) to report on a question related to a different aspect of the activity. Note patterns and common themes that emerge.
  • Ask each group to share a key idea. After the first group reports one key idea, ask other groups to share new ideas. Or ask groups to compare and contrast their responses to those reported by previous groups. Record key points on a white board, smart board, or projected Power Point slide or Word document.
  • To deepen learning even further, consider closing the debriefing process by asking the group to identify new insights that emerged from the whole class discussion. 



 Dewey, J. (1938). Experience in Education. New York: Touchstone.

 Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

 Zull, J. E. (2002). The Art of Changing the Brain; enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning.  Sterling, VA; Stylus Publishing.

This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Bridget Arend, Ph.D., Director of University Teaching, Office of Teaching and Learning, University of Denver ( to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.

Updated: 11/14/14