Small-Group Roles

The system below has two virtues missing from the common schemes that group leaders or teachers use to assign roles when they ask participants or students or participants to collaborate in small groups:
  • the roles do not divert participants from participating in the activity; and
  • everyone has to reflect and synthesize what happened.

  • Roles:
    Includer, Orienter, Phaser, Process Reporter, Participant.
  • There is no recorder or note-taker role.
  • Everyone has the role of Participant in all phases.
  • Everyone is permitted to speak out once if needed to alert someone who seems to be neglecting or misunderstanding their role.

  • Phases of small-group activity and specific roles active in that phase:
    1) GETTING TOGETHER to begin activity
    Includer, Orienter, Phaser
    2) The main part of the ACTIVITY
    Orienter, Includer, Phaser
    Orienter, Includer, Process Reporter, Phaser
    On topic: Randomly chosen person; On process: Process Reporter


    (to begin activity)

    Includer (to ensure participation)
  • Choose a space and set up chairs so everyone can face each other and hear comfortably.
  • Bring everyone into the group, not off to one side or facing the group on an angle.
  • Make sure everyone in the group is introduced to others they might not know.
  • Establish with the group how you will all take turns (e.g., raise hands to be recognized, take a card from a stack, etc.).

  • Orienter (to get and keep the Activity on track)
  • Check that everyone knows their role.
  • Check that everyone has read their own roles for the activity & understands which phases it applies to.
  • Ask people to explain their roles to each other (so that everyone understands the other roles).
  • Ask everyone to read (or reread) the activity.
  • Give your version of the activity and goals, and then invite others to adjust or clarify your version.
  • Check that everyone knows what's going on and why. If it's not clear after that, call for the instructor's attention.


    Phaser (to move group from one phase to the next in a timely manner)
  • Remind people of how much time there is for the phases ahead.

  • Phase 2—Main part of the ACTIVITY

  • Remind everyone that they should take notes to aid synthesis (of content) and reflection (on process).
  • Initiate discussion of how to proceed so as to fulfill the goals of the activity.
  • Watch for uncertainty or disagreement about how the group is proceeding.
  • Call for the leader or instructor's attention when the group needs more guidance about where they are going.
  • Gently interrupt if you think the group is diverging from the activity.

  • Includer
  • Ensure everyone gets a chance to speak.
  • Bring people back into the group when they have withdrawn (on their own or in a one-on-one discussion).
  • Ask for time out for a Check-In when withdrawal recurs or persists.
  • Do something about distractions (e.g., a noisy cell phone user outside the classroom; hot room).

  • Phaser
  • Watch time, prompting group to move onto next task of the activity and ensuring that clear time is left for the synthesis and reflection phase.

  • Everyone (individually)
  • Make notes to aid synthesis (of content) and reflection (on process).
  • Ask for time out if you feel that any of the roles need to be more actively pursued.

    (group members take stock of what they have learned during the activity, about both content and process)

  • Point out that there are two sub-phases of synthesis and reflection.

  • 3A. Everyone (individually)
  • Digest the content of the discussion, make notes on your own conclusions and open questions, and prepare for reporting or contributing to the report from the activity (if one is required).
  • Digest the process of the activity.

  • Includer
  • Check in quietly with anyone who has stalled in their synthesis and note-making.

  • 3B. Process Reporter (to synthesize stock-taking on the process)
  • Ask everyone to mention one highlight or appreciation from the activity. Make notes.
  • Ask everyone to mention one issue needing further work or improvement from the process of the activity. Make notes.
  • Prepare to report back on what you have noted. (This report is about the process. It is not a report about the activity if that is required.)

  • Phaser
  • Remind people to be brief in their spoken feedback on the process.

  • Phase 4—REPORTING

    (either spoken to the whole group or given to instructor or leader, as requested)

    Person chosen randomly by instructor or leader (not the Process Reporter)
  • Make presentation or draft a written report (if required).

  • Everyone (individually)
  • Provide additions or modifications.

  • Process Reporter
  • Report back on what you have noted about the process of the activity (e.g., highlights and suggested improvements).