Collaborative Learning

Team Quizzes: A Low-Risk, High-Yield Strategy

Quizzes in small groups can be a low-risk, high-yield learning strategy that also fosters collaboration skills in high school students.

October 16, 2023
Eduard Figueres / iStock

Looking for another useful strategy to add to your teaching and learning toolbox? One that incorporates recall, revision, repetition, and reinforcement in a low-risk, high-yield scenario with immediate results? If so, consider implementing group or team quizzes in your high school teaching.

Before trying this approach, I recommend making sure students get plenty of practice communicating and learning how to agree, disagree, negotiate, and collaborate in small groups or teams through projects, labs, and games. It’s important that all students feel safe and supported in taking risks, even small ones, so that the first team quiz is just a new wrinkle in their regular classroom collaboration.

Setting Up Group Quizzes in High School

This is my basic orchestration for a team quiz: 

Team Setup Stage: Arrange students by teams. For their first-ever team quiz, I start off with their already established seating groups. 

Solo Stage: Each student solves as much of the quiz as they can on their own in an assigned time using a blue or black pen.

Teamwork Stage: Collaboration occurs with a team of usually three to four students. Each student makes any revisions or additions in pencil or colored pen. Using a blue/black pen followed by something else allows both student and teacher to see what the student knew when they started, what was missing, and what was corrected. 

Cross-Pollination Stage: Teams collaborate via structured shuffling for additional revisions and reinforcement. Do this once or twice, depending on the difficulty and length of task and time available. This practice facilitates the distribution of that part of an answer that maybe only a few people in the class have so far mastered. There are numerous creative ways to handle the cross-pollination among groups. I often rotate one team member clockwise and another team member counterclockwise so that each new group has information to share from three different teams.

Regroup Stage: Students return to the original teams to discuss and compare new findings.

Final Product Stage: Students finalize individual responses to turn in.

Why is this low risk? Emotionally, students are already working in a supportive environment. Academically, it doesn’t matter how shaky a student is in the Solo Stage because they aren’t assessed or scored until the Final Product Stage. 

Why is this high yield? Emotionally, everyone has the opportunity to feel positive about making some contribution, regardless of how small, throughout this process. For example, a student sharing information they initially didn’t know but gained in the Teamwork Stage contributes to the success of their newly formed team during the Cross-Pollination Stage. Academically, everyone improves and/or solidifies their understanding and confidence in the material in a relatively short amount of time.

Here are some variations you might employ:

Use data to set up teams: As students became comfortable with the idea of team quizzes, I’d use performance data to create heterogeneous teams. Every team would have a mix of high, medium, and low current performance levels. The Cross-Pollination Stage provides an opportunity to utilize the ideas of all individuals.

One grade per group: Randomly select one assignment per group to score, and the whole team gets that score. Students are responsible to each other as well as themselves. There’s no reason that any team member’s answer should be stronger or weaker than another at the end of this process.

Score themselves: Give teams the key or rubric, and have them score themselves or their team with yet a different color of pen. This often generates new insights into strengths and weaknesses of answers.

Surgical rounds: Change the task from answering a question to analyzing and repairing answers to questions. Having to distinguish between what’s right and wrong in an answer is a valuably different process than generating the right answer.

Positive feedback from students

I first tried team quizzes in AP Statistics using free response questions that presented multipart content challenges and came with very specific scoring guidelines. I could challenge students’ individual understanding with a novel problem and watch comprehension solidify as they collectively convinced each other of the most thorough and complete answer to the scenario they all faced.

Other kinds of questions can be part of a team quiz. The conversations you hear around tricky multiple choice questions lead to much more than agreeing on a correct letter; there are rich discussions about why the wrong answers are wrong and in some cases what the question would be that would fit those wrong answers. The opportunities for using this approach are as varied as the courses in schools.

How do my students feel in general about this team quiz approach? 

  • Pre- and post-quiz check-ins always showed a dramatic improvement in confidence as a class from the start to the end of class.
  • Very few students commented that they felt they knew team quiz content well enough already. Most of my highest-performing students appreciated the chance to get confirmation of their understanding, the enjoyment they had from helping others learn, and occasionally the discovery that they were quite mistaken about something they thought they were sure about.
  • The few students who felt like they hadn’t contributed much still received critical additional assistance in learning. Also, one of the most enjoyable things for me was when some of those students contributed a critical piece that improved the whole team’s answer. That happened with a pleasant degree of regularity.
  • Students regularly encouraged me to export this practice to other colleagues.

Some of my former students are now teachers themselves. They can have the last word. 

“I remember that team quizzes helped me understand what parts of the curriculum I knew well and what parts I struggled with, and other students knew to help me out. I use group quizzes in AP Stats, and the strategy helps students to learn from each other, as well as learn teamwork and persuasive speaking skills to support their ideas if they disagree with their peers.” —Caitlin Corwin (Class of 2016), math teacher at Mira Monte High School, Bakersfield, California

“I had never been asked to take a test as a team before, and it honestly was uncomfortable at first. Being asked to defend my thinking, hear another view, and then reach consensus required a much higher cognitive load than merely taking a guess as I normally did.… Last year, I experimented with group quizzes in my AP Psychology classroom. I liked the results, as this method still motivated them to study and master the content before the test, but it also created an authentic opportunity to focus their learning on what they missed in the first pass.” —Jake Carlson (Class of 2007), English and psychology teacher at Hudson’s Bay High School, Vancouver, Washington

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  • Collaborative Learning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Formative Assessment
  • 9-12 High School

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