Getting Started with your own study group

Setting up a study group can be a good way of keeping in contact with coursemates and friends, provides an opportunity to develop a range of study skills, and could support you in strengthening your understanding of course materials. Setting up your own study group doesn’t mean you need to teach your peers. Your role is to facilitate bringing people together and to create an environment that encourages and supports peer learning to take place.

There are a number of considerations when setting up a new study group. You might want to run a general discussion group, or you may want to consider a special focus to your group. The group’s activities could be linked to a programme, module or specific assessment. The screencast below has been developed to help you to plan and set up a study group, which could be online or in person depending on current restrictions.

Planning your peer learning activities

It is likely that your group will be linked to a specific discipline or subject area. It could even be that your group is linked to a particular module. There are a number of things to consider when planning your study group including:

  • Who is your peer learning initiative for?

Is it just for a few friends on your course to meet informally, or are you looking to set up something larger, perhaps for your tutorial group or even all the students on your module? In our experience groups of 6 - 15 work well for these types of activities. Larger groups than this can become difficult to manage and may not provide opportunity for everyone to contribute. If there is a group of you looking to set up a study group, and you have more than 15 participants, you could consider setting up several smaller groups.

  • Will your group meet weekly? Monthly? Short-term? All year round? How long will the sessions last?

There could be many factors that impact upon how frequently you want to meet. Are the sessions focused on a specific time-limited activity such as revision for assessments/exams, or are they linked to activities that span a full semester or even the entire academic year? You can always ask for feedback from your group after the first couple of sessions and adjust the frequency of sessions up or down if needed.
Through experience, we have found that 50 minutes is a good length for these types of activities. Again, you can always see how things go in the first few sessions and either reduce or increase the length of the sessions if needed.

  • When and where will your group meet?

Due to current restrictions, it is likely to be more practical to run your study group online. There are various platforms that you can use including, Google Meet, Blackboard Collaborate (module leaders would need to create groups to give you access to this option) and a variety of social media video calling options. Remember to choose a platform that everyone has access to and that is accessible for everyone. More information on this is included within the screencast. It is also important to find a time to meet that is convenient for the majority of your participants. We would recommend using a tool such as Doodle poll to do this.

  • Will you need any specific resources?

If your study group is focused on a specific module, are there any specific resources you need participants to bring to the sessions or to have looked at in advance? If you are planning on running specific activities within the session, what materials do you need for this? For example, if you are running the session online and are planning on using Google Jamboards, have these been prepared in advance of the session?

You may find it useful to access some of the peer learning resources available from 301. You can download the Peer Learning Activity Cards discussed in the screencast. These include a range of learning activities that you could use within your study group, feel free to use these ideas, or take them as inspiration to create activities that work for your subject.

  • How will you contact your group members?

You need to think about how you will contact the participants in your group, beginning with how you will find interested people to join your study group. Are there existing channels through which you can communicate, for example, groups on social media, discussion boards etc. It may be that your module tutors could help with sending out an initial email to see who is interested in joining your study group. Does your department have a student society or a group on social media that you could use to start a conversation about studying together?

You will also need to think about how you continue to communicate with the group moving forward. Social media may be a good way of doing this but remember, not everybody may use these platforms. Discuss this with your group and agree an approach that works for everyone. All students have a University email account, so this is a good option.

  • Running your first session

Even if you plan on your study group being more informal, it is still important to have a plan for the first session. It is a good idea to have a question or topic prepared that you can use to start the initial discussion.
Whether running the session in person or online, try and get into the room or online space 5 minutes early to set things up, check any technology is working, and be ready to welcome everyone. Introduce yourself and provide opportunity for other members of the group to introduce themselves. Explain the group, how it works and what it’s purpose is. Ice-breaker or starter activities are very useful during your early sessions and there are a number of ideas for these activities within the Peer Learning Activity Cards. You can find further information and guidance on planning and structuring your sessions within the screencast. We would also be happy to meet with you online to talk through your plans, offer advice and guidance and share resources that we hold here at 301. Contact us at peerlearning@sheffield.ac.uk to find out more.

Different models of peer learning activity

Peer learning activities can take a variety of different forms. We have outlined a few ideas below to help you think about the different formats your group could take.

Revision Group

A revision group is a great way to help everyone keep revision manageable. They support participants in keeping perspective and help to prevent people from becoming overwhelmed. Participants are able to share their ideas in terms of both managing the organisational side of revision (timetables, techniques, online tools), alongside the academic content - providing an opportunity to pool ideas on tricky topics.
Top Tip: Kahoot quizzes are great for testing everyone’s memory of a topic in a fun and only slightly competitive way, especially if you are preparing for a Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) exam.

Reading Circle / Group

A reading circle or Reading Group is a common technique to support academic study, particularly in subject areas with extensive reading lists. Here peers work together to discuss a specific text they have read in advance, developing academic reading and critical thinking skills. Academic reading circles work well with relatively small numbers as these present participants with plenty of opportunity to speak. Each member is allocated a role, with a clear perspective to approaching the text.
Top Tip: Make sure everyone has access to the text in advance and sufficient time to read it. You could put the text in a shared Google Folder, or provide a link to its location in StarPlus if it is an e-book.

Debate

Split the group into one or more sub-groups and give each a different view on a question or theory and ask them to research and then debate that view / idea against the other group. You can either ask them to prepare in advance or give time at the start of the session to prepare. This type of activity could help participants in your group to develop their critical thinking skills, enhancing their ability to research and challenge assumptions and develop an argument from different perspectives.
Top Tip: For online debates, give people time to plan their response together in a breakout room or a separate video call, before coming together again for the main debate. Putting the group’s ideas together in a Google document makes collaboration really easy.

Mini Conference

Participants could be invited to submit papers, produce posters or host short discussions. There are a number of useful resources available to offer guidance on successful organisation of these types of activities.

Top Tip: You could run the event using the Pecha Kucha model. The model involves each presenter showing 20 simple images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images - a great way of sharing knowledge and content.